Lady Astor becomes MP

Lady Astor becomes MP

American-born Nancy Astor, the first woman ever to sit in the House of Commons, is elected to Parliament with a substantial majority. Lady Astor took the Unionist seat of her husband, Waldorf Astor, who was moving up to an inherited seat in the House of Lords.

Born in Danville, Virginia, in 1879, she was the daughter of a former Confederate officer who became a wealthy tobacco auctioneer. She married Robert Gould Shaw II, a Bostonian, in 1897, and they had one son before divorcing in 1903. Soon after, she visited England, where she met and fell in love with Waldorf Astor, the great-great-grandson of the American fur trader John Jacob Astor. In 1906, they married. Nancy Astor became an influential society hostess, presiding at the Astor country estate of Cliveden. The “Cliveden set,” as the Astors’ social clique became known, came to exercise considerable political influence in a number of fields, especially foreign affairs.

In 1910, Waldorf Astor was elected to the House of Commons as a conservative, and the Astors moved to his constituency of Plymouth. Nine years later, Waldorf’s father died, and he succeeded to his viscountcy and seat in the House of Lords. Nancy Astor decided to campaign for his vacant seat in the House of Commons and ran a flamboyant campaign that attracted international attention. On November 28, 1919, she won a resounding victory in the election and subsequently became the first woman ever to sit in the House of Commons. (She was not, however, the first woman to be elected to the Commons; in 1918 the Irish nationalist Constance Markiewicz was elected as an MP for a Dublin constituency but refused to go to London as a protest against the British government.)

Although regarded as a conservative, Lady Astor took an individual approach to politics, saying, “If you want a party hack, don’t elect me.” Her impassioned speeches on women’s and children’s rights, her modest black attire, and her occasional irreverence won her a significant following. Repeatedly reelected by her constituency in Plymouth, she sat in the House of Commons until her retirement in 1945.

100 Years of Nancy Astor

100 years of Nancy Astor

Hello #Plymouth – Today, the first ever statue of a woman on Plymouth Hoe was unveiled. Lady Nancy Astor was the first ever woman MP to take her seat in the House of Commons, as the representative for Plymouth Sutton, which is part of the patch I’m running for re-election for. For two years she was the only woman in the House of CommonsNancy Astor literally broke the glass ceiling and that’s why my team and I started the statue appeal in 2017. We handed it over to Plymouth Women in Business in 2018 and they’ve done a truly superb job in fundraising and raising this magnificent statue. I’ve been proud to stand behind some brilliant Labour women who led the campaign. My hope back in 2017 was that this statue would tell more of Plymouth’s story and be a beacon to our city’s girls and young women to make a difference to their city. Nancy Astor and I would disagree on a lot and some of her views would not be acceptable in modern Britain, but that goes for most of Britain’s historical greats. This should not take away from the need for us to tell this vital chapter in our city’s history and British history. As a city we have such a rich heritage but we are not always great at telling it and that’s why this statue will make such a difference.Seeing the statue in its full glory shows that has been achieved – well done to everyone who planned, donated, sculpted and crafted this worthy addition to Plymouth Hoe.Let me know what you think Plymouth

Posted by Luke Pollard on Thursday, November 28, 2019

  • A Statue of Nancy Astor Takes Pride of Place on the Hoe
  • Lady Astor served the constituents of Plymouth Sutton for 26 years
  • Luke: “Nancy Astor broke the glass ceiling.”

On 1 December 1919, Nancy Astor became the first female Member of Parliament to take her seat in the House of Commons. The occasion was commemorated by the unveiling of a statue of Lady Astor on the Hoe, where she lived and served her constituents of Plymouth Sutton.

Lady Astor was a pioneer she supported welfare reforms, equal voting rights, and access to the professions for women. She stood as a Unionist candidate (now the Conservative Party) and was known as a champion for other female MPs, no matter their party affiliation. Astor served as a Member of Parliament for 26 years (1919-1945) and won seven consecutive elections.

Luke Pollard, running for re-election as the MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport said:

“Nancy Astor broke the glass ceiling and that’s why my team and I started the statue appeal in 2017. We handed it over to Plymouth Women in Business in 2018, and they’ve done a truly superb job in fundraising and raising this magnificent statue. I’ve been proud to stand behind some brilliant Labour women who led the campaign. My hope back in 2017 was that this statue would tell more of Plymouth’s story and be a beacon to our city’s girls and young women to make a difference to their city.

Nancy Astor and I would disagree on a lot, and some of her views would not be acceptable in modern Britain, but that goes for most of Britain’s historical greats. This should not take away from the need for us to tell this vital chapter in our city’s history and British history. As a city, we have such a rich heritage, but we are not always great at telling it, and that’s why this statue will make such a difference.”

There was cross-party support for a statue commemorating Nancy Astor and joining Luke at the ceremony were former Plymouth MPs: Alison Raynsford, Linda Gilroy, Baroness Janet Fookes, and Lord David Owen.

/>Plymouth MPs: Alison Raynsford, Linda Gilroy, Luke Pollard, Baroness Janet Fookes, and Lord David Owen.

A Century After Lady Astor Took Her Seat in Parliament, How Have British Politics Changed for Women?

A century ago, Nancy Astor made the train journey from her constituency in Plymouth, a city on the coast of southwest England, to London. There, on Dec. 1, 1919, she took her seat in Parliament &mdash the first woman in British history to do so.

