Browne Stella


Frances Worsley Stella Browne was born at Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on 9th May 1880. She obtained a degree in modern history at Somerville College, the University of Oxford, in 1902 anf then became a schoolteacher. Later she worked at Morley College for Working Men and Women.


A member of the Women Social & Political Union, she and others published the first edition of The Freewoman in 1911, a journal that attracted a great deal of criticsm since it advocated `free love’, supported the right of women not to get married, and promoted communal childcare and co-operative housekeeping.


On 21st March 1912 Stella Browne wrote about her views on free-love in The Freewoman: “The sexual experience is the right of every human being not hopelessly afflicted in mind or body and should be entirely a matter of free choice and personal preference untainted by bargain or compulsion.”


The articles on sexuality created a great deal of controversy. However, they were very popular with the readers of the journal. An activist in the Fabian Women’s Group, suggested that readers formed Freewoman Discussion Circles and soon afterwards branches were set up across the country. Stella Browne was an active member of the Freewoman Discussion Circles.


In 1913 Stella Browne, joined forces with Edward Carpenter and others to establish the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology and she wrote extensively in 1917 of the “psychology of homogenic women”. She published “Studies in Female Inversion” in 1918.


A member of the Malthusian League, she campaigned strongly for birth control and abortion. She was also a member of the Divorce Law Reform Union, the No-Conscription Fellowship, the Humanitarian League, the Fabian Society, and the Labour Party.


She was an anti-war campaigner during the First World War and joined the Communist Party on its foundation. Stella remained a leading Communist Party member all during the 1920s and 1930s. In that period, Stella was also the leading advocate for both birth control and abortion on demand, and held many public meetings about the work of Alexandra Kollontai in the Soviet Union. She helped form the Workers’ Birth Control Group in 1934, which campaigned for safe contraception and legal and free abortion


Her 1935 contribution to Abortion: Three Essays placed the subject in a wider context. In 1937, giving evidence to the government Interdepartmental Committee on Abortion, Stella Browne told the committee that she knew from personal experience that abortion was neither fatal nor necessarily physically harmful. This was quite an  admission; normally, campaigners spoke of abortion as a last resort.


She went back to the Labour Party in her old age and died following a heart attack on 8th May 1955 at her home in Liverpool.



Source: see Lesley A. Hall `The Life and Times of Stella Browne: Feminist and Free Spirit’



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