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To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, here’s a 50 year old greeting from the archives that has some mystery about it. This card was sent to Carlos Paton Blacker (1895-1975):

International Women's Day card

International Women’s Day card depiticing a palm tree, bamboo and a birch tree from around the world. Sent to Blacker in 1963. Wellcome Library reference: SA/EUG/C.24:Box 6

The reverse of the card says:

“Warmest greetings on the occasion of International Women’s Day, March 8th. May the unity and cooperation of women of all lands gain in strength in the struggle for peace and friendship among peoples, for the rights of women and the happiness of children.
Soviet Women’s Committee”

Although it is an official card and there is no name or signature attached, a copy of the response in Blacker’s personal papers shows that he knew the sender:

Response from Blacker

Copy of the reply sent by Blacker. Wellcome Library reference: SA/EUG/C.24:Box 6

It is likely that Blacker met the ‘mystery woman’ in the context of his international work on population and birth control.

A practicing psychiatrist and advisor on the eugenic aspects of birth control and population, Blacker was secretary of the Eugenics Society from 1931 to 1952. The historian Richard Soloway suggests that Blacker transformed the society from a general advocacy group for racial improvement to one committed to funding and supporting family planning and population control as eugenic tools.

Blacker gained a concern for improving women’s lives through birth control after encountering poorer female patients at his clinics at Guy’s Hospital in London, many of whom were desperate to avoid the financial and health risks of further pregnancies.

Despite his relatively more liberal, scientific approach to eugenics, the movement failed to recover from the taint of the racial hygiene policies of the Nazis in World War II.  After resigning from the Society in 1952 Blacker continued to campaign on birth control and population issues and attend international conferences, where he may have encountered the mystery member of the Soviet Women’s Committee.

The intriguing presence of a card celebrating women’s rights in the Blacker archive highlights some of the complexities in women’s reproductive rights in the 20th century: while birth control represented individual freedom for many women, it also threatened to be a form of social control for certain groups of women.

Both the Carlos Paton Blacker papers and the Eugenics Society archive are available online as part of Codebreakers: Makers of Modern Genetics.

Author: Lalita Kaplish is a web editor at the Wellcome Library


Lalita Kaplish

Lalita Kaplish is Web Editor at the Wellcome Library. You can also find her on LinkedIn and Twitter @LalitaKaplish.

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