When she was elected as a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) in the U.K. in 1919, women, and only some women (those over the age of 30 who met a property qualification) had been entitled to vote for just over a year. Astor was not the first first woman to be elected to Parliament &mdash in 1918, Constance Markievicz won an election in Dublin, Ireland, but she abstained from taking her seat due to her political party Sinn Féin’s policy. This meant Astor was the first woman to break that barrier. In doing so, she defied centuries of sexism entrenched in British society and, with her debut in Parliament, entered a then-totally male dominated world.

In many respects, Astor’s legacy is a complex one. She was later re-elected seven times before retiring in 1945, having lost the support of her party. Historians and biographers have pointed out that her views in the 1930s included reported sympathies with Nazism and fascist movements she is also reported to have made anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic statements.

24 female MPs were elected in the 1945 general election and Astor was succeeded in Plymouth by Lucy Middleton, a politician from the Labour party.

Although her political life played out during an entirely different era, historians and modern-day lawmakers there are several parallels between Astor’s experiences and those of female politicians in the U.K. today.

Astor ran for her husband&rsquos seat in the House of Commons when he was given the title of Viscount and later elevated to the House of Lords. Astor, who was born Nancy Witcher Langhorne in Danville, Va., to a family that lost their fortune during the American Civil War, stood out among the politicians of the day in more ways than one. A 26-year-old Nancy had moved to England in 1905 and crossed paths with fellow American expatriate Waldorf Astor the pair married a year later.

&ldquoWhen she arrived in England, she was not the typical English woman. She was American for one,&rdquo Astor&rsquos grandson, Viscount William Astor tells TIME. &ldquoI think one of the reasons why she became an MP was because she was entirely oblivious to the barriers that blocked women in England.&rdquo (The first woman elected to Congress came only three years earlier.)

Jacqui Turner, a history professor at the University of Reading, agrees. &ldquoNancy ran an amazing, lively, witty American-style campaign,&rdquo Turner says. &ldquoShe didn&rsquot have that English upper class stiffness [or] formality about her.&rdquo Instead, Astor would meet local people in Plymouth&rsquos poorest areas, sitting down with women in poverty and advocating for policies that would benefit them. Astor gained a wide following among the city&rsquos women, Turner notes, who in turn convinced their husbands to vote for her.

&ldquoThat was really groundbreaking at the time,&rdquo says Charlotte Holloway, a candidate for the Labour Party running to represent the constituency of Plymouth Moor View &mdash which was encompassed by Astor’s original seat until 2010 &mdash in the December 12 U.K. general election. (Currently Labour MP Luke Pollard, Plymouth&rsquos first openly gay MP, holds the seat of Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport Conservative MP Johnny Mercer holds Plymouth Moor View.) &ldquoWhen we see that the [Conservative] government&rsquos austerity agenda has disproportionately impacted women, and we see that children are living in poverty in the 21st century, her legacy is as alive now as it ever was.&rdquo

Astor continued to advocate for local politics, controversially opposing the conventional Conservative Party line and campaigning for temperance by highlighting the damage alcohol was doing to the Plymouth&rsquos communities. &ldquoI look at good MPs today and that&rsquos what they do,&rdquo says Rebecca Smith, a Conservative parliamentary candidate running in Astor&rsquos former seat in Plymouth Sutton and Devonport. &ldquoThey are on the ground finding out what&rsquos going on and aiming to influence laws to bring change in their local community.&rdquo Astor introduced the Intoxicating Liquor Bill in 1923, the first Bill by a woman to be passed into a law in the UK. The law states that it is illegal to drink alcohol under the age of 18 and still stands today.

As a politician, the quick-witted Astor was a &ldquomaverick,&rdquo her grandson says. &ldquoYou never knew quite what she was going to say or do.&rdquo For two years, until the second woman to be elected entered the House, Astor had to fight to be heard. &ldquoShe battled away, determined. She would stand up and interrupt people occasionally or make a tough speech so that she would be heard. You look back at some of her speeches now and you think, &lsquoWhy did she say that?&rsquo&rdquo says William Astor. &ldquoThen you realize when you read the whole debate, she&rsquos just saying &lsquoI&rsquom here too. You&rsquove just had an entire debate on women&rsquos rights and I&rsquom the only woman in the room but nobody has asked me to speak.&rsquo&rdquo

For years, several politicians refused to speak to Astor on account of her gender. But over time, she broke down those barriers, and ended up gaining friends and support from across the political spectrum. Her following was widespread every week, she would receive around 3,000 letters from women across the country, according to Turner.

But the letters Astor received were not always positive. According to historian Turner, one unsigned note read &ldquoTo that blasted American whore, go home.&rdquo For many female politicians, there are clear parallels today. Several female MPs have stood down ahead of the upcoming election citing abuse, including rape and death threats. While Astor received letters, female politicians now receive abusive comments on social media.

A study last year by Amnesty International found that Labour politician Diane Abbott received almost half of all abusive tweets sent to female MPs in the run-up to the last general election in 2017. &ldquoAs a woman standing, it does make me quite scared and anxious,,&rdquo says Sima Davarian, a candidate running to represent the Liberal Democrats in South West Devon. &ldquoThere&rsquos definitely misogyny and nasty rhetoric.&rdquo Davarian says there are also other challenges women still face when trying to enter into politics proxy voting for MPs on parental leave was introduced on a pilot scheme only in January this year.

Astor also faced backlash from her peers, including Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was not in favor of women entering Parliament. (In his younger years, Churchill was opposed to the campaign for female suffrage.) When Astor had taken her seat in Parliament, Churchill reportedly said he felt as if &ldquoa woman had come into my bathroom and I had only a sponge to defend myself with,&rdquo William Astor notes.

