First lady of politics

Nancy Astor

Nancy Astor became the first woman MP to take her seat in the House of Commons, when she was elected Plymouth Sutton MP in 1919.

She was born in Virginia, USA, but she became an honorary Plymothian.
Her's is a fantastic story. Born into a rich family in 1879, she moved to England in 1904 after a failed first marriage.In 1906, she met and married someone else blessed with wealth - politician Waldorf Astor.

Waldorf became the Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton in 1910, but he had to relinquish his seat when his father died, because he inherited his title of Viscount Astor.

With Waldorf having to move 'upstairs' to the House of Lords, his wife decided to stand in Plymouth Sutton in his place.

She won the election in November 1919, beating her main rival, Liberal Isaac Foot - the father of Michael Foot, who of course went on to lead the Labour Party.

She became the first woman MP to take her seat in the House of Commons.
Nancy Astor was a master of repartee, and she needed to have all her wits about her to survive in the male dominated world of politics.

Her maiden speech was about the perils of drinking, and in 1923 she introduced a Private Member's Bill which raised to 18 the age qualification for buying alcohol.
She was also a fervent fighter for women's causes and equal rights. In an interview given in 1956, she said: "I knew what kept me going - I was an ardent feminist.
"I always knew we had more moral strength. I once said in the House: 'We've got moral strength and you've got immoral strength'."

In fact, she kept going - to use her term - until the 1945 election, when she decided not to stand. By then she'd been MP for Plymouth Sutton for 26 years.
In the run-up to the WWII, she backed Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy.
But she became critical of his leadership in the early stages of the war and voted against the Government in May 1940 - helping Winston Churchill to become Prime Minister.

Nancy died in May 1964, but has relatives who still live in South Devon.


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