Pyke, Margaret (1893–1966)

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Pyke, Margaret (1893–1966)

English birth-control activist. Born on August 1, 1893, in Hampshire, England; died in 1966; daughter of a physician; educated in private schools; attended Somerville College, Oxford, received degree in history; married Geoffrey Pyke (an educator), in 1918 (died 1929); children: one son.

Became first general secretary of Britain's National Birth Control Association (1929), renamed the Family Planning Association (1938); became chair of the organization (1954).

The daughter of a physician, Margaret Pyke was born on August 1, 1893, in Hampshire, England. She received a private education and studied history at Somerville College in Oxford, from which she received a degree. In 1918, Margaret married educator Geoffrey Pyke, then joined forces with Dr. Susan Isaacs to operate the Malting House School, a progressive learning institution near Cambridge.

With the death of her husband in 1929, Pyke was forced to find a job to support herself and her young son. Encouraged by Lady Gertrude Denman , a leader in the United Kingdom's birth-control movement, she applied for and was granted the position of general secretary of the National Birth Control Association (NBCA). The organization would be renamed the Family Planning Association in 1938.

Although Britain's Department of Health Circular of 1931 paved the way for organizations such as the National Birth Control Association to supply contraception to married couples, local authorities resisted the trend toward birth control. It fell to Pyke and her colleagues in the NBCA to convince municipalities to set up programs to dispense contraceptives under the national health department's initiative. The town council in Ealing was the first to set up such a program, followed by the city council of Plymouth, which launched a permanent clinic in 1932.

Of the United Kingdom's leadership in the field of birth control, Pyke wrote in 1953: "Great Britain has lost the lead she once held in many international fields, but in the field of family planning she is probably the most advanced of all the big countries. Here we have no laws against birth control and we have only a small proportion of the population (between 6 and 7%) pledged to opposition on religious grounds."

After the death of Denman in the early 1950s, Pyke became chair of the Family Planning Association. She also played an active role in the activities of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, traveling in 1959 to India as a representative of that organization. More than 500 birth-control clinics had been established throughout the United Kingdom by the time of Pyke's death in 1966.

Don Amerman , freelance writer, Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania

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