Famously, the pair sparred during Parliamentary debates. &ldquoChurchill would make rather long speeches and my grandmother would get bored, so [on one occasion] she stood up and said: &lsquoIf I was married to you, I&rsquod poison your coffee&rsquo, to which Churchill replied, &lsquoIf I was married to you I&rsquod drink it,&rsquo&rdquo says William Astor. In a 1964 article, TIME wrote Astor &ldquowas criticized, denounced and derided during much of her life.&rdquo

&ldquoHer legacy for me was that she stuck it out,&rdquo says Turner of Astor’s role in Parliamentary history. &ldquoShe didn&rsquot give in, she didn&rsquot not turn up, she worked harder than anyone else and she spoke out.&rdquo

And things look different today, with the most recent Parliament included 211 sitting female MPs &mdash although while the proportion of women is at an all-time high since records began, it still stands at just 32% representation. Smith says that she&rsquos part of a WhatsApp group with other female politicians to share support and advice a big difference to when Astor stood alone in Parliament. &ldquoThere&rsquos a culture that it&rsquos normal to have women in the House of Commons now, showing how society has moved on,&rdquo Smith says.

A century later, the female candidates running in Astor&rsquos constituency and the surrounding areas still see her impact, and parallels with her experiences. &ldquoAlthough the circumstances in which she was elected are different than what a lot of us find now, ultimately she opened the door for women MPs to come through, and she held that door open,&rdquo says Smith.

What's her story?

From America, Nancy had married into the immensely wealthy Astor family.

She was first elected to Parliament for Plymouth Sutton in a by-election, replacing her husband in the seat when he entered the House of Lords.

Her charm and ability to appeal to every class were thought to have helped her to victory.

She was a vocal feminist but had no ties to the suffragette movement active at the time.

In 1923 she was responsible for the first Private Members’ Bill ever passed by a woman - the Intoxicating Liquor Bill – which stopped the sale of alcohol to those under the age of 19. The same law remains in place today.

As a woman she faced sexism and resentment. She said of the abuse she faced: "When I stood up and asked questions affecting women and children, social and moral questions, I used to be shouted at for 5 or 10 minutes at a time.

“That was when they thought that I was rather a freak, a voice crying in the wilderness”.

Churchill himself was once recorded as admitting the men of the chamber attempted to freeze her out.

Lady Astor dead at 87 – Model and socialite caught up in the Profumo affair that rocked Britain passes away

THE lady of a stately home embroiled in Britain's most infamous sex scandal has died aged 87.

Lady Bronwen Astor had been one of the most celebrated models of her generation before she was caught up in the 1960s Profumo affair.

But she was shunned by high society after the estate became the backdrop for the notorious affair.

Her Cliveden estate near Maidenhead had been the location where model Christine Keeler - who also died last month at the age of 75 - hooked up with married government war minister John Profumo.

Keeler also had a sexual relationship with a Soviet naval attache Yevgeny Ivanov sparking security fears and Profumo's resignation after he initially denied the affair.

In 1960 Lady Astor had married wealthy Tory MP Viscount "Bill" Astor after being the star of the modelling circuit but only three years later was embroiled in scandal after Bill had sex with nightclub dancer Mandy Rice-Davies - and fatefully introduced her pal Christine Keeler to Profumo.

Cops even considered charging Viscount Astor with operating a brothel on the lavish estate, which is now owned by the National Trust and run as a five star hotel.

Bronwen always held that Rice-Davies was lying about sleeping with her husband, and the couple remained together until Bill's death in 1966, aged 58.

She qualified as a psychotherapist in 1986 and ran a practice for more than 20 years as well as working as a spiritual adviser.

Tag: Nancy Astor

Biên dịch: Nguyễn Thị Kim Phụng

Vào ngày này năm 1919, Nancy Astor – sinh tại Mỹ, trở thành người phụ nữ đầu tiên chính thức là thành viên Hạ viện Anh. Bà được bầu vào Nghị viện với đa số đáng kể. Phu nhân Astor đã ngồi vào chiếc ghế đảng Bảo thủ của chồng mình, Tử tước Waldorf Astor, người khi ấy vừa nhận được một ghế thừa kế tại Thượng viện.

Sinh năm 1879 tại Danville, Virginia, phu nhân Astor là con gái của một cựu sĩ quan Hợp bang miền Nam, người đã vươn lên trở thành một nhà đấu giá thuốc lá giàu có. Ban đầu, bà kết hôn với Robert Gould Shaw II, người gốc Boston, vào năm 1897, và họ có với nhau một con trai trước khi ly hôn vào năm 1903. Ngay sau đó, Nancy đến thăm Anh, nơi bà gặp và yêu Waldorf Astor, chắt của nhà kinh doanh lông thú người Mỹ, John Jacob Astor. Năm 1906, họ kết hôn. Continue reading 󈬌/11/1919: Nancy Astor trở thành nữ hạ nghị sĩ đầu tiên của Anh”


Nancy Witcher Langhorne was born at the Langhorne House in Danville, Virginia. [5] She was the eighth of eleven children born to railroad businessman Chiswell Dabney Langhorne and Nancy Witcher Keene. [5] Following the abolition of slavery, Chiswell struggled to make his operations profitable, and with the destruction of the war, the family lived in near-poverty for several years before Nancy was born. After her birth, her father gained a job as a tobacco auctioneer in Danville, the centre of bright leaf tobacco and a major marketing and processing centre.

In 1874, he won a construction contract with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, using former contacts from his service in the Civil War. By 1892, when Nancy was thirteen years old, her father had re-established his wealth and built a sizeable home. [6] [7] Chiswell Langhorne later moved his family to an estate, known as Mirador, in Albemarle County, Virginia.

