She had her first marriage annulled after five years on the grounds of non-consummation; the refusal of spouses to engage in sexual relations with their husband or wife. It was through this event that she decided to learn more about women’s sexual health and well-being. She realized that if she, a middle-class woman with a tertiary education, knew so little of sexual issues; then poor, less educated women must be even worse off. The recognition of this fact prompted her pioneering crusade.
Along with the help of her second husband, Humphry Roe, she opened her first family planning clinic in 1921. Shortly after its opening she was attacked and belittled by the medical establishment for being female, having no medical qualification and for employing midwives and nurses rather than doctors to serve in the clinics. Marie Stopes and Humphry set out to prove that a small team in basic and clean surroundings could provide essential services to poor women – and they were incredibly successful. Her first clinic was based in Holloway, North London.
She chose to move her clinic to its current location at 108 Whitfield Street in Fitzrovia in Central London because of relative need at the time. It continues to be our home in spirit. The London based support office is just two streets from the original centre, now known as Marie Stopes House. The iconic door of this house continues to feature in all logos of Marie Stopes International and its operating country programmes.
Not only did she set up the UK’s first static family planning centre, but Marie Stopes also pioneered the concept of mobile outreach. She converted a horse-drawn caravan and took it to harder-to-reach communities in need. Her endeavors proved successful and she gradually built up a small network of clinics across the UK.
After running into financial difficulties, the original Marie Stopes Clinics were on the verge of shutting down when Dr Tim Black, his wife, Jean Black, and Phil Harvey set out to take over the lease. In 1976 they opened “Marie Stopes International” and focused on changing the reputation and brand to be an inclusive family planning service provider.
42 years later Marie Stopes International is operating from strength to strength in over 38 countries, with the first South African Branch opening in 1993. We remember Marie Stopes for her pioneering work in providing contraception to underserved women, and this lives on today, bearing her name.