Marie Stopes, scientist, birth control activist, and author, was born in Scotland and moved to London in her teens. Her father was an architect and her mother a Shakespeare scholar and campaigner for women’s education. Prodigiously bright, Stopes had earned two doctoral degrees by the age of twenty-five and enjoyed early academic success in paleobotany (the study of fossil plants). Her first marriage, in 1911, was not a success and after five years she secured an annulment on grounds of non-consummation. In the meantime, she had embarked on research in sexology, work which included observation of her own sexual feelings, and had met and exchanged ideas with US birth control campaigner Margaret Sanger. In 1918, her book Married Love, subtitled A New Contribution to the Solution of Sex Difficulties, was published and she married her second husband, Humphrey Roe, retaining her maiden name. The same year also saw the publication of Wise Parenthood, which dealt explicitly with contraception. These books sold in hundreds of thousands and went into numerous editions; by 1921, when she opened her first birth control clinic, Stopes had become a household name. Unheard of in its time, her unique selling point was the idea that women’s happiness and sexual fulfillment in marriage rested upon their ability to control their own fertility.
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