Nancy Langhorne had four sisters and three brothers who survived childhood. All of the sisters were known for their beauty Nancy and her sister Irene both attended a finishing school in New York City. There Nancy met her first husband, socialite Robert Gould Shaw II, a first cousin of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who commanded the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first unit in the Union Army to be composed of African Americans. They married in New York City on 27 October 1897, when she was 18.

The marriage was unhappy. Shaw's friends said Nancy became puritanical and rigid after marriage her friends said that Shaw was an abusive alcoholic. During their four-year marriage, they had one son, Robert Gould Shaw III (called Bobbie). Nancy left Shaw numerous times during their marriage, the first during their honeymoon. In 1903, Nancy's mother died at that time, Nancy Shaw gained a divorce and moved back to Mirador to try to run her father's household, but was unsuccessful. [8]

Nancy Shaw took a tour of England and fell in love with the country. Since she had been so happy there, her father suggested that she move to England. Seeing she was reluctant, her father said this was also her mother's wish he suggested she take her younger sister Phyllis. Nancy and Phyllis moved together to England in 1905. Their older sister Irene had married the artist Charles Dana Gibson and became a model for his Gibson Girls.

Nancy Shaw had already become known in English society as an interesting and witty American, at a time when numerous wealthy young American women had married into the aristocracy. Her tendency to be saucy in conversation, yet religiously devout and almost prudish in behaviour, confused many of the English men but pleased some of the older socialites. Nancy also began to show her skill at winning over critics. She was once asked by an English woman, "Have you come to get our husbands?" Her unexpected response, "If you knew the trouble I had getting rid of mine. " charmed her listeners and displayed the wit for which she became known. [9]

She did marry an Englishman, albeit one born in the United States, Waldorf Astor when he was twelve, his father, William Waldorf Astor had moved the family to England, raising his children in the English aristocratic style. The couple were well matched, as they were both American expatriates with similar temperaments. They were of the same age, and born on the same day, 19 May 1879. Astor shared some of Nancy's moral attitudes, and had a heart condition that may have contributed to his restraint. After the marriage, the Astors moved into Cliveden, a lavish estate in Buckinghamshire on the River Thames that was a wedding gift from Astor's father. [10] Nancy Astor developed as a prominent hostess for the social elite. [b]

The Astors also owned a grand London house, No. 4 St. James's Square, now the premises of the Naval & Military Club. A blue plaque unveiled in 1987 commemorates Astor at St. James's Square. [11] Through her many social connections, Lady Astor became involved in a political circle called Milner's Kindergarten. Considered liberal in their age, the group advocated unity and equality among English-speaking people and a continuance or expansion of the British Empire.

With Milner's Kindergarten, Astor began her association with Philip Kerr. The friendship became important in her religious life they met shortly after Kerr had suffered a spiritual crisis regarding his once devout Catholicism. They were attracted to Christian Science, to which they both eventually converted. [10] [12] After converting, she began to proselytise for that faith and played a role in Kerr's conversion to it. [13] She also tried to convert Hilaire Belloc's daughters to Christian Science, which led to a rift between them. [14]

Despite having Catholic friends such as Belloc for a time, Astor's religious views included a strong vein of Anti-Catholicism. [15] Christopher Sykes argues that Kerr, an ex-Catholic, influenced this, but others argue that Astor's Protestant Virginia origins are a sufficient explanation for her Anti-Catholic views. (Anti-Catholicism was also tied to historic national rivalries.)

She attempted to discourage the hiring of Jews or Catholics to senior positions at The Observer, [16] a newspaper owned by her husband [17] in 1927 she reportedly told James Louis Garvin that if he hired a Catholic, "bishops would be there within a week."

Several elements of Viscountess Astor's life influenced her first campaign, but she became a candidate after her husband succeeded to the peerage and House of Lords. He had enjoyed a promising political career for several years before World War I in the House of Commons after his father's death, he succeeded to his father's peerage as the 2nd Viscount Astor. He automatically became a member of the House of Lords and consequently had to forfeit his seat of Plymouth Sutton in the House of Commons. [10] With this change, Lady Astor decided to contest the by-election for the vacant Parliamentary seat.

Astor had not been connected with the women's suffrage movement in the British Isles. The first woman elected to the British Parliament, Constance Markievicz, said Lady Astor was "of the upper classes, out of touch". [10] Countess Markiewicz had been in Holloway prison for Sinn Féin activities during her election, and other suffragettes had been imprisoned for arson. However, as Astor was met as she arrived at Paddington station on the day after her election by a crowd of suffragettes, including unnamed women who had been imprisoned and on hunger strike, one said, "This is the beginning of our era. I am glad to have suffered for this." [18]

Astor was hampered in the popular campaign for her published and at times vocal teetotalism and her ignorance of current political issues. Astor appealed to voters on the basis of her earlier work with the Canadian soldiers, allies of the British, charitable work during the war, her financial resources for the campaign and her ability to improvise. Her audiences appreciated her wit and ability to turn the tables on hecklers. Once a man asked her what the Astors had done for him and she responded with, "Why, Charlie, you know," [c] and later had a picture taken with him. This informal style baffled yet amused the British public. She rallied the supporters of the current government, moderated her Prohibition views, and used women's meetings to gain the support of female voters. A by-election was held on 28 November 1919, [19] and she took up her seat in the House on 1 December as a Unionist (also known as "Tory") Member of Parliament.

