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Forgotten letters tell the inspiring story of a Suffolk pioneer

PUBLISHED: 13:05 10 April 2020 | UPDATED: 12:18 13 April 2020

Margery Spring Rice & family in1939  Photo: Lucy Pollard

Margery Spring Rice & family in1939 Photo: Lucy Pollard

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The Garrett family not only put Leiston and Aldeburgh on the map but they improved the lives of women by pushing the boundaries of ‘what was acceptable’. Now Dr Lucy Pollard is about to publish the story of Margery Spring Rice, another of those remarkable Garrett pioneers

Margery Spring Rice in1959 living in Suffolk Photo: Lucy PollardMargery Spring Rice in1959 living in Suffolk Photo: Lucy Pollard

The Garrett family are without doubt a remarkable clan – breaking boundaries, fighting prejudice and creating opportunities – not only in their native Suffolk but across the country.

While the father figure Newson Garrett (builder of Snape Maltings) and daughters Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (Britain’s first female physician and elected Mayor) and Millicent Fawcett ( a pioneering suffragist) are well known, Margery Spring Rice, daughter of their brother Sam, has faded from view somewhat – something granddaughter Dr Lucy Pollard is seeking to rectify with the publication of a biography detailing the extraordinary life of her grandmother.

Dr Pollard said that uncovering of a wealth of unpublished letters between family members as well letters held in the Red House archive along with those in the Wellcome Collection and at Girton College, Cambridge, convinced she had enough material to tell Margery’s story.

She said: “Margery Spring Rice was proud of her East Anglian heritage, and (apart from a couple of years) lived in Suffolk from 1936 until her death in 1970, first in Iken and then in Aldeburgh. She was born into a well-known Suffolk family, her father Sam Garrett was a solicitor who was an early champion of women in the law, and it wasn’t a surprise that Margery knew from an early age that she wasn’t expected to be satisfied with a purely domestic life.”

Margery Spring Rice as a young woman in London  Photo: Lucy PollardMargery Spring Rice as a young woman in London Photo: Lucy Pollard

Spring Rice studied at Bedford College before reading Moral Sciences at Girton College, Cambridge, from 1907 to 1910. She subsequently trained as a factory inspector. In April 1911, she married Charles Edward Coursolles Jones and had two sons, Ronald and Charles Garrett-Jones.

“After losing her first husband, Edward Jones, in the battle of the Somme, she worked as secretary to the newly-formed League of Nations Society, but it was not until the 1920s, remarried and living with her young family in Kensington, that she found the cause that was to engage all her talents and energy.

“She was deeply shocked to find that there were many women living in poverty and ill-health in the northern part of the borough of Kensington (the area where Grenfell Tower is). She realised that while poverty was the root cause of their problems, their ill-health was to a great extent due to their multiple pregnancies.

“Contraception was a dirty word at the time: it was not included in medical training, and anyway in the days before the NHS poor women had little access to doctors. Two contraceptive clinics had been founded in London, one by Marie Stopes in north London in 1921 and the other in the Walworth Road, south of the Thames. In 1924, Margery and two friends set up a third, the North Kensington Women’s Welfare Centre, which was eventually to become the Family Planning Association. For 30 years, she put a huge amount of work, strategic, administrative and practical, into the clinic.”

Dr Lucy Pollard, author of a new book about her grandmother Margery Spring Rice, pioneer in contraception and health care in working class women  Photo: Lucy PollardDr Lucy Pollard, author of a new book about her grandmother Margery Spring Rice, pioneer in contraception and health care in working class women Photo: Lucy Pollard

This echoed the pioneering work carried out by her aunt Elizabeth Garrett Anderson who had opened St Mary’s Dispensary for Women and Children in 1865.

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Spring Rice’s personal life was turbulent. She lost not only Edward but also her brother Harry in World War I, and her small daughter Isabel died of meningitis during that war. Her increasingly unhappy second marriage, to financier Dominick Spring Rice, was one of the motives that drove her public work.

After World War I, Spring Rice became involved with the inception of the League of Nations working as first Secretary to the League of Nations Society – later to become part of the League of Nations Union. Between 1922 and 1927 she served as honorary treasurer of Treasurer of the Women’s National Liberal Federation. She continued to work for the North Kensington Women’s Welfare Centre until 1957, but was involved in other projects too.

Margery Spring Rice in1967  Photo: Lucy PollardMargery Spring Rice in1967 Photo: Lucy Pollard

During the Second World War, being just outside the Iken-Sudbourne battle area, she ran a nursery for under-fives evacuated from London.

In the 1930s she was involved in a close friendship with Dick and Naomi Mitchison, one element of which was a passionate affair between Dick and Margery. Dominick and Margery divorced in 1936.

In 1942 she lost her son Stephen, an RNVR submariner, whose submarine did not return from a Mediterranean patrol.

After the war, she founded the Suffolk Rural Music School (whose work is now carried on by Snape Maltings) in his memory, and she was one of the moving forces behind the establishment of the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948.

Margery Spring Rice's photo of her nursery of evacuees during World War II  Photo: Lucy PollardMargery Spring Rice's photo of her nursery of evacuees during World War II Photo: Lucy Pollard

Not only did she provide financial backing but her home, Iken Hall, was the location of Benjamin Britten’s The Little Sweep, part of his Let’s Make an Opera of 1949.

Spring Rice spent the 1950s continuing to develop family planning services, particularly in Suffolk where she helped to establish several clinics, including one in Ipswich to which she became chairman.

Spring Rice died at Aldeburgh Cottage Hospital in April 1970

Dr Pollard said: “As one of Spring Rice’s grandchildren, I realised many years ago that she deserved a biography, but my immediate motivation in writing it was the realisation that a wealth of unpublished letters and papers survived among various members of the family.

“The resulting book is to be published on April 23 by Open Books Publishers: it will be available free to read or download as a pdf, or you can buy it as an ebook or a print-on-demand hard copy. It is called Margery Spring Rice: Pioneer of Women’s Health in the early Twentieth Century. You can get more information from the publishers here


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