Death of the first woman MP

Posted by Helen Tuesday, May 02, 2006

One of the myths the Conservative History Journal and this blog are anxious to dispel is the one about women’s advance in politics and society being only because of activity on the left of the political spectrum.

The autumn issue of the Journal will be centred on the subject of women in conservative politics. In the meantime, today is a good day to recall the first woman MP, Nancy Astor, who died on May 2, 1946.

An American, Nancy Langhorne was born in Virginia but moved to England after an unsuccessful first marriage in 1904, marrying Waldorf Astor soon afterwards.

Nancy was for several years, the perfect political wife, if possibly a little more interested in her husband’s and his party’s doings than many. But in 1919 Waldorf Astor became a Viscount on his father’s death and Nancy decided to fight his seat, defeating Isaac Foot, the first of many political “Feet”, father of Michael, John, Hugh and Dingle and grandfather of Paul. (There might be some political “Feet” I have left out.)

Nancy Astor was a strong supporter of the Temperance Movement (a result of that unfortunate first marriage) and her maiden speech was on that subject. Her first private member’s bill raised the age for the purchase of alcoholic drinks to eighteen.

There were other causes: equality in the civil service, suffrage for women at 21 (to make it equal with men) and nursery schools. All in all, she is somebody most women can be grateful to. Furthermore, she was seriously unpopular with Harold Nicolson, who made some very disparaging remarks about her in his diary.


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