Friday, March 04, 2005

Family Planning People - Lella Florence


Lella Florence was probably the most influential figure in the history of the Birmingham Family Planning Association and certainly the most colourful. Lella arrived in Birmingham in 1929 after her husband Philip Sargent Florence was appointed to the Chair of Commerce in the Faculty of Commerce of the University of Birmingham. An American trained as an investigative journalist, she worked enormously hard for the causes she believed in most; the peace movement, left wing politics, women’s rights and birth control.

She had a high profile in the Birth Control movement following her major role in helping to set up the Cambridge Birth Control Clinic in 1925 and writing the report of the investigation into the methods and acceptance of contraceptive methods provided to the first 300 women at this clinic. This report ‘Birth Control on Trial’ was published the year following her arrival in Birmingham, and was very well received. It was this enquiry which caused her to set her heart on backing a search for simpler and safer methods of birth control.

Naturally she joined the Birmingham Women’s Welfare Centre as an active voluntary worker and then as a Committee Member. Despite her previous work, her continued enthusiasm and the talks she gave city wide, she appears to have made no major impact on the centre itself in the 30’s. She was not, perhaps, very comfortable with her colleagues at the centre and they were resistant to her suggestions. Instead she threw herself into her other main involvements in local socialist politics and the disarmament and peace movement..

During the war years Lella and Philip were for the most part away from Birmingham. On her return to permanent residence in 1946 she took up her interest in Birth Control and made it her major work. She succeeded to such an extent that it has frequently been said that she started the Family Planning Association in Birmingham after the war! Her return coincided with the general growth of interest in birth control by women and the renaming of the Women’s Welfare Centre as the Birmingham Family Planning Association in 1950.

She was undoubtedly a most dynamic person whose energy was boundless. She soon realised that the Association needed not only to expand but to publicise its work, particularly if a centre of excellence was to be created in Birmingham giving not only birth control advice but helping women with fertility problems as well as marital and sexual difficulties.. When she became Chairman in 1951 the Association felt the full force of her drive and personality. She introduced new younger voluntary helpers, doctors and nurses and wanted the clinic run on more open lines of co-operation between all workers, Lay workers were there to help patients overcome their apprehensions and to ensure that they left the clinic as reassured as possible. She believed very strongly that clinic workers on a session were a team; that volunteers needed to be as committed as salaried staff and that a greater involvement by lay workers in the actual clinic session was essential for the well-being of the patient.

There followed a remarkable 10 years of clinic growth, expansion of services and public awareness of the Association during her Chairmanship. She was on the FPA National Council in the first two years of her Chairmanship, but preferred to concentrate on Birmingham.


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