‘Exterminating Poverty’

Eugenicist Marie Stopes and her supporters openly stated their aims


Life Issues

Last summer I reviewed an important book about the eugenics movement of 100 years ago, and the subject bears repeating. The book is Mark H. Sutherland’s Exterminating Poverty: The true story of the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor, and the Scottish doctor who fought against it. A link to my review in Australia’s News Weekly (July 2021) is below, but I’ll revisit some of the book’s salient points.

Exterminating Poverty recounts the story of the legal contest between a Catholic doctor and an active proponent of artificial birth control who was also an advocate of human eugenics. Marie Stopes, who opened “Mothers’ Clinics” in Britain, was a founder akin to Margaret Sanger in the U.S.

The eugenicists of Stopes’s time engaged in classification of human beings between the range A1 (the very best specimens of humanity) down to C3, with C3 people as the least desirable in a progressive and thoroughly materialistic society. This classification system assumed that human beings could and should be bred to achieve best outcomes. Stopes clearly states her own aim: “not reduction in the total birth rate, but reduction of the birth rate at the wrong part and increase of the birth rate at the right end of the social scale” [emphasis added].

Stopes’s peer Sir James Barr offered a blunt assessment of the poor. Speaking of disease in their day, he opined that tuberculosis “forms a rough, but on the whole very serviceable check, on the survival and propagation of the unfit” and that, on this basis, the elimination of this disease “was not worth aiming at” and its cure would be “nothing short of a national calamity.” Barr moreover hoped that Stopes “will eventually get rid of our C3 population and exterminate poverty. The only way to raise an A1 population is to breed them.”

Sutherland’s Exterminating Poverty covers the trial, with transcriptions of cross-examinations and testimonies of both the plaintiff and the defendant and their supporters. The record leaves no room to doubt the determination of Stopes’s supporters, on the evidence of their own words, to bring about an improvement in the quality of human breeding, by compulsion if necessary.

We are sometimes beguiled by the suggestion that eugenics died with Stopes in 1958. But the reality is very different. Journalist Ann Farmer surprised Sutherland by remarking that she would rather deal with the would-be human breeders of Stopes’s day than with their successors today. Her reason? “The eugenicists of 100 years ago openly stated their aims whereas the eugenicists of today conceal their hand.”

A link to the full review: https://ncc.org.au/newsweekly/music-cinema-books/exterminating-poverty-marie-stopes/


David Daintree was President of Campion College (Australia’s only Catholic liberal arts college) from 2008 to 2012. In 2013 he founded and is now Director of the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Hobart.

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