University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Wellcome Lecture in the History of Medicine > Divorcing sex and reproduction: the discussion of artificial insemination in Britain, 1918–1948

Divorcing sex and reproduction: the discussion of artificial insemination in Britain, 1918–1948

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A 1922 trial marked the first time in history that a common law court dealt with the subject of artificial insemination. Why did the issue surface at this particular time? Seeking to provide some answers directs our attention to the ways in which commentators in the inter-war years attributed enormous social significance to a rarely employed but simple form of medical treatment. In the early twentieth century, just as the subject of birth control split the medical world into radical and populist types in favour of such discussions and the professional elite who were opposed, remarkably similar responses were made to the issue of artificial insemination. Two additional points are made by extending our investigation into the 1930s and 40s. The first, which is hardly surprising, is that a procedure welcomed by some as a remedy for the unhappily infertile was long regarded by others as posing a threat to Christian morality, traditional gender relationships, and the respectability of the medical profession. The second and more unexpected finding is that such debates reveal the extent and tenacity of eugenic notions in Britain. Both opponents and defenders of artificial insemination argued that they were motivated by a desire to improve the race.

There will be tea before the lecture, at 4pm in Seminar Room 1, and a drinks reception afterwards, at 6pm in Seminar Room 1.

This talk is part of the Wellcome Lecture in the History of Medicine series.

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