Viscountess Astor was not the first woman elected to the Westminster Parliament. That was achieved by Constance Markievicz, who was the first woman MP elected to Westminster in 1918, but as she was an Irish Republican, she did not take her seat. As a result, Lady Astor is sometimes erroneously referred to as the first woman MP, or the first woman elected to the U.K. Parliament, rather than the first woman MP to take her seat in Parliament.

Astor was the first woman to be elected through what has been termed the 'halo effect' of women taking over their husband's parliamentary seat, a process which accounted for the election of ten women MPs (nearly a third of the women elected to parliament) between the two world wars. [20]

Astor's Parliamentary career was the most public phase of her life. She gained attention as a woman and as someone who did not follow the rules, often attributed to her American upbringing. On her first day in the House of Commons, she was called to order for chatting with a fellow House member, not realising that she was the person who was causing the commotion. She learned to dress more sedately and avoided the bars and smoking rooms frequented by the men. [21] [22]

Early in her first term, MP Horatio Bottomley wanted to dominate the "soldier's friend" issue, [23] and, believing she was an obstacle, sought to ruin her political career. He capitalised on her opposition to divorce reform and her efforts to maintain wartime alcohol restrictions. Bottomley portrayed her as a hypocrite, as she was divorced he said the reform bill she opposed would allow women to have the same kind of divorce she had in America. Bottomley was later imprisoned for fraud, which Astor used to her advantage in other campaigns. [24]

Astor made friends among women MPs, including members of the other parties. Margaret Wintringham was elected after Astor had been in office for two years. Astor befriended Ellen Wilkinson, a member of the Labour Party (and a former Communist). Astor later proposed creating a "Women's Party", but the female Labour MPs opposed this, as their party was then in office and had promised them positions. Over time, political differences separated the women MPs by 1931 Astor became hostile to female Labour members such as Susan Lawrence. [25] [26]

Nancy Astor's accomplishments in the House of Commons were relatively minor. She never held a position with much influence, and never any post of ministerial rank, although her time in Commons saw four Conservative Prime Ministers in office. The Duchess of Atholl (elected to Parliament in 1923, four years after Lady Astor) rose to higher levels in the Conservative Party before Astor did. Astor felt if she had more position in the party, she would be less free to criticise her party's government.

During this period Nancy Astor continued to be active outside government, supporting the development and expansion of nursery schools for children's education. She was introduced to the issue by socialist Margaret McMillan, who believed that her late sister helped guide her in life. Lady Astor was initially skeptical of this aspect, but later the two women became close Astor used her wealth to aid their social efforts. [27] [28]

Although active in charitable efforts, Astor became noted for a streak of cruelty. On hearing of the death of a political enemy, she expressed her pleasure. When people complained, she did not apologise but said, "I'm a Virginian we shoot to kill." Angus McDonnell, a Virginia friend, angered her by marrying without consulting her on his choice. She later told him, regarding his maiden speech, that he "really must do better than that." During the course of her adult life, Astor alienated many with her sharp words as well. [29] [30]

During the 1920s, Astor made several effective speeches in Parliament, and gained support for her Intoxicating Liquor (Sale to Persons under 18) Bill (nicknamed "Lady Astor's Bill"), raising the legal age for consuming alcohol in a public house from 14 to 18. [10] [32] Her wealth and persona brought attention to women who were serving in government. She worked to recruit women into the civil service, the police force, education reform, and the House of Lords. She was well-liked in her constituency, as well as the United States during the 1920s, but her success is generally believed to have declined in the following decades. [33] [34]

In May 1922, Astor was guest of honour at a Pan-American conference held by the U.S. League of Women Voters in Baltimore, Maryland. [31]

Astor became the first President of the newly formed Electrical Association For Women in 1924. [35]

She chaired the first ever International Conference of Women In Science, Industry and Commerce, a three-day event held London in July 1925, organised by Caroline Haslett for the Women's Engineering Society in co-operation with other leading women's groups. Astor hosted a large gathering at her home in St James's to enable networking amongst the international delegates, and spoke strongly of her support of and the need for women to work in the fields of science, engineering and technology. [35]

She was concerned about the treatment of juvenile victims of crime: "The work of new MPs, such as Nancy Astor, led to a Departmental Committee on Sexual Offences Against Young People, which reported in 1925." [36]

The 1930s were a decade of personal and professional difficulty for Lady Astor. In 1929, she won a narrow victory over the Labour candidate. In 1931, Bobby Shaw, her son from her first marriage, was arrested for homosexual offences. [10] As her son had previously shown tendencies towards alcoholism and instability, Astor's friend Philip Kerr, now the 11th Marquess of Lothian, suggested the arrest might act as a catalyst for him to change his behaviour, but he was incorrect.

Astor made a disastrous speech stating that alcohol use was the reason England's national cricket team was defeated by the Australian national cricket team. Both the English and Australian teams objected to this statement. Astor remained oblivious to her growing unpopularity almost to the end of her career. [37] [38]

Astor's friendship with George Bernard Shaw helped her through some of her problems, although his own nonconformity caused friction between them. They held opposing political views and had very different temperaments. However, his own tendency to make controversial statements or put her into awkward situations proved to be a drawback for her political career. [39] [40]

After Bobby Shaw was arrested, Gertrude Ely, a Pennsylvania Railroad heiress from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania offered to provide a guided tour to Moscow for Lady Astor and Bobby. Because of public comments by her and her son during this period, her political career suffered. Her son made many flattering statements about the Soviet Union, while Astor often disparaged the nation because she did not approve of Communism. In a meeting, she asked Joseph Stalin directly why he had slaughtered so many Russians, but many of her criticisms were translated as less challenging statements. Some of her conservative supporters feared she had "gone soft" on Communism. (Her question to Stalin may have been translated correctly only because he insisted that he be told what she had said.) The Conservatives felt that her son's praise of the USSR served as a coup for Soviet propaganda they were unhappy with her tour. [39] [41]

