Dr Margaret Jackson – affectionately known as Dr Margaret – was a woman ahead of her time. She combined a wide variety of professional interests with an enthusiasm for sporting activities: she was a skilled horsewoman, a Devon County hockey player and a sailing enthusiast of some notoriety. She was also a family woman with children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. But that was only a fraction of the story.
As the wife of a local GP, she was approached in 1929 by a group of Exeter citizens who needed medical support in setting up a clinic. In those days, when it was by no means unusual for couples to have 14 or 15 children, women regularly suffered from what can only be described as an excess of child bearing. So the first Birth Control Clinic in the South West was set up in 1930 in the Co-operative Educational Room in Sidwell Street.
All the doctors in Devon were notified, and invited to refer their patients. Birth Control being a very contentious subject at this time and on offer only to married women, patients looked anxiously through the windows first, to make sure that no one knew them.
Margaret Jackson and a group of lady helpers provided a Birth Control Clinic to help women – most of them very poor – who had medical conditions where a pregnancy could be injurious to their health. However, when patients began to come because they were infertile, she became a pioneer in this field as well as family planning.
Margaret Jackson practised as a doctor for 53 years, helping thousands of people. She continued seeing patients until she was 83, during which time she was a founder member of the Family Planning Association and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
It was a remarkable life, marked by dedication. In 1964 her clinic acquired its own premises at 4, Barnfield Hill, Exeter; in 1974 the NHS took over contraception services; in 1979 Margaret Jackson was awarded the Marshall Medal for her work; in 1987 she died aged 88.
The Margaret Jackson Centre remains at the Barnfield Hill address, providing a self-referral, low cost counselling service to both men and women. To arrange an appointment, call 01392 256711.
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