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The Malthusian League and the Resistance to Birth Control Propaganda in Late Victorian Britain

F. D'Arcy
Population Studies
Vol. 31, No. 3 (Nov., 1977), pp. 429-448
DOI: 10.2307/2173367
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2173367
Page Count: 20
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The Malthusian League and the Resistance to Birth Control Propaganda in Late Victorian Britain
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Abstract

Although the history of birth control in nineteenth-century Britain is a well-researched area, not a great deal of attention has been directed to the obstacles which birth control advocates had to overcome in trying to promote their cause. That the Malthusian League was responsible for disseminating a considerable literature on the question is well known, but the difficulties it faced in the last quarter of the nineteenth century have not been the subject of much study. This paper examines some of these difficulties. Part of the problem for the League lay in the slenderness of its own resources and in the commitment of its leader Drysdale to a particular economic doctrine. A far greater part lay in the publicly expressed opposition to the idea of birth control. That opposition came from a wide variety of sources. The obstacles posed by the law, contemporary Christian morality and by the hostility of the medical profession are dealt with briefly. Less well known were the obstacles posed by some contemporary versions of Darwinian ideas and by imperialism. But the greatest public opposition to League propaganda, this paper suggests, came from socialists in the 1880s. The paper examines the exchanges between socialists and birth controllers and tries to describe the way in which an accommodation of viewpoints between them came about in the last quarter of the century.

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