Astor's antisemitism has been widely documented has been criticised in recent years, particularly in light of former Prime Minister Theresa May's 2019 unveiling of a statue in her honour with current Prime Minister Boris Johnson in attendance, [2] [4] [42] and more recently after Labour MP Rachel Reeves commemorated Astor in a series of tweets. [ citation needed ] The then-leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, while opposed to her anti-semitism, recognised she was the first woman MP to take up her place in Parliament and so praised installation of the statue, commenting "I'm really pleased the statue is going up". [43]

Astor was reportedly a supporter of the Nazis as a solution to what she saw as the "world problems" of Jews and communists. [44] In 1938 she met Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., who was a well-documented anti-Semite. She asked him not to take offence at her anti-Catholic views and wrote, "I'm glad you are smart enough not to take my [views] personally". She highlighted highlighting the fact that she had a number of Catholic friends. [44] Astor and Kennedy's correspondence is reportedly filled with anti-Semitic language, and Edward J. Renehan Jr. wrote:

As fiercely anti-Communist as they were anti-Semitic, Kennedy and Astor looked upon Adolf Hitler as a welcome solution to both of these "world problems" (Nancy's phrase). . Kennedy replied that he expected the "Jew media" in the United States to become a problem, that "Jewish pundits in New York and Los Angeles" were already making noises contrived to "set a match to the fuse of the world". [45]

Astor commented to Kennedy that Hitler would have to do worse than "give a rough time. to the killers of christ" for Britain and America to risk "Armageddon to save them. The wheel of history swings round as the Lord would have it. Who are we to stand in the way of the future?" [46] Astor made various other documented anti-Semitic comments, such as her complaint that the Observer newspaper, which was owned at the time by her husband, was "full of homosexuals and Jews", [46] and her tense anti-Semitic exchange with MP Alan Graham in 1938, as described by Harold Nicolson:

In the corridor a friend of mine named Alan Graham came up to Nancy and said, 'I do not think you behaved very well' [in a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee]. She turned upon him and said, 'Only a Jew like you would dare to be rude to me.' He replied, 'I should like very much to smack you in your face.' I think she is a little mad. [47] [48]

Dr David Feldman of the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism has also related that whilst attending a dinner at the Savoy Hotel in 1934, Astor asked the League of Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees whether he believed "that there must be something in the Jews themselves that had brought them persecution throughout the ages". Dr Feldman acknowledged, however, that it was "not an unusual view" and explained it "was a conventional idea in the UK at the time". [3] [49] Some years later, during a visit to New York in 1947, she apparently "clashed" with reporters, renouncing her anti-Semitism, telling one that she was "not anti-Jewish but gangsterism isn't going to solve the Palestine problem". [3]

Astor was also deeply involved in the so-called Cliveden Set, a coterie of aristocrats that was described by one journalist as having subscribed to their own form of fascism. [50] In that capacity, Astor was considered a "legendary hostess" for the group that in 1936 welcomed Hitler's foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, who communicated to Hitler regarding the likelihood of an agreement between Germany and England and singled out the Astorgruppe as one of the circles "that want a fresh understanding with Germany and who hold that it would not basically be impossible to achieve". [51] The Sunday newspaper Reynolds News, also reported, "Cliveden has been the centre of friendship with German influence". To that end, several of her friends and associates, especially the Marquess of Lothian, were involved in the policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany. Astor, however, was frustrated that the group be viewed as a pro-German conspiracy, and her husband, William Waldorf Astor, wrote in a letter to the Times, "To link our weekends with any particular clique is as absurd as is the allegation that those of us who desire to establish better relations with Germany or Italy are pro-Nazis or pro-Fascists". [52] The Cliveden Set was also depicted by war agitators as the prime movers for peace.

At the request of her friend Felix Frankfurter, a future US Supreme Court justice who was Jewish, Astor intervened with the Nazis in Vienna and secured the release of Frankfurter's Jewish uncle, Solomon. [53] [54] Astor occasionally met with Nazi officials in keeping with Neville Chamberlain's policies, and she was known to distrust and to dislike British Foreign Secretary (later Prime Minister) Anthony Eden. She is alleged to have told one Nazi official that she supported German rearmament because the country was "surrounded by Catholics". She also told Ribbentrop, the German ambassador, who later became the foreign minister of Germany, that Hitler looked too much like Charlie Chaplin to be taken seriously. Those statements are the only documented incidents of her direct expressions to Nazis. [55] [56]

Astor became increasingly harsh in her anti-Catholic and anticommunist sentiments. After the passage of the Munich Agreement, she said that if the Czech refugees fleeing Nazi oppression were communists, they should seek asylum with the Soviets, instead of the British. While supporters of appeasement felt that that to be out of line, the Marquess of Lothian encouraged her comments. [57]

When the war began, Astor admitted that she had made mistakes, and voted against Chamberlain, but left-wing hostility to her politics remained. In a 1939 speech, the pro-Soviet Labour MP Stafford Cripps called her "The Member for Berlin". [58]

Her fear of Catholics increased and she made a speech saying that a Catholic conspiracy was subverting the Foreign Office. Based on her opposition to Communists, she insulted Stalin's role (from 1941) as one of the Allied Powers during the war. Her speeches became rambling and incomprehensible an opponent said that debating her had become "like playing squash with a dish of scrambled eggs". [59] On one occasion she accosted a young American soldier outside the Houses of Parliament. "Would you like to go in?" she asked. The GI replied: "You are the sort of woman my mother told me to avoid". [60]

