The Malthusian

Another in a series of blog posts by Ilka Heale, highlighting the collections in the University Library.


The Library has recently added two journal titles to the catalogue whose volumes date from the late 19th century to the early 20th century.

Photograph by Paul Shields
The Malthusian (1877-1922) was written and edited by The Malthusian League. This monthly journal contained articles on population growth, birth control, poverty and unemployment. The Malthusian League was a British organisation that promoted the cause of freely available birth control information as a means of tackling poverty by giving women the option of family planning. Founded in 1877 by George Drysdale, the League soon began to attract wide public support with similar leagues starting in France, Germany, and The Netherlands (the latter opening the world’s first family planning services in 1882).
Photograph by Paul Shields
In 1922, the journal changed its name to The New Generation (1922-1932) which continued to chronicle the League’s work.

Both the journal and the League take their name from Malthusianism, a school of ideas derived from the political and economic thought of the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus. In his 1798 book An Essay on the Principle of Population, he argued that an increase in population would eventually diminish the ability of the world to feed itself as populations grow in such a way as to overtake the development of enough land for crops.

These journals were donated to the Library on behalf of Eileen Palmer. In turn, Eileen had acquired the journals from Edith How-Martyn, a founding member of the Women’s Freedom League who joined the Malthusian League in 1910. Both women worked closely together in the Birth Control International Information Centre and Birth Control Worldwide organisations during the 1930s, and Eileen accompanied Edith on one of her several tours of India to promote birth control.

Edith How-Martyn by George Ridsdale Cleare. Image used courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery. Reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.

The journals are now in the University Library’s Special Collections and can be consulted in the Borthwick Institute for Archives.

The Wellcome Library have the a collection of the women’s papers in their archives.

For other books in the Library about Malthusian theory and population growth, browse the Library shelves at D 1.3201.

For other titles on the Women’s Freedom League, please look on YorSearch, for further details.

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