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Witcop, Rose Lillian [formerly Rachel Vitkopski]locked

(1890–1932)
  • Nicolas Walter

Witcop, Rose Lillian [formerly Rachel Vitkopski] (1890–1932), anarchist and feminist, was born on 9 April 1890 near Kiev, Ukraine, the youngest daughter of Simon Witcop (Shimon Vitkopski), and his wife, Freda Grill. In 1895 her Jewish family left Russia and settled in England. All the members of the family earned their living in the garment trade in the East End of London, and she worked as a milliner. Witcop and two of her elder sisters soon broke away from the religious and political views of their parents, and became involved in the anarcho-syndicalist movement which flourished among the Jewish workers. Witcop's sister Milly became the companion of the leading figure in the movement, Rudolf Rocker, and she herself became the companion of the young English anarchist Guy Aldred (1886–1963), despite the opposition of both their families. They refused to marry, and set up house together in Shepherd's Bush when she was only seventeen years old. She appropriately went into labour during the May day demonstration of 1909, and their only child, Guy Annesley, was born the next day.

Witcop began her public career at sixteen, opposing the campaign for women's suffrage for feminist reasons in a letter to the anarcho-syndicalist paper Voice of Labour (2 March 1907). She was assistant editor of Aldred's anarchist papers Herald of Revolt (1910–14) and The Spur (1914–21), and acting editor while he was imprisoned for resisting conscription during the First World War (1916–19). She always opposed the oppression of women, and she also opposed the war effort. After the war she was for a time involved with Aldred in the negotiations to form a united Communist Party of Great Britain, and she travelled to Russia in 1921 in a vain attempt to get support for their small organization.

However, from 1921 Rose Witcop concentrated her attention on birth control. She was associated with Margaret Sanger, the American birth control leader, from 1914, acting as her host in her visits to Britain, joining her in a trip to Germany in 1920, and publishing several British editions of her books. This led to one of the last attempts by the authorities to suppress the publication of birth control material by legal action. In December 1922 her premises were searched, copies of an illustrated edition of Family Limitation were seized, and a destruction order was made. Witcop and Aldred lost the ensuing trial at the magistrates' court and an appeal to the London sessions in January and February 1923. The resulting publicity was generally unfavourable to the authorities, and Witcop soon published with impunity a new edition without illustrations. At the same time she was involved with birth control propagandists in the Labour Party, and became associated with several leading figures in the labour and feminist movements.

Witcop had always practised as well as preached the doctrine of free love, taking several lovers while she lived with Guy Aldred. From 1921 they lived apart, and he spent most of his time in Glasgow; but in response to an official threat of deportation as an alien, they were married at the Glasgow register office on 2 February 1926. Witcop had by then put into practice her propaganda for birth control. On 11 May 1925 she opened her own People's Clinic for Birth Control and Social Welfare which she maintained first in Fulham and then in Shepherd's Bush until her death. Witcop died unexpectedly of peritonitis following an operation for appendicitis on 4 July 1932 at St George's Hospital, London. She was cremated at Golders Green on 6 July, and was mourned by a large number of political associates as well as personal acquaintances.

Rose Witcop made important contributions to three areas of radical activity in her adopted country: as an active anarcho-syndicalist before the First World War, as an active anti-militarist during the First World War, and as an active proponent and practitioner of birth control after the First World War.

Sources

  • S. Walter, Anarchism and feminism reconciled? The life and work of Rose Witcop (1987)
  • G. Aldred, No traitor's gait! (1955–63)
  • J. T. Caldwell, Come dungeons dark: the life and times of Guy Aldred, Glasgow anarchist (1988)
  • N. Walter, ‘Guy A. Aldred’, The Raven, 1/1 (1987), 77–92
  • Freedom, new ser. (Sept–Nov 1932)
  • R. M. Fox, Drifting men (1930)
  • R. M. Fox, Smoky crusade (1937)
  • R. Rocker, Milly Witkop-Rocker, pbk edn (1981)
  • M. Sanger, An autobiography (1938)
  • m. cert.
  • d. cert.
  • The Freethinker (17 July 1932)

Archives

  • BL, Marie Stopes MSS
  • Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis, Amsterdam, Berkman and Nettlau collections
  • L. Cong., Margaret Sanger MSS
  • Mitchell L., Glas., Aldred collection

Likenesses

  • photographs, repro. in Walter, Anarchism
  • photographs, repro. in Aldred, No traitor's gait!
  • photographs, Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis, Amsterdam