Rice, Margaret Lois [Margery] Spring [née Margaret Lois Garrett]
- Sylvia Dunkley
Rice, Margaret Lois [Margery] Spring [née Margaret Lois Garrett] (1887–1970), advocate of birth control, was born on 10 June 1887 at 25 Hamilton Terrace, Marylebone, London, the only daughter of Samuel Garrett (1850–1923), a solicitor in the City of London who became president of the Law Society, and his wife, Clara Thornbury. Her father, who was one of the first solicitors to accept women pupils, was the ninth child of Newson Garrett, a progressive-thinking and wealthy Suffolk maltster who built the Maltings at Snape. Garrett's paternal aunts included both Dame Millicent Fawcett and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, who may well have sown the seeds of her lifelong interest in social welfare and reform. Her brother was Sir Ronald Garrett (1888–1972), a director of a shipping line and chairman of Lloyds.
After education by private governesses (Isabel Fry and Constance Crommelin) at home and in Paris, Garrett went to Bedford College and then read moral sciences at Girton College, Cambridge, from 1907 to 1910, gaining a second in part one of the tripos. Her subsequent training as a factory inspector was cut short by her marriage on 28 April 1911 to Captain Charles Edward Coursolles Jones, who, five years later, was killed on the Somme. They had two sons, Ronald and Charles Garrett-Jones. With her second husband, the financier (Edward) Dominick Spring Rice (1891–1940), whom she married on 26 July 1919, she had two children, Stephen and (Theodosia) Cecil; the latter, like her mother, was a Girton graduate. Spring Rice and her second husband divorced in 1936.
Spring Rice was active in public life during the war as first secretary of the League of Nations Society (the forerunner of the League of Nations Association). Her public work grew steadily during the 1920s. From about 1922 to 1927 she was honorary treasurer of the Women's National Liberal Federation, and in 1924, in response to concerns expressed by her friends Mrs Lloyd and Margaret Pollock (later Margaret Pyke) about the appalling levels of poverty and overcrowding in North Kensington, she helped to set up the North Kensington birth control clinic and became its first chairman. This was at a time when contraception was still very little discussed; North Kensington had only the third such clinic in the country. For the next thirty-four years Spring Rice oversaw the work of the clinic; she pressed for its expansion in 1932, when the building was doubled in size and the provision of treatment and advice for minor gynaecological ailments was introduced, and she set up satellite clinics in Hounslow, Edgware, and Hayes.
Spring Rice's experience and contacts led her to get involved in the wider birth control movement. She wanted an independent co-ordinating body to advance the movement and to provide support for clinics to promote medical research. In 1930, with others, she persuaded Lady Denman, like Spring Rice a member of the Women's Liberal Federation, to become the founding chairman of the National Birth Control Association (from 1939 the Family Planning Association), which initially co-ordinated the work of and eventually absorbed the five existing national birth control bodies. Spring Rice served on the executive from 1930 to 1958, when she felt compelled to resign over proposed organizational changes. In 1930 she attended a conference on birth control in Los Angeles with the American family planning pioneer Margaret Sanger. 'The principle of democracy is inherent', she wrote in February 1939, 'in the right of the individual to decide for himself the degree to which he exercises the most important and far-reaching of his functions, that of procreation' (Family Planning Association archives A 1/2, p. 1).
In 1933 Spring Rice became a member of the women's health enquiry committee which was made up, on a non-political basis, of representatives from several women's organizations and to which she was appointed honorary secretary. She used the material collected by the committee on the health and living conditions of 1250 married working women from many parts of Britain as the basis for her book Working-Class Wives: their Health and Conditions (1939; repr. 1981), which had an introduction by Barbara Wootton. This painted a detailed picture of widespread poverty and poor health, much of it due to repeated pregnancies, miscarriages, and minor gynaecological problems, and gave rise to much public concern. Spring Rice was subsequently invited by the Eugenics Society to give a lecture on the subject and on the importance of women's health to the nation in wartime. An abstract of her text appeared in The Lancet (3 February 1940) and, in a slightly different version, in the Eugenics Review (32/2, 1940). Her other writings include three articles on wartime child evacuation in the Times Education Supplement and an article on population in the Fortnightly Review. She herself spent much of the Second World War in Woodbridge, near Aldeburgh, where at her home, Iken Hall, she ran a residential nursery for pre-school children evacuated from London without their parents.