The period from 1937 to the end of the war was personally difficult for her: from 1937–38 Astor lost both her sister Phyllis and her only surviving brother. In 1940, the Marquess of Lothian died. He had been her closest Christian Scientist friend even after her husband converted. George Bernard Shaw's wife died three years later. During the war, Astor's husband had a heart attack. After this, their marriage grew cold, likely due to her subsequent discomfort with his health problems. She ran a hospital for Canadian soldiers as she had during the First World War, but openly expressed a preference for the earlier soldiers. [61] [62] [63]

It was generally believed that it was Lady Astor who, during a World War II speech, first referred to the men of the 8th Army who were fighting in the Italian campaign as the "D-Day Dodgers". Observers thought she was suggesting they were avoiding the "real war" in France and the future invasion. The Allied soldiers in Italy were so incensed that Major Hamish Henderson of the 51st Highland Division composed a bitingly sarcastic song to the tune of the popular German song "Lili Marleen", called "The Ballad of the D-Day Dodgers". This song has also been attributed to Lance-Sergeant Harry Pynn of the Tank Rescue Section, 19 Army Fire Brigade. [64]

When told she was one of the people listed to be arrested, imprisoned and face possible execution in "The Black Book" under a German invasion of Britain, Lady Astor commented: "It is the complete answer to the terrible lie that the so-called 'Cliveden Set' was pro-Fascist." [65]

Lady Astor believed her party and her husband caused her retirement in 1945. As the Conservatives believed she had become a political liability in the final years of World War II, her husband said that if she stood for office again the family would not support her. She conceded but, according to contemporary reports, was both irritated and angry about her situation. [66] [67]

Lady Astor struggled in retirement, which put further strain on her marriage. [10] In a speech commemorating her 25 years in parliament, she stated that her retirement was forced on her and that it should please the men of Britain. The couple began travelling separately and soon were living apart. Lord Astor also began moving towards left-wing politics in his last years, and that exacerbated their differences. However, the couple reconciled before his death on 30 September 1952. [68] [69]

Lady Astor's public image suffered, as her ethnic and religious views were increasingly out of touch with cultural changes in Britain. She expressed a growing paranoia regarding ethnic minorities. In one instance, she stated that the President of the United States had become too dependent on New York City. To her this city represented "Jewish and foreign" influences that she feared. During a US tour, she told a group of African-American students that they should aspire to be like the black servants she remembered from her youth. On a later trip, she told African-American church members that they should be grateful for slavery because it had allowed them to be introduced to Christianity. In Rhodesia she proudly told the white minority government leaders that she was the daughter of a slave owner. [70]

After 1956, Nancy Astor became increasingly isolated. In 1959, she was honoured by receiving the Freedom of City of Plymouth. By this time, she had lost all her sisters and brothers, her colleague "Red Ellen" Wilkinson died in 1947, George Bernard Shaw died in 1950, and she did not take well to widowhood. Her son Bobbie Shaw became increasingly combative and after her death he committed suicide. Her son, Jakie, married a prominent Catholic woman, which hurt his relationship with his mother. She and her other children became estranged. Gradually she began to accept Catholics as friends. However, she said that her final years were lonely. [68] [69]

Lady Astor died in 1964 at her daughter Nancy Astor's home at Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire. She was cremated and her ashes interred at the Octagon Temple at Cliveden. [68] [69] [71]

She was known for exchanges with Winston Churchill, though most of these are not well documented. Churchill told Lady Astor that having a woman in Parliament was like having one intrude on him in the bathroom, to which she retorted, "You're not handsome enough to have such fears." [72]

Lady Astor is also said to have responded to a question from Churchill about what disguise he should wear to a masquerade ball by saying, "Why don't you come sober, Prime Minister?" [73]

Although variations on the following anecdote exist with different people, the story is being told of Winston Churchill's encounter with Lady Astor who, after failing to shake him in an argument, broke off with the petulant remark, "Oh, if you were my husband, I'd put poison in your tea." "Madame," Winston responded, "if I were your husband, I'd drink it with pleasure." [74]

A bronze statue of Lady Astor was installed in Plymouth, near her former family home, in 2019 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of her election to Parliament. [49] During the George Floyd protests in 2020, the word "Nazi" was spray-painted on its base. The statue was on a list published on a website called Topple the Racists. [75]

Reader Interactions


This article claims there are 542 Canadian war graves in Italy. According to “Canadian Cemeteries and Memorials in Italy” the number of Canadian war graves in Italy and Sicily is 5,245 (my addition of the individual cemeteries). Since 542 is less than 5,245 the statement is technically correct.

Further, there is no record of Lady Astor saying what is attributed to her here.

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Who is Lady Nancy Astor and why has she been immortalised as a statue?

100 years on since she was elected to the House of Commons, Lady Nancy Astor is being remembered with a bronze statue outside her family's former home in Plymouth.

Recognised as the first female MP to take a seat in the commons, what is the former politician best known for?

And how did the hostess turn into one of the most important MPs of the 20th century?

Who was Lady Astor?

Lady Astor - born Nancy Witcher Langhorne - is considered the first female MP to take a seat in parliament.

The Virginian-born politician was elected as a Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton in 1919 receiving more votes than Labour and the Liberal candidates combined.

However she is not the first ever female MP to be elected.

Irish Republican and Sinn Fein candidate Constance Markievicz, was elected a year earlier but did not take her seat.

Lady Astor went on to serve as an MP for a quarter of a century, eventually standing down in 1945.

How did she become an MP?

