The last posting was about the General Election of 1955, won by the Conservative Party led by Anthony Eden. (Incidentally, why didn't anybody point out that my maths was wrong and it was only sixty years ago? Never mind, stealth edit has been accomplished.) There is one particular MP, re-elected on that day that I should like to write about now: Florence Horabrugh, later Baroness Horsbrugh as she is not as well known as she should be.
As Kenneth Baxter wrote in the Winter 2009/2010 issue of the Conservative History Journal (p.21)
It is a general rule that a second is lessfamous than a first. However, this is not the case when it comes to the first and second women to serve in a Conservative cabinet. The second woman was of course Margaret Thatcher whose name is (almost) universally known. The same cannot be said of the first woman to hold cabinet rank in a Conservative government, for few people today have heard of Florence Gertrude Horsbrugh, who was Minister of Education almost twenty years before Lady Thatcher made her cabinet debut. While some writers such as Pamela Brooks and G.E. Maguire have shown at least some recognition of her importance, overall she has received surprisingly little attention by historians of the Conservative party or scholars of Scottish and British politics, with many omitting her entirely. Yet in her day Florence Horsbrugh was arguably the best known woman MP in the UK and she is deserving of being even more widely known.Florence Horsbrugh was the first woman to move the address in reply to the King's Speech in 1936 and, as mentioned above, the first Conservative woman to sit in the Cabinet. Yet, even when it is acknowledged as in the DNB article that the first paragraph links to, written by Martin Pugh, her achievements are dismissed as unimpressive (apart from being one of the few women who were ready to smoke in public).
As a public figure, Florence Horsbrugh enjoyed the advantage of a resonant, well-modulated voice and a tall, dignified bearing. At a time when women were often reluctant to smoke in public she became noticeable ‘puffing briskly at a cigarette held levelly between the lips’ (Horsbrugh MSS, 1/4). Despite a reputation for being severe in the manner of a Scottish schoolmistress, she was a good-humoured woman who enjoyed political controversy; she once described herself as ‘representative of all the maiden aunts in Britain’ (Horsbrugh MSS, 2/12). Although it was claimed in her obituary (The Times, 8 Dec 1969) that she had ‘achieved many victories for feminism’, these successes were of a minor or largely nominal character; for example, in 1936 she was the first woman to move the address in reply to the speech from the throne. In fact she was a beneficiary of gains made by women before and during the First World War rather than an active worker for women's causes.Allow me to disagree with that for two reasons: women in politics are still fighting for equal status though progress is being made all the time, and, more importantly, conservative women's contribution to that progress has been ignored and dismissed by too many historians both of the party and of the women's movement.