Spring Rice was a passable pianist and had a keen interest in music. During the 1930s she acted as unpaid agent for the Rothschild Quartet, and after the war she founded the Suffolk Rural Music School in memory of her son Stephen, who was lost in a submarine in the Mediterranean in 1943. She also played a major role in founding the Aldeburgh festival, providing considerable financial support in the early years and, as a key member of the organizing committee, making suggestions for programmes and artists, and allowing Iken Hall to be used almost as a hotel for performers and guests. Her other interests included gardening, sailing, and countryside protection.
During the 1950s Spring Rice continued to further the development of family planning services, particularly in Suffolk where she helped to establish several clinics, including one at Ipswich of which she became chairman. She was also a co-opted member of the East Suffolk county council health committee. She spent her last few years at a nursing home in Aldeburgh and died from pneumonia in Aldeburgh Cottage Hospital on 21 April 1970.
Spring Rice made an invaluable contribution to the expansion and social acceptance of family planning. Not only was she prepared to take practical steps to provide information and treatment at a time when contraception was virtually a taboo subject, but she also recognized the importance of broadening the scope of the work and regularly argued for the provision of other family welfare services, such as advice on psychological difficulties in marriage and even on infertility—often with a sense of frustration at the more cautious approach of her colleagues and the continuing lack of financial resources.
In 1955, the silver jubilee year of the Family Planning Association, the health minister, Iain Macleod, paid a visit to the North Kensington clinic and asked the association to make the '“most of the occasion” by full-scale publicity' (Leathard). This was the first official ministerial visit to a family planning clinic and marked a significant turning point in social and governmental attitudes to contraception. For women like Spring Rice, whose vision, driving force, and 'combative spirit' (Margaret Pyke's phrase) had nurtured the movement in its early days, it was a momentous occasion. In a letter to Sir Theodore Fox who spoke at the Family Planning Association dinner in 1966, Spring Rice rejoiced in the fact that 'there is nothing and nobody to be afraid of anymore, and that all in good time we will conquer the world with the most merciful “movement” that has ever been' (Spring Rice papers).
- K. T. Butler and H. I. McMorran, eds., Girton College register, 1869–1946 (1948)
- A. Leathard, The fight for family planning: the development of family planning services in Britain, 1921–1974 (1980)
- M. Spring Rice, Working-class wives (1981)
- The Times (30 April 1970)
- Family Planning (July 1970)
- Wellcome L., Family Planning Association archives, Spring Rice papers
- Making Music [Rural Music School Association] (summer 1970)
- letter to Rosamund Strode from Ronald Garrett-Jones, Benslow Music Trust, Little Benslow Hills, Hitchin, Hertfordshire
- b. cert.
- d. cert.
- Burke, Peerage (2000) [Monteagle of Brandon]
- archives of the Family Planning Association, University College, Cardiff, David Owen Centre for Population Growth Studies
- Wellcome L., Family Planning Association archives, papers
- Britten–Pears Library, The Red House, Aldeburgh, Suffolk, corresp. with B. Britten
- Wellcome L., North Kensington Women's Welfare Centre archive
- Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Boston, Norman Hime collection, transcripts of interviews with people running birth control clinics, incl. Spring Rice
- photograph, Little Benslow Hills
- photograph, repro. in Leathard, Fight for family planning, pl. 4
Wealth at Death
£8448: probate, 3 July 1970, CGPLA Eng. & Wales