The socialite was well connected, marrying into the wealthy Astor family in 1897.

Her husband Waldorf Astor was the MP for Plymouth between 1910 to 1918 and then the Sutton division from 1918.

But it wasn't until he was forced to step-down in order to take over his father's peerage in the House of Lords that the she got involved in politics.

She stood in the 1919 by-election against Labour's William Thomas Gay and Liberal candidate Isaac Foot.

Who are the Astor family?

The Astor's were a prominent family of the 19th and 20th century Lady Astor's father-in-law owning The Independent newspaper.

With her husband, Lady Astor entertained the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Sir Winston Churchill at their estate Cliveden.

Their grandson William Astor III, 4th Viscount Astor currently sits as a Conservative hereditary Lord Temporal in the House of Lords.

What did Lady Astor do?

As well as paving the way for the hundreds of female politicians, Lady Astor had real change in mind when she was elected.

The MP is known for her desire for "drastic drink reforms" which she addressed in her maiden speech.

She eventually introduced the Intoxicating Liquor - Sale to Persons Under Eighteen - Bill, which raised the legal age for buying alcohol.

In her maiden speech she also said: "I am simply trying to speak for hundreds of women and children throughout the country who cannot speak for themselves."

How was her election received?

Lady Astor wasn't liked by everyone and it's even reported that Sir Winston Churchill that they had "tried to freeze her out".

She is once said to have told the former Prime Minister: "If I were your wife Iɽ give you poison in your coffee," to which Mr Churchill replied: "If you were my wife, Iɽ drink it."

It wasn't long before another woman joined her in the House of Commons when Margaret Wintringham, MP for Louth was elected in 1921.

How is she remembered?

Lady Astor's seat may no longer exist - the constituency was abolished to make way for Plymouth Moor View and Plymouth Sutton and Devonport in 2010 - but her legacy lives on.

100 years since she was elected, a bronze statue has been unveiled at Plymouth Hoe outside Astor's former family home.

Former prime minister Theresa May unveiled the work of art sculpted by Hayley Gibbs.

Mrs May said: "I'm honored to be here today to unveil this magnificent statue to a brave and trailblazing woman."

She went on to praise the MP for "giving a voice" to the female population and inspiring her while she was prime minister.

Lady Astor's achievements have also been featured in a local exhibition at Plymouth Guildhall to celebrate the city's most powerful women from the last century.

Outside of the city, the Nancy Astor Express - a train which will travel from London's Paddington Station to Plymouth - has also been named after the politician to mark the occasion.

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson remarked on her legacy, adding: "When Nancy Astor entered Parliament 100 years ago, she was a trailblazer, ripping up the conventions that held women back from joining the workplace."

Nancy Astor’s letters by Susannah O’Brien

It is over fifteen years since I first came across Nancy Astor’s letters in the wonderful archives at the University of Reading. These letters and their owners have remained with me and for the last year I have been writing a novel based on the stories told within them.

Nancy Astor was the first woman to enter the House of Commons. A reluctant MP, she agreed to ‘keep the seat warm’ for her husband who had unwillingly inherited his father’s seat in the Lords. She was an MP for over twenty-five years. It quickly became clear to her that she wasn’t only the Member for Plymouth. Women from all over the UK wrote to her she was the “Lady MP”. By 1922, she was receiving between 1500-2000 letters a week.

Women wrote to Astor asking for advice on birth control, childcare, poverty and alcohol abuse. The letters reveal so much about Astor her warmth, her grit, her contradictions, her passion for improving women’s lives confused with a fear of feminism. There is a different side to her too – she could be madly fun, and was hugely devoted to her friends. She became great pals with T E Lawrence and would ride pillion on his motorcycle, much to the horror of contemporary society.

This blog post gives a brief taster of some of my more interesting finds in the Astor archives and shows (I hope!) why they have provided such inspiration for my novel.

“I have had two babies within seventeen months and the thought of having to pass through what I suffered last time is nearly killing me.” Anon woman, quoted in ‘Report for the Society of Provision of Birth Control Clinics’ which was sent to Astor.

Astor was a contradiction. Her humanity and generosity to women in difficult circumstances belied her Conservative politics and strict Christian Scientist outlook. She was an outspoken opponent of divorce, despite being a divorcee herself. The issue of birth control presented her with a moral dilemma. In 1930, Eva Hubback (ex-suffragette and close friend of Eleanor Rathbone) wrote to Astor explaining that a National Birth Control Council was to be set up and inviting her to be a Vice President. “I need not tell you of my interest in Birth Control, as you are already aware of what I think of it,” Astor replied. “But at the same time I really think I would prefer not to accept nomination as a Vice President of the proposed clinic.”

Clare J. Schweizer of Rhondda began her letter (7 th July 1933) by thanking Astor for a lovely weekend at Cliveden before moving on to say: “I feel that I want to say once more how much I feel the need here of … women being instructed in birth control … I know from the women that the midwives are not keen to instruct them. It would mean less ‘biological accidents’ and that is bad for midwives’ trade!

Astor’s opinion changed over time. In 1933, her political secretary was able to state: “Lady Astor is by no means opposed to Birth Control. On the contrary, she supports the establishment of expert clinics when information can be given by qualified people to those married women who desire it. Moreover, she feels that Birth Control is a far less dangerous thing than abortion…”

“Lady Astor has asked me to tell you how sorry she is to hear of your difficulties and to send you the enclosed £2 towards your rent,” Astor’s secretary to Edith Mann, 27 th June 1932.

Astor was sympathetic to the plight of women in difficult situations, but she took her responsibilities seriously. She asked her secretary to investigate Mrs Mