Kitty Marion was a German-born actress and social activist deeply involved in the British Suffragette, and the American Birth Control movements. Arrested numerous times in both her adopted countries and subjected to over two hundred prison force-feedings, her unflagging dedication to women's causes led to her association with Margaret Sanger, Emmeline Pankhurst and Edith How-Martyn. Marion was perhaps best known as the woman selling the Birth Control Review on the streets of New York City from 1917 to 1930.
Biographical/historical: Kitty Marion, actress, suffragist agitator and birth control advocate, was born Katharina Schafer in Germany in 1871. Fleeing the authority of her strict father, at the age of fifteen Marion emigrated to England. She soon pursued the career of a traveling actress, during which time she took the stage name she was to use for the remainder of her life. Her disgust at the exploitation of female actresses, paired with her observations of the realities of women's lives around the country, kindled the beginnings of Miss Marion's career as an activist--a career that began with her denunciations of the theater industry, but soon shifted to active participation in the British Suffragette movement.
Miss Marion joined the Pankhursts' Women's Social and Political Union in 1908, and soon began to participate in political demonstrations and marches, eventually engaging in more radical civil disobedience protests. On July 29, 1909, Marion was arrested for throwing a brick through a Newcastle post office window, for which she was sentenced to a month in prison. It was during this imprisonment that she adopted the method increasingly used by Suffragettes to protest their punishment--a hunger strike--and was subsequently subjected to the first of what would amount to a lifetime career of force-feedings at the hands of British and American prison authorities. Marion protested this first treatment by breaking a gaslight in her cell, and using mattress stuffing to set her cell on fire.
Despite repeated imprisonments, Kitty Marion continued her political protests, being arrested several times in the following four years. Her final British arrest was in 1913, under suspicion of setting fire to the grandstand at Hurst Park, near London. For this crime she was sentenced to a three year imprisonment, of which she served only several months before being released to a hospital under the provisions of the Cat and Mouse Act. The outbreak of World War I coincided with her hospital stay, and the British government permitted the German immigrant Marion to move to the United States instead of returning to prison.
Once in the U.S., Marion soon became involved with Margaret Sanger's American Birth Control League, initially working in the office of the League and becoming the "circulation department" for the Birth Control Review in 1917. For thirteen years--until the journal switched to private circulation in 1930--Marion stood on street corners in New York City, selling the Review to passersby and attracting quite a bit of local attention. Her involvement with the Review was not merely limited to sales, however, as she also wrote numerous articles featured in the journal.
Marion's dedication to the Review and the birth control cause was just as iron-fast as had been her support of the Suffragette cause in England. She was arrested several times for her public sales of the publication and charged under the Comstock laws with the sale and distribution of obscene literature. While the exact number of arrests Marion claimed varied, her estimates ranged between 7 and 9 total career arrests. In the July 4, 1936 edition of The New Yorker, an article featuring Miss Marion quoted her estimate that she sold over 99,000 copies of the Review. She asserted she had gone on hunger strike four times, and been force-fed a total of 232 times.
After her tenure at the Birth Control Review came to an end in 1930, Marion became a teacher of diction for students of foreign birth in New York City public schools, teaching at two schools in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. Having been naturalized in 1923, Kitty Marion lived in New York until her death in 1944.
Content: Kitty Marion's papers briefly document her personal life and involvement with both the Birth Control International Information Centre in London and the American Birth Control League's Birth Control Review. The materials range from 1908 to 1939, with the bulk of the materials falling between 1934 and 1937, when she was actively involved in the American and international birth control movements.
The collection includes annotated drafts of her memoirs in English and German, incoming correspondence and newsletters, printed matter--much of which features articles on Marion herself, a scrapbook of newspaper clippings, and three photographs.