Labour Research April 2011


The life and times of Stella Browne

Feminist and free spirit

Lesley A Hall, IB Tauris, 300 pages, hardback, £25

In the early 20th century Stella Browne was a fighter for women’s rights, socialism, peace and sexual freedom.

At a time when even birth control was barely mentionable, she spoke at meetings and wrote pamphlets arguing for women’s access to safe abortion. When she gave evidence to a government committee Browne, who co-founded the Abortion Law Reform Association, revealed that she had herself undergone the illegal operation and therefore knew that abortion was neither fatal nor necessarily physically harmful. As of course did anyone else who could afford the Harley Street gynaecologists as opposed to the back-street abortionists.

As a socialist Browne was highly critical of the birth control movement closely associated with Marie Stopes, the eugenicists and their ideas of who was and wasn’t fit to have children. But she also argued that every child should be wanted.

She was a militant suffragette, campaigned against the First World War and joined the newly formed British Communist Party.

This is the first full-length biography of Browne and it does justice to an extraordinary campaigner.

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