: DEMOCRATIC PROCESS
Lady Nancy Astor: The First Female MP – 1919
Nancy Astor was the first woman to take up her seat in the Parliament but she was not the first to be elected.
Countess de Markievicz
Countess de Markievicz (1868-1927) was a member of Sinn Fein. Married to a Polish Count, she had played a part in the Easter Rising of 1916 and stood for election for a seat in Dublin whilst in Holloway prison in London in December 1918. She won. As a member of Sinn Fein, The Countess did not take her seat in the Parliament of the United Kingdom refusing to take the oath of allegiance.
About Nancy Astor
Nancy Astor was a Viscountess. Born in Virginia, 1879, she moved to England following her divorce from her first husband and later married Waldorf Astor in 1906. She was not part of the suffragette movement and being American-born and from the upper classes frowned upon by some women’s groups. Astor became well known for her strong views and clever wit. This saw her clash with amongst others Winston Churchill.
Lady Nancy Astor: “Winston, if you were my husband, I’d poison your tea.
Churchill: “Nancy, if I were your husband, I’d drink it.”
Taking up a seat in Parliament
Astor’s husband, Waldorf Astor was the Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton. In 1919 it was announced that he would be taking up a place in the House of Lords following the death of his father.
Lady Nancy Astor became the by-election candidate for Plymouth Sutton for the Conservative Party and won. She held the seat until retiring in June 1945.
Time in Parliament
Nancy Astor made her maiden (first) speech to Parliament on 24 February 1920 during which she pressed for the return of strict drinking hours that had been evoked during the First World War.
During her long time in office Astor devoted herself to the causes of women and children, education and nursery schools.
The Cliveden Set
The ‘Cliveden Set’, was named after the gatherings at their home Cliveden in Buckinghamshire. This included the Speaker of the House of Commons and Lord Halifax, who would later become Foreign Secretary.
Astor became associated with appeasement in the years before the Second World War and received criticism for the influence the Cliveden Set was seen to have on news coverage (Lord Astor owned the Observer paper) policy and appointments.
Astor also received personal attacks after negative comments she made about Jewish people were reported in the newspapers.
After the start of the Second World War, Astor joined those supporting the resignation of Neville Chamberlain.
After stepping down her son, John Astor later reclaimed the parliamentary seat. Lady Nancy Astor died in 1964.
Family Link to Samantha Cameron
Did you know? The former Prime Minister’s wife, Samantha Cameron is the daughter of Annabel Jones and Sir Reginald Sheffield, 8th Baronet. When her parents divorced Samantha’s mother went on to marry William Waldorf Astor III.
Find out more about other women who shaped British politics including the Suffragettes, Millie Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst.