Angela Booth

Angela Elizabeth Josephine Booth (1869-1954), sex educator, was born at Liverpool, England, daughter of Thomas Plover, a labourer, and his wife. Little is known of her early life. She emigrated to Queensland in 1896 and on 7 January 1897 married James Booth, medical practitioner and a widower with two daughters. The Booths moved to Broken Hill in 1901 and to Melbourne in 1914. While in Broken Hill, Angela began her campaign to eradicate venereal disease, which was to remain a central concern in a life devoted to reform. She condemned the moral double standard and the condoning of prostitution, and her analysis of the problem went beyond that to the economics of dependency. She was a strong advocate of equal pay: when women were no longer 'forced' to hook a man, prostitution would cease to be a social problem.

Mrs Booth was drawn by the logic of her own arguments to asserting women's right to good education and political and legal equality. During the height of the wartime scare that soldiers' movements would spread VD in epidemic proportions, she achieved notoriety by speaking out against condoms being made readily available. It would encourage promiscuity when what was needed was to change male attitudes, she said. She was a founding member of the Association to Combat the Social Evil and a speaker at a conference on sexual hygiene in 1916.

She became a proponent of 'racial responsibility' and a member of the Racial Hygiene Association which advocated family planning and established the first family planning clinic in New South Wales. The sterilisation of the mentally impaired, which was an aspect of 'racial hygiene', attracted more press notice than her reasoned arguments for protecting women's health. Her last publication Voluntary Sterilisation for Human Betterment (1938) was a plea to legalise surgical procedures for sterilisation.

Mrs Booth was a member of the Australian Women's National League and a life executive member from 1931. She was elected councillor in 1926 for the Warrandyte riding in the shire of Doncaster and Templestowe and was returned in successive elections until 1933. In 1929 she stood as an independent Nationalist for the state seat of Brighton on a platform which featured sound finance and 'organisation against unemployment', but no policies specially directed to the problems of women though she described herself in her election literature as the founder of the Association to Combat the Social Evil, and as lecturer and writer on sociological subjects. She was not elected.

Appointed a justice of the peace in 1927 (among the first women so appointed in Victoria), Angela Booth became more involved in the work of the Children's Court. Distressed by the evidence of mental problems among children appearing in court, she urged routine testing for mental deficiency and a more 'scientific' approach in the treatment of state wards.

She was widowed in 1944 and died in 1954. Angela Booth was ahead of her time in her analysis of sexual politics. From her condemnation of beauty parades in 1927 as commercial exploitation of women, to her arguments on the importance of education and equal pay if women were no longer to be exposed to sexual exploitation, she was voicing in the 1920s the analysis of the 1970s, but in a terminology since debased by the linking of genocide to eugenics. For Mrs Booth, the crux of eugenics was planned pregnancy.

Meredith Foley and Heather Radi