Primary tabs

History of Marie Stopes International

Share this page

Marie Stopes Bangladesh is part of the Marie Stopes International (MSI) partnership. MSI was founded in 1976 by Dr Tim Black, CBE and his wife Jean. Sadly, Tim passed away in December 2014. Below is an obituary of his life, reposted courtesy of The Times of London.

Tim was a forceful pioneer of birth control in developing countries who never shied away from controversy. As a young physician working in a remote jungle area of Papua New Guinea in the mid-1960s, Dr Tim Black felt a flood of euphoria when he realised that a three-month old baby boy that he had just operated on was going to live. His deep satisfaction turned to shock, then indignation, when he saw the despair on the face of the child’s mother as he placed the malnourished infant into her arms.

“I suddenly realised that I had presented her not only with her baby, but with another mouth to feed — another dependent human being to whom she could offer nothing: no father, no education, no future — merely the cruel ritual of her bare survival. It was at that moment that I began to realise that preventing a birth could be as important as saving a life."

Black made a resolution that day and acted on it by rescuing the bankrupted Marie Stopes Foundation in 1975 and transforming it into a money-making “social business” offering contraception, pregnancy testing, screening, abortion and sterilisation. His vision was to make family planning services a commodity that could be marketed, bought and sold in the same way as aftershave or lipstick.

He believed that such services needed to be unlinked from the medical profession and that people should be treated as customers and not patients. He spread this message with eye-catching advertising campaigns such as a pregnant-looking man with the slogan “Would you be more careful if it was you that got pregnant”. “We just went for it,” he recalled. “We never had a business plan. Still don’t. They’re too inflexible. If we had put it all down on paper it would have seemed too daunting.”

The new organisation, Marie Stopes International, which he co-founded with his wife Jean, started up with £3,000. Serving as chief executive from 1976 to 2006, Black built the organisation into one of the world’s largest family-planning bodies, serving more than 100 million women and men across the globe, and turning over more than £213 million.

His modus operandi was to provide a friendlier, more informal alternative to the NHS, which he regarded as unnecessarily stuffy and paternalistic when women were at their most vulnerable. He pushed for what he called the “demedicalisation” of a service that would be increasingly carried out by nurses rather than doctors. When doctors were required, he insisted that they turn up on time and not keep the clients waiting, as they might do in a hospital. To his delight, many people were prepared to eschew free NHS services and come to his clinics.

In 1979 his clinics introduced a “morning after” procedure to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.

In 1969 Black studied for a master’s in population dynamics at the University of North Carolina. With a fellow student, Phil Harvey, he began selling condoms by mail order, placing adverts with slogans such as, “what will you get her this Christmas — pregnant?” Despite fears that they were contravening obscenity laws, 300 college newspapers ran the ads and the orders came flooding in. They used the money to found Population Services International (PSI), and began pioneering family planning in some of the world’s poorest countries. Their first project was in Nairobi, driving a contraceptive marketing programme in the early 1970s.

He returned to the UK and in 1975 bought the lease of the famous Marie Stopes clinic in Whitfield Street, W1, but did not base himself there.

In the 1990s, during the Balkans conflict, where rape and the resulting pregnancies were one of the most devastating consequences of the war, Black wrote a proposal for the UK government to provide counselling services across Bosnia, and within a year had opened 67 centres; he braved sniper fire on one occasion to get into one of them. Asking a client what else she might need, the response was: “knickers”. Black persuaded Marks & Spencer to donate 100,000 pairs, which were soon dispatched to Bosnia.

Black was appointed CBE in 1994. He acknowledged that he had taken great risks to shake reproductive healthcare so profoundly and was fond of quoting the mantra that “the best committee is made up of two people — with one away sick”. To the end he never wavered in his belief in the cause that he believed in so passionately. “Women don’t lease their bodies from the state or church,” he said. “They own them.”


Marie Stopes, (1880 to 1958), the family planning pioneer

Marie Stopes was born in Edinburgh on 15th October 1880. Marie Stopes not only attended university but alos got a double first, studied in Germany and gained a doctorate. 

Her work resulted in the establishment of the UK's first family planning clinics and laid the foundations of services which are still in place today. She opened up discussions about sex and changed public opinion at a time when the Church, society and the medical establishment were opposed to birth control. But Marie Stopes might never have got involved in family planning if she hadn't had a disastrous marriage to fellow scientist Reginald Ruggles Gates.

After studying medical books in various languages in the British Library, she realized the importance of Family Planning and opened a Family Planning clinic without publicity on 17 March 1921, offering a free service to married women. Its aim was two- fold: first to reach the poor and give them access to birth control, secondly to gather scientific data about contraception. At first, the clinic attracted only three women a day and many were scared to give their names, but it was a huge and significant step in the face of mounting opposition to her writings and work. In 1925 the Mother’s Clinic with its growing clientele moved to its present site, 108 Whitfield Street, Central London, where the nurses continued their consultations, provided a mail order conception service, and gathered data.