Susan Birch, University of Winchester

Family Planning

My PhD thesis examines the Family Planning Association, a national organisation that provided family planning support, after the Second World War. I chose to study this period because traditionally the 1940s and 1950s have been largely overlooking, with research tending to focus on the 1960s and the importance of the contraceptive pill in establishing a sexual revolution.[1] More recently there has been literature analysing the earlier post-war period in terms of married sexuality and contraceptive practices.[2] My thesis furthers this by exploring the Family Planning Association and how family planning support operated locally in Birmingham and Winchester during this time period.

In this blog I will discuss the importance of Exeter in developing infertility support and its impact on both the Birmingham and Winchester clinics. I will also look at the contribution of women at the clinics in Birmingham and Winchester: namely Hilda Lloyd and Hilda Gurney Dixon.

Development of Support: Infertility and the Importance of Exeter

Numerous scholars, for instance Claire Langhamer, have emphasised the increased importance of motherhood in the post-war period.[3] This importance encouraged the Family Planning Association to open up provision in areas such as pregnancy diagnosis and infertility.[4] One of the major pioneers in infertility within the Family Planning Association was Dr Margaret Jackson. She helped found the first birth control clinic in the South West (Exeter) in 1930. When patients started to come because of concerns regarding infertility, she became influential in this area. For example, Margaret Jackson organised a conference on infertility, held at the University College of the South-West (University of Exeter), in September 1948. It was a prominent conference as it focused on both male and female infertility. Margaret Jackson presented two papers at the conference: on vitamin e and basal temperature charts. In these papers she challenged previous research that vitamin E helped male infertility. She also revealed why temperature charts often did not practically work, including patients not being able to shake the thermometer down properly.[5] Margaret Jackson’s research influenced infertility support in many of the family planning clinics: including Birmingham and Winchester.

Infertility Support in Birmingham and Winchester

In 1953 Margaret Jackson encouraged every clinic to promote infertility support through the use of a speculum in examinations. By 1953, speculums had been purchased by the Birmingham clinic and were used for every new patient.[6] Hilda Lloyd had been instrumental in encouraging the Birmingham clinic to use speculums. She was a founding member of the Birmingham clinic and became President in 1951. In her role she regularly supported doctors at the Birmingham clinic on issues such as contraceptive methods and offering evening sessions.[7] Hilda Lloyd had studied Medicine at the University of Birmingham, and became a Lecturer at the university in 1946. Her position allowed her to support the Birmingham clinic with academic networks within the university as well as infertility queries.

In Winchester infertility support was also encouraged. By 1951 there was an increase in infertility cases at the clinic and by 1954/55 there was a significant rise in the number of cases being sent by local doctors to the Winchester clinic.[8] One of the prominent women involved in the clinic was Hilda Gurney Dixon: the Chair of the Winchester clinic. She was the wife of Samuel Gurney Dixon, the Senior Pro- Chancellor of the University of Southampton, from 1952 to 1966. The work of Hilda Gurney Dixon at the Winchester clinic is considered in my thesis, alongside Hilda Lloyd’s work at the Birmingham clinic and other prominent women, to understand their contribution in providing family planning support in the two locations.

Susan Birch is a part time PhD student with the University of Winchester. Her project examines the Family Planning Association in Birmingham and Winchester from 1945 to 1955. Susan will be discussing the work of Hilda Gurney Dixon and Hilda Lloyd (and other prominent women at the Birmingham and Winchester clinics) and their academic networks at the Women and Worlds of Learning in Europe: From the Medieval to the Modern Day conference on the 12th-13th April at Oxford University.

[1] For example, Hera Cook, The Long Sexual Revolution: English Women, Sex, and Contraception 1800-1975 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). Although Cook examines sexuality and contraception for a long period 1800-1975 her work highlights the importance of the advent of the pill in the 1960s.

[2] Simon Szreter and Kate Fisher, Sex Before the Sexual Revolution: Intimate Life in England 1918-1963 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)

[3] Claire Langhamer, ‘The Meanings of Home in Postwar Britain’. Journal of Contemporary History 40.2 ( 2005): 255, accessed 5th February 2023, doi: 10.1177/0022009405051556

[4] Audrey Leathard, The Fight for Family Planning: The Development of Family Planning Services in Britain 1921-74 ( Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1980), 230.

[5] The Family Planning Association Conference on Infertility held at University College of the South-West, Exeter, September 25th and 15th, 1948. Held at the Wellcome Library, London.

[6] For example, discussion on purchasing speculums is listed as early as 6th April 1951, Birmingham Executive Committee minutes, x13/2. Held at the Wellcome Library.

[7] Birmingham Executive Committee minutes, April 9th 1953, x13/3. Held at the Wellcome Library.

[8] Minutes of a meeting of the Winchester Branch Committee of the Family Planning Association Friday 14th December 1951, SA/FPA/A4/J277/2;  Hants C.C . Types of cases sent by the doctor to the Clinics at Winchester and Fareham during 1954 to 1955, SA/FPA/A4/J277/2. Held at the Wellcome Library.