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IWD Collection: Grace Phillips by Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson

Like lots of amazing women, Grace Phillips is not a well known name or one that comes-up in a Google search, but she was my Great Aunty and someone worthy of admiration.

Born in Cardiff in 1909, Grace Mabel Jones defied the gender-odds by securing a place to study medicine at Cardiff University in 1928. She wasn’t the first female graduate of the medical school but she was certainly the only woman in that year's intake. She expressed a desire to "help the well" which led her to obstetrics and gynaecology. 

At this time, maternity care was mostly private and for married women and while Grace delivered some of Cardiff’s most elite babies she also offered advice and support at the Salvation Army Nursing Home (Northlands) where young and often unmarried pregnant girls were cared for. 

Through her obstetric work in Pontypridd and Tonyrefail, Grace realised that family planning assistance needed to be much more than an "add-on" to antenatal care and so a specific clinic to this end was set-up in Splott. Grace subsequently became a leading figure in establishing Family Planning Services in Cardiff.  

I knew her as a lovely Great Aunt who gifted (excellent) chocolate biscuits to my parents and a crisp five-pound note to my sisters and me at Christmases in the 1980s. Grace was small and neat, with white hair and she dressed in skirt suits. She lived near Roath Park, so visits to her house often involved a go on the "big slide" and the possibility of ice cream.

My younger self had no comprehension of her achievements and the help she had provided to so many women at a time when their reproductive health and choices were often disregarded, judged and certainly unfunded.

She continued her clinic in the 1950s and 60s at the Glossop Terrace maternity building (opposite Cardiff’s Royal Infirmary) where she also helped train new doctors in her field.

Grace died in 1991. Her story is political with a small p, but it’s a life led with wide reaching effects. In the late 1990s her contribution to family planning services was commemorated by the renaming of a clinic on Cardiff’s Museum Place “Grace Phillips House”.

I’m very proud of the part my Aunty Grace played in enabling Welsh women to access contraception and take charge of their sexual health.

For a bird's eye view.
Am olwg oddi uchod.

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