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Monday, 4 October 2021

Part of a concealed tradition

When I read the article The great sperm heist: ‘They were playing with people’s lives’ in The Guardian recently it was a shocking story but one that did not entirely surprise me. The activities of Dr Boyd fitted in to a broader story of doctors in or around Harley Street, or generally in the supper reaches of discreet private practice, providing services in the sexual/reproductive areas which most medics shied away from, but which could be extremely remunerative. 

Boyd himself cropped up in the notes I had made from the archives of the British Sexology Society (held in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin). He seems to have been quite active in the Society during the 30s, which presumably provided him with connections and a certain amount of publicity. He gave lectures to the Society, and from its correspondence it appears that they gave enquirers referrals to him, both generally in the field of 'genito-urinary complaints', and more specifically, on  'the "Steinach" operation'. The Steinach operation was intended as a male rejuvenation operation and was, in fact, that performed on the poet WB Yeats by Dr Norman Haire

Haire was a particularly obvious example of a doctor who was committed to an agenda of sexual reforms, while providing somewhat shady services to desperate individuals, and also doing financially well out of this. While the expurgation of his papers by his executors means that little direct information survives, it is still possible to trace evidence of his activities. Although he was by no means popular with other members of the birth control movement of the interwar years, they nonetheless were prepared to refer women seeking abortions to him. His friend Ethel Mannin complained that although he was prepared to fit the long-term intra-uterine contraceptive the Gräfenberg ring, he charged so steeply for this it would be cheaper to travel to Berlin and be fitted by Gräfenberg in person. He would also perform sterilisations.

It had been recognised in the profession for decades that there had been some doctors prepared to perform abortions (even though illegal) as a reumerative practice, well before the allusion in AJ Cronin's 1936 novel The Citadel to a fashionable Harley Street society doctor making a good deal of his income from 'curettage'. There is a particularly good account of how this was working immediately before the 1967 Abortion Act in Paul Ferris's 1966 The Nameless, in which he indicates that the request to be paid in cash was not only to preserve discretion for the patients but a handy tax evasion device for the medics involved.

In an area which was already considered part of an ethically murky fringe, a 'twilight zone' where people were desperate and desirous of discretion, it's perhaps not altogether amazing that the practices of doctors providing AID turn out to have been dubious.

 

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

What I've been up to during my blog hiatus

Wasn't as busily publishing academically as in some previous years, but haven't been entirely inactive.

Open Conspirators Seek Similar: The Inspiration of H.G. Wells’s Utopian Dreams: in The Wellsian, 40, 2017 (from my keynote at: Anticipations: H. G. Wells, Science Fiction and Radical Visions, H.G. Wells Conference Centre, Woking, 8-10 July 2016); and now The Wellsian is finally online (we think he would have approved), my earlier piece in the  special 'Ann Veronica' issue, Vol 34, 2011 An Ambiguous Idol: H. G. Wells Inspiring and Infuriating Women is now also available.

This one, which was being given in various forms over a period of years in assorted venues, was finally published: ‘"Sons of Belial": Contaminated/Contaminating Victorian Male Bodies', in Andrew Mangham and Daniel Lea (eds), The Male Body in Medicine and Literature (2018.

This was in the pipeline for a considerable while, but it was part of this huge project covering a vast period: 'Movements to separate sex and reproduction', in N. Hopwood, R. Flemming and L. Kassell, Reproduction from Antiquity to the Present Day (Cambridge University Press, 2018.

'The Bedborough Case, 1898: "A Curious Gonfalon Round Which to Fight"', in David Nash, Anne-Marie Kilday (eds), Fair and Unfair Trials in the British Isles, 1800-1940: Microhistories of Justice and Injustice (Bloomsbury, 2020)  - on the prosecution of Havelock Ellis' Sexual Inversion.

Entries for Dr Norman Haire (2020), and for Eden and Cedar Paul (2018), in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Provided a Foreword, to Jessica Borge, Protective Practices: A History of the London Rubber Company and the Condom Business (McGill-Queens UP, 2020).

Assorted reviews, including this essay review, 'Abortion in the Contemporary United States' Journal of Women's History, Volume 32, Number 4, Winter 2020.(And I thought that was depressing...)

A contribution to the Layers of London project on the 1820 satirical print of Lady Strachan and Lady Warwick, 'Love a la mode, or Two Dear Friends' - an episode I'd still like to find out more about.

Women’s rights to sexual pleasure: an essay commissioned in connection with an exhibition that didn't in fact get used, now added to my website.

Also added to my website, the text of my George Hay Memorial Lecture of the Science Fiction Foundation, at Eastercon 2012,  Invisible Women: The Scientists People Don't See.

My website in general continues to get updated and I draw particular attention to the ongoing updates to Victorian Sex Factoids and Literary Abortion

Hoping to start posting here again, if only with the odd weird thing I've encountered as a side-issue in other researches. 

 

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

A rare update: some website updates

Recently added to my website, downloadable pdfs of the text of my 2014 Roy Porter lecture, Healthy Lives/Healthy World: the utopian visions of interwar British progressives
and also the paper I gave at the Eugenics @UCL Event, 10 Oct 2014, somewhat revised for the prospect of publication in an online journal along with the other papers: Eugenics and Gender.

Also various updates to Bloomsbury Women’s History Walk, Literary Abortion and British Women Novelists, 1910s-1960s – the ‘middlebrows’, as well as the usual updates to information on conferences etc.

I have also retired the former Register of Historians of Sexuality, which was set up at a time when there were far fewer ways for historians in the area to discover others working in the field, and has become pretty much redundant.

