Michael Solomons was born in Dublin in 1919, the second child of Bethel and Gertrude Solomons. In addition to becoming a gynaecologist and obstetrician, he became a pioneer of sex education and family planning in Ireland, and a campaigner for the 1983 constitutional campaign on abortion. He was also president of the Dublin Jewish Progressive Congregation.
Following Michael Solomons’ early education in Dublin, Switzerland and Scotland, he graduated in medicine from Trinity College where he played rugby and tennis for the university. Michael Solomons started his clinical training at Baggot Street Hospital, the National Children’s Hospital and the Rotunda. He completed his medical residency at Chelsea Hospital for Women in London, and then volunteered in the Royal Air Force Medical Service during the Second World War, and went on to become a Registrar at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.
On his return to Dublin in 1948, Michael Solomons returned to the Rotunda as an Assistant Master, a role that included home births in the surrounding slum areas, together with in-hospital deliveries. In his earlier days at the Rotunda when he had been a Clinical Clerk in 1943, among the home deliveries, 25 were to women on their 10th pregnancy, 23 on their 11th, 17 on their 12th, and 14 on their 14th with one woman admitted to hospital miscarrying on her 21st pregnancy. The impact of the human cost of multiple unplanned pregnancies, and ignorance of sex education became the driving forces that determined Michael Solomons’ future direction in promoting women’s health.
In 1952 Michael Solomons married Joan Maitland, a cousin of his brother’s wife who came to visit her in Dublin. Joan Maitland’s maternal great grandfather, Lewis Levy had emigrated from England to Australia in 1840 and opened a General Store. He went on to become a member of Parliament and President of the Macquarie Street Synagogue in Sydney. Joan’s mother Molly Levy came to London and in 1920 married George Maitland, a lawyer and metals broker. Joan Maitland graduated from London’s Central School of Speech and Drama in 1947, and married Michael Solomons at St. John’s Wood Liberal Synagogue.
In 1963, Michael Solomons’ book Life Cycle: Facts for Adults was published by Allen Figgis in Dublin. It was the first book of its kind to be written and published in Ireland, a country where at the time there was widespread ignorance about sex education. The aims of the book were to state the facts of reproduction, describe some of the situations a growing adult faces such as adolescence, and to dispel the possibility of fear engendered by ignorance about sex. The book contained a glossary of terms, but in order to pass the censors, there was no mention of contraception. The book was co-written with a psychologist and Catholic priest, who had received the Archbishop’s approval to participate on the condition of anonymity.
During his time at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge, Michael Solomons had begun to become knowledgeable about family planning, and following an introduction by his wife to a member of the British family planning movement, he met Joan Rettie, the Secretary of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) in Europe. She had received a growing number of letters from women needing family planning advice in Ireland, where contraception was illegal. Following the meeting, the IPPF referred women to Michael Solomons’ public out-patients’ clinics at Mercer’s Hospital in Dublin for advice.
In 1969 Michael Solomons was contacted by Jim Loughran, a GP in Skerries to see if he would be interested in attending a meeting on family planning. Following this meeting, Michael Solomons, Dermot Hourihane, Jim Loughran, Maire Mullarney, Yvonne Pim, Robert Towers and Joan Wilson set up the Fertility Guidance Company (FGC), Ireland’s first family planning clinic which went on to become the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA). The FGC staff were volunteers, and they avoided the legal ban on selling contraceptives by providing contraception for free in exchange for a donation. This was made possible as the IPPF provided financial support and supplies.
Although there were those who saw contraception as ‘subverting the national moral orde’ more clinics opened across the country and after years of campaigning by many groups and individuals, in 1985 contraception became available without a prescription. In 2001 Michael Solomons was presented with the Fabulous Founders Award by President Mary McAleese for the long-term effect which the IFPA had on Irish society.
Michael Solomons’ 1992 book Pro Life? The Irish Question addressed the acrimonious debate of the 1983 abortion referendum. Michael Solomons became a spokesperson for ‘Doctors Against the Amendment’ which opposed the amendment because of its possible impact on the availability of existing contraception, and on the doctor/patient relationship, as well as the ambiguity of the wording. In 1983 Michael Solomons spoke at press conferences and published his views in the media, and was interviewed on the radio by Gay Byrne and Gerry Ryan in 1992, and invited to give evidence at the Joint Committee of the Oireachtas on Abortion in 2000.
In addition to his medical activities, Michael Solomons was President of the Dublin Jewish Progressive Congregation (DJPC) from 1970-72 and from 1990-92. As well as working on general congregational matters, Michael Solomons was part of a group who worked to get the Irish law amended to give the DJPC the right to perform marriages between its members in 1972. In addition, he and his wife Joan, who was an active member of the Ladies Circle, worked on creating a commercial recording of the actor Micheál MacLiammoir reading selections of the Bible, which created funds for the synagogue.
In his retirement, Michael Solomons enjoyed being a founder member and President of the Herbert Park Croquet Club from 1986-2002 and President of Trinity Rugby in 1988, together with continuing his life-long interest in horse racing, promoting the artistic legacy of his Aunt Estella, and spending time with his children and grandchildren. Michael Solomons was always the first to acknowledge the invaluable role that his wife Joan provided throughout his life.
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