“Conscious Motherhood”: Birth Control, Eugenics, and the Pursuit of Happiness in the Interwar Era

  • Ann Taylor Allen


During the interwar period, some feminist movements shifted their attitude toward birth control from skepticism to support. In societies that were only beginning to realize the extent of wartime casualties, this alliance of feminism and birth control could arouse both anxiety and misogyny. A popular novel by the French author Clément Vautel, Madame ne veut pas d’enfant (the very title became a natalist slogan) portrayed the sinister vamp Malthusia, whose lectures often opened with the command, “tu n’engendras point” (“Thou shalt bear no children”). “In France, everything is coming together to help us,” she cackled fiendishly, “we no longer believe in God or the Devil; we love money more and more … we must dread the children that would prevent us from having fun.”1 Feminist authors gave a different picture of the modern mother. In her novel, Honourable Estate (1936), Vera Brittain portrayed two characters: Janet, married at the turn of the century, who resented the child whom she was forced to bear, and her daughter-in-law Ruth, who was an emancipated woman and a willing mother. “To begin with, I wanted the twins and we agreed about having them, whereas your mother was not only unready for a child and quite ignorant, but apparently never consulted,” explained Ruth to her husband. “Don’t you see that it is just because I am better qualified than your mother and still able to go on with my work that I care for the twins so much? … If our own mothers had been encouraged to learn what was going on in the world instead of being told their place was the home, the War might never have happened.”2


Birth Control Population Policy Feminist Group Birth Control Clinic Contraceptive Advice 
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© Ann Taylor Allen 2005

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  • Ann Taylor Allen

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