lady astor was the first woman who took her seat in parliament

The first woman elected vĩ đại Westminster was Constance Markiewicz, but the first one vĩ đại take up her seat in Parliament in 1919 was American-born Nancy Astor.


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Nancy Witcher-Longhorne was born in Virginia, USA in 1879. Her family’s fortunes initially fluctuated, but by 1892 they possessed considerable wealth. By 1903, she was a divorcee with a small child. Her father suggested that she should move vĩ đại England. In 1906 she married an American-born Briton, Waldorf Astor, one of many eligible men who sought her hand. She was a beauty; he was heir vĩ đại one of the richest men in the country and was besotted with her. It was a good social match.

A young Nancy Astor posing with her back turned away from the painter.
Portrait of Mrs. Waldorf Astor, nee Nancy Langhorne, painted by John Singer Sargent in 1908. Source:

They moved in high social circles. Nancy used these connections vĩ đại steer Waldorf away from his family’s interests in newspapers, which he hated, and into politics. In 1908 he was selected as the Unionist candidate for Plymouth.[1] Nancy was an ardent campaigner for him. He came third in the election in January 1910, but was elected as the MP for Plymouth in December that year.

In 1914, she converted vĩ đại Christian Science. Combined with the teetotalism adopted in response vĩ đại her father’s drinking, this would become a strong influence on her life. Waldorf and Nancy took a pastoral interest in his constituency. This increased with the advent of war in 1914 and Nancy committed herself vĩ đại welfare work.

The vacant seat

On his father’s death on 18 October 1919, Waldorf was immediately elevated vĩ đại the House of Lords as the 2nd Viscount Astor. Despite his wish vĩ đại stay in the Commons he was obliged vĩ đại renounce his seat. He considered relinquishing his seat in the Lords. To tự ví, though, required an Act of Parliament, which his buổi tiệc ngọt was unwilling vĩ đại tư vấn for political reasons.

The Unionist Party had vĩ đại appoint another candidate. They originally approached Waldorf’s brother, who declined because of his war wounds. Despite the strength of the Waldorf name, they originally hesitated vĩ đại adopt Nancy. Only one woman was elected in the general election in 1918, the first in which women could stand, Constance Markievicz. As an Irish Nationalist, she did not take her seat. So putting forward a woman candidate was still considered a political risk. Other concerns about Nancy’s suitability were that she was glamorous, sharp-tongued, and previously divorced.

It was Waldorf’s idea that she should stand, with the hope that he would be able vĩ đại return vĩ đại his constituency role. This left Nancy in a quandary. If she successfully ran, and accepted the position in a caretaker capacity, it would be damaging vĩ đại women’s fight for equality. To take on the position fully would not help Waldorf.

Nancy Astor looking out a window in wonder
Nancy Astor, 1921. Source: Woman Citizen Corporation

Standing for parliament

She faced 2 opponents, from the Labour Party and the Liberals. Neither of them had fought in the war, something she focused on when campaigning. A disadvantage for the Labour candidate was that the Labour Party opposed the government’s intervention against the Bolsheviks in Russia. In a naval thành phố lượt thích Plymouth, this was not a vote winner.

She campaigned hard, just as she had applied herself vĩ đại relief work during the war.  She faced hecklers.  Her glamour did not count against her, as it increased the curiosity of her audience about her. One organisation supporting her was the Association for Social and Moral Hygiene. Her advisers told her not vĩ đại focus on temperance as an issue in her chiến dịch.  However, as both of her opponents were themselves teetotal, it did not count against her as much as it might have.

The election took place on 15 November, but the votes were not counted until 28 November. This was vĩ đại allow time for postal votes from those serving overseas vĩ đại be included. The voter turnout was high – 73%. It had been 60% in the general election the previous year. Nancy won with a majority of over 5,000.

Taking her seat

Nancy described her first 5 years in the Commons as ‘hell’. Some members of the House, including previous friends, were unwelcoming. Others, such as Lloyd George, endorsed her.

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It was not until 1922 that any other women took their seats in Parliament. Although Nancy was not associated with women’s suffrage prior vĩ đại her election, she initially supported other women MPs, irrespective of buổi tiệc ngọt.

Her priority was welfare issues relating vĩ đại under-privileged women and children. Her strongest passion, connected vĩ đại this, lắc in supporting teetotalism. She led the bill vĩ đại raise the legal drinking age from 14 vĩ đại 18.

Surrounded by workers, Winston Churchill and Viscountess Astor is cheered by them during a visit vĩ đại bomb-damaged.
Winston Churchill, accompanied by Viscountess Astor, is cheered by workers during a visit vĩ đại bomb-damaged Plymouth, 2 May 1941. Copyright: © IWM.

1939 onwards

As in the First World War, Nancy worked hard vĩ đại tư vấn the welfare of troops during the war, running a hospital for Canadian soldiers. Maybe the strain told, as her wartime speeches became somewhat long and erratic. She was also known for heckling and interrupting other MPs. Such behaviour lost her friends and allies.

Nancy was a woman of strong beliefs; the depth of these feelings means that her reputation today is somewhat tarnished. She was fiercely anti-Catholic, and anti-Semitic. Some suggest that her views were no more prejudiced than thở those of men of the period, but that being a high-profile woman, they were remembered. Most notoriously, in the summer of 1944 she was alleged vĩ đại have labelled the soldiers fighting in Italy the “D-Day Dodgers”. Although there is no proof she ever did use the term, and she strongly denied it, the phrase and her association with it, stuck. The epithet was adopted with sardonic pride.

By 1945 the Conservative Party considered her erratic talk and decline in popularity vĩ đại be a liability. Waldorf persuaded her not vĩ đại stand in the general election.  She retired from politics, but the subsequent strain on her marriage meant that the couple separated for a number of years afterwards.

Nancy Astor’s biggest success was not reflected in any particular legislation she championed. Nor was she ever appointed vĩ đại any significant political post or ministerial position. Her legacy lắc in successfully breaching the male domain name of Westminster and remaining there for 26 years. By doing this she led the way for other women vĩ đại follow her and for Parliament, finally, vĩ đại represent all citizens.

[1] Officially called the Unionist and Conservative Party, later more commonly just referred vĩ đại as the Conservatives.

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