The First Lady Of Westminster
The House of Commons had its first female member almost a century ago!
Lady Nancy Witcher Langhorne Astor (May 19, 1879-May 2, 1964) created history by sharing seats with 500 male members of the Lower House of the British Parliament on December 1, 1919!
On International Women’s Day (marked globally on March 8), Parliamentarian Rachel Reeves paid a rich tribute to Astor by inaugurating her publication, ‘Women of Westminster: The MPs Who Changed Politics’. In her book, Reeves portrayed Lady Nancy’s life in a nice and colourfull way… She was born on May 19, 1879 at Danville in Virginia, US. She arrived in the UK at the age of 26. The beautiful, intelligent and attractive lady soon became popular in the elite circle of London.
Nancy’s childhood home, the Langhorne House in Danville, Virginia
In London, Lady Nancy met Waldorf Astor, the elder son of William Waldorf Astor and the great-great-grandson of the American fur magnate John Jacob Astor. They tied the nuptial knot in 1906. Waldorf was a Member of Parliament, belonging to the Conservative Party, from Plymouth Sutton. After his father’s demise, he became a Member of the House of Lords. It was around that time Lady Nancy had contested the by-election from Plymouth Sutton Constituency, and became a Member of Parliament… She received more votes than her Labour and Liberal Party rivals!
Some members of the Suffragette Party (a militant women’s organisation in the early 20th century who, under the banner Votes for Women, fought for the right to vote in Public Elections, known as Women’s Suffrage), gathered at Paddington Station to greet Britain’s first female MP! Lady Nancy served as a parliamentarian for 26 years. She was persuaded to step down in 1945. Her photograph is there inside the House of Commons, while a Blue Plaque has been installed in front of her London residence in her memory.
Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor
Lady Nancy was noted for her exchanges with then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill… it is reported that once, PM Churchill had told her that having a woman in the Parliament was like having one intrude on him in the bathroom, to which she, in a witty and dignified fashion, had retorted: “You’re not handsome enough to have such fears…”
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