408. Harrod to Marie Stopes , 22 November 1934 [a]

[Replies to 407 R]

Christ Church, Oxford #

22 November 1934

Dear Madam

It was very good of you to write to me a propos my letter to the Oxford Magazine. [1] In view of what follows may I say at once that I have the greatest possible admiration for all the splendid work that you have done.

None the less I am getting uneasy. I appreciate that there is still much vitally important work to be done among the very poor. But I think the view that if you get the quality right, the quantity will look after itself is too optimistic and facile. It appears to me possible that there may be a very great shrivelling up of all those peoples, among whom strong religious sanctions, great poverty or ignorance are absent. I refer broadly to the white races. Species which have survived--I am thinking now of human pre-history--must have had a reproductive mechanism which, taking into account the environment, produced neither too few nor too many people. This equilibrium was rudely shaken by medical improvements and the improved standard of living, which entirely altered the environment, making it much more clement, in the last 2 centuries. There was then grave danger of over-population. Birth control inventions came as a godsend to restore equilibrium. But I fear that the present position is that there has been over-compensation.

Hitherto survival of the species was safeguarded by the sex impulses. Now that is no longer so. Is it certain that anything can be put in their place, now that the link between sex impulse and reproduction is broken?

Anyhow [b] our first need now is to find that something whatever it may be.

The love of children? But how strong is this really? Children are an awful nuisance, and women now have all sorts of other things to be busy about. This sounds very reactionary. But you must believe me that I do not come to this point of view through prejudice--my prejudices are all on your side--but quiet reflexion on the facts. The facts among all western peoples indicate that mother love is not enough to produce sufficient offspring. After all, these same western peoples are far more prosperous and better able to afford children than they have ever been before. You may say that there is a sense of insecurity. But that is precisely the kind of thing that the instincts making for survival have had to fight against and overcome in the past. If the human race is to fade out in the face of a mere breath of alarm, the situation is really dangerous.

But what can be done? People are not going to have children merely for patriotic motives. Some much stronger inducement is required.

I am all for Miss Rathbone's family allowances. [2] But are they enough? It certainly is not enough partly to cover expenses of upbringing. You have got to make child rearing a profitable trade as it was in the old days of child labour.

I even go so far as to think that ultimately you may have to say to mothers--we will take the children right off your hands and give them a good upbringing in state nurseries and schools. And perhaps give the mother a substantial bonus into the bargain for having gone through the trouble. Then other problems arise. It is essential that the "state children" should not be stigmatized later in life compared with those who had a good home. Again can rearing in the state nurseries really be as good for them as that in the home? Is not the mother's love essential to its mental poise? What would our psycho-analysts say about that?

So far as the middle and upper classes are concerned, I should like to see total remission of income tax for a father of, say, five. Something might be done with the Death Duties. A man leaving 3 would be taxed at, say, the standard rate. A man leaving two could only leave rd of the property which remained after standard tax, the remaining rd being an additional tax. A man leaving one child, could only leave one third. A man with no children could not pass on property (or merely a nominal amount). Then a man leaving 4 might be exempt from the standard rate. And a man leaving 5 might have something in proportion added to his property. In this way a man who was concerned for the well-being of his children would have no inducement, as now, to have less in their own interests.

These in my view are the kind of things to which we ought to be applying our minds. In the absence of such constructive plans for "racial progress", I fear that further dissemination of the birth control idea can only do harm on balance.

The public mind is not yet awake to the urgency of the problem. There is still the vague idea floating about that we are "over-populated"; and that those who want more children are mere war-mongers desiring cannon-fodder and such.

In human affairs we do not seem to be able to adjust ourselves to the new situation in time. The over-population idea was salutary in the late nineteenth century. Now it is necessary to disseminate the opposite view.

What I fear now is that the general tenor of your propaganda--I am not questioning for a moment the desirability of clinics to advise those who are really in distress--leads to further dissemination of the wrong idea among the general mass of people.

I am sure that many of your members are alive to the modern problem. But is your society prepared to take active steps to conduct propaganda along the lines I suggest?

Yours very faithfully

Roy Harrod

Dr. Marie Stopes, Constructive Birth Control

  1. 1. Harrod, "The Declining Population" ( 1934:12 ), here as press item 10 .

    2. Eleanor Florence Rathbone (1872-1946), social reformer, became the leading advocate of family allowances: The Disinherited Family (London: Edward Arnold & Co., 1924); Harrod's undated reading notes are in HP V-62, pp. 100-102.

    1. a. ALS, eight pages on four leaves, in STOPES 58716/149-52.

      b. This sentence begins on a new line on a new page, without, however, being indented.


Welcome page

top of page

Return to index of this section

Go to previous page

Go to next page