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Gender, Activism, and Sexual Health Services: The Work of the Brook Advisory Centre in Post-war Britain

Event type
Seminar
Series
Women's History
Event dates
, 5:15PM - 7:00PM
Address
Online- via Zoom
Speakers
Caroline Rusterholz (Cambridge/Wellcome)
Contact
ihr.events@sas.ac.uk
Email only

Abstract: The Brook Advisory Centres (BAC) were the first centres to provide contraceptive and sexual advice to young people in Britain. This paper uses public health campaigns by BAC as a case study to analyse how censorship hindered the spread of ‘scientific’ sexual knowledge and information.  First opened in 1964 in London, and quickly followed by other openings across Britain and Scotland, BAC centres recruited doctors, social workers and activists, the majority being women, in order to provide accurate information on contraception to young people. However, BAC members faced a great deal of obstruction in their undertaking. Pushbacks from Independent Broadcast Authorities and conservative lobbies, in particular the Responsible Society, made it difficult to publicise the work of BAC and circulate information on contraception. Drawing on archival material of BAC from the Wellcome library, published leaflets and mass media, this paper shows how proactive, creative, and committed BAC members were in circumventing these obstacles, and the extent to which they relentlessly tried to alter the way censorship worked in Britain. By focusing on two unsuccessful attempts by BAC to use commercial and television as channel of information, this paper reveals what was deemed legitimate and acceptable in terms of sexuality in the British society in the years following the so-called ‘sexual revolution’. It shows how strong the conservative lobby was and how young sexuality remained a controversial topic at a time when sexual mores were said to be loosening and when sex was increasingly used for commercial purposes. By studying the institutional reaction to BAC’s work, this research allows to uncover permanent and engrained gendered anxieties towards young sexuality and to identify powerful lobbies that went against attempts to counter abortion and the spread of venereal diseases.

Caroline Rusterholz is a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at the Faculty of History, Cambridge University. Her research interests include the fields of comparative gender history, historical demography and social history of medicine and sexuality. Beyond her interest in youth sexuality, she has published on the history of reproductive politics in Switzerland and on the role played by women doctors in the medicalization of birth control in twentieth century Britain and France.  Her forthcoming book, Women's Medicine, Sex, Family Planning and British Women doctors in transnational perspective (1920-70) will be out in December with Manchester University Press.

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