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Thursday, 8 August 2013

Is this the birth of a factoid?

It's not Victorian, so doesn't really fit on my Victorian Sex Factoids page, but it's quite a doozy, nonetheless. It's bad enough when articles are 'researched' entirely via Google, but this one seems not even to have been run past Wikipedia

Last week an article in The Spectator asserted that Dr Helena Wright was providing an insemination service for women deprived of motherhood by the Great War.

As the very first comment below the line points out, a few seconds on Google would have shown that the story as given was patently impossible. Wright only qualified in medicine in 1915, and far from setting up a classy Knightsbridge practice, was doing the usual kind of hospital house jobs that were the lot of the recently-qualified doc, at fairly non-elite institutions at that. In 1921 she and her husband went to China as medical missionaries and did not return until the late 1920s, and it was only then that Wright set up a private practice, while also being active with the (already established) North Kensington Women's Welfare Clinic, a pioneer in birth control and marriage guidance provision.

Her manual of marriage advice - which was more about orgasms than motherhood - The Sex Factor in Marriage, did not appear until 1931. Not only, therefore, did she not have lots of grateful readers in the aftermath of the War, she was not even around in the UK to deal with their requests if she had been.

Her papers, and those of her biographer, Dr Barbara Evans, are available in the Wellcome Library.

This does not entirely rule out the veridicality of 'Derek' (this may well be a pseudonym for the purposes of the article anyway: so my cavil about this not apparently becoming a popular British forename until the C20th may be irrelevant) and his superstudly prowess, but the narrative within which it is embedded cannot possibly be true. I have, in fact, come across a mention of a scientist of that name who was a 'super-donor' but this would have been around the 1950s-60s (the Derek in question had barely reached puberty by 1920).

It is always possible that there has been some confabulation and chronological slippage - for example (as I noted in the relevant chapter of Sex, Gender and Social Change in Britain since 1880) there was a minor furore around AI in the late 1940s, a decade before the setting up of the Feversham Committee by the government. Wrong War?

Wrong doctor? While Marie Stopes did, in the early editions of Married Love (1918), mention the possibility of AI (or non-A I by a sympathetic family friend) for women with infertile husbands, this passage was subsequently dropped, and few if any of the 1000s of letters received by her now in the Wellcome Library even mention the topic. It's quite possible that Norman Haire may have included it in his practice, but this is only speculation. Even by the late 1940s a mere handful of gynaecologists were providing AID to their infertile patients.

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