 

Monday, 6 February 2017

Keeping the record, inventing the wheel

There is an interesting article in today's Guardian G2 section about the Internet Archive and while this is an excellent endeavour, there are things in that article which will cause any archivist who has worked in more traditional media to emit a groan of familiarity:
[W]e make the mistake of assuming that digital means for ever. “The problem is, the internet’s systems have been designed as though everything goes on indefinitely,” he says. “There are no agreed-upon shutdown procedures".
Just like all those bodies or individuals that have never given thought to the preservation of their records or to the stability/onward intelligibility of the materials they were using (those old-style faxes that have now faded beyond reading, for just one thing), and no robust records management strategy in place to ensure that stuff gets preserved (or routinely discarded as appropriate).

I don't think the framing of the article in terms of nostalgia rather than a vital work of preservation does the topic any service. We don't know what's going to be of interest to future historians or illuminate some corner of the past. I'm currently reading a book (Brian Maidment, Comedy, Caricature and the Social Order, 1820-50, Manchester University Press, 2013) dealing with materials much of which were ephemeral, so that the representativeness of surviving examples must be a question that is difficult to answer. Saving bygone versions of the internet and its defunct sites is not just about any individual's fond memories of websites perdus.

I was also rendered somewhat thoughtful by this in the concluding paragraph: about, to reduce the amount of storage 'chucking out the washing powder ads on all that TV coverage'. I come across historians who are quite desperate to locate bound sets of periodicals which had not had the advertising matter purged before binding.


Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Being with like minds is not an escape

Last year my article ‘A city that we shall never find’? The search for a community of fellow progressive spirits in the UK between the wars was published in Family and Community History (and it's open access...). In that article I was considering some UK organisations from the 1930s in which progressive spirits of the day got together. Their influence upon matters of politics and governance has largely been considered at best negligible.

What I argue in that piece is that perhaps these organisations, with their meetings and lectures and social events and country rambles and summer schools, provided a place where individuals who were fighting the good fight on a range of fronts against considerable odds could get together with a community of other people who had similar thoughts and feelings, and that this itself was not a negligible thing.

If I was writing this today I might be more emphatic about the virtues of not feeling oneself alone and not being the only person who could envisage things being different and be both critical and creative about alternative solutions. Who could think of different stories.

I've seen a fair amount, over the last months, about people being in 'bubbles' that give them an entirely false sense of the generality of the world.

Surely the thing about bubbles is that they are transparent and that you can see what's outside them?

I don't think anyone in any of the bubbles I might be in myself is unaware of what's going on outside. those bubbles, But there's such a thing as putting oneself in unnecessary pain and distress to a counter-productive degree. Comfort is not bad. Looking at pictures of cute animals can be a restorative reminder that there are small pleasures in the world. Communicating with like minds or just knowing that they are there is a source of strength.

Friday, 5 August 2016

It all depends on what you mean by social media

I have been moved to post in this rather desultory blog of mine by noticing that there is a furore going on over this article: We should not have to parade ourselves on social media to please our employers or be considered enthusiastic 

Well, I'm a bit dubious that employers should be demanding this of academics, unless it's considered part of their core job within working hours, but if they're doing on what might somewhat euphemistically considered their own time, it's up to them.

On another hand, speaking as someone whose day-job was being an archivist and who contrived what I think is a fairly satisfactory career as an independent scholar in my own time and with a few periods of research leave, the internet made a significant difference to me. I set up my own website in 1998, and I suspect that far more people have accessed my Victorian Sex Factoids page than have read my books, articles and chapters. I also set up the precursors of H-Histsex, on free sites offering listserv hosting in perpetuity (they lied). Later on I set up this blog for academic/archivist purposes, although I had already been blogging elsewhere in a more informal and social way.

'Social media' is not all one thing. As can be seen from the foregoing I came of internet-age when listservs were the happening thing for geographically-scattered academics to communicate with one another - and they still serve this purpose, somewhat below present-day radar. Problems arise when people think that 'everybody' is using one particular medium.

This blog post bears witness to the fact that I often see something in a tweet and think I should respond but 140 characters is just not the medium for what I want to say.

And on further twitter-problems: what does one do when somebody links a blog-post in a tweet, and one sees that although one is in general concurrence, they have made a blooper within one's own area of expertise - not something that could be clarified in 140 characters. Also on closer inspection the post was written several years ago. Couldn't find an email for the writer.

Monday, 29 February 2016

A few recent accomplishments

The audiofile and the transcripts of the Witness Seminar on 50 Years of Brook that I organised last year at the Wellcome are now available (also on Soundcloud). Also available, this very short  and highly inexplicit 1974 cinema ad for their services:

2015 publications:
‘A city that we shall never find’? The search for a community of fellow progressive spirits in the UK between the wars Family and Community History, Volume 18, Issue 1 (April 2015), pp. 24-36
‘Sentimental Follies’ or ‘Instruments of Tremendous Uplift’? reconsidering women's same-sex relationships in interwar Britain Women's History Review, Volume 25, Issue 1, 2016, Special Issue:  Love, Desire and Melancholy:inspired by Constance Maynard
The Victorians: Our Others, Our Selves, in Kate Fisher and Rebecca Langlands, Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past (OUP, 2015)



Tuesday, 23 February 2016

After a long hiatus, my forthcoming dance-card


History in the Pub: Queer London:

Passions Between Women in Victorian Britain: Plymouth University, 26 April 2016, 19.00
Thursday, 19 May 2016,6.00-8.30pm, Birkbeck, University of London (panelist)

Symposium on the Enigma of Marie Stopes, Palaeontologist and Birth Control Pioneer 23 June 2016, University of Manchester, U.K.


Anticipations: H. G. Wells, Science Fiction and Radical Visions: A Conference at Woking, 8-10 July 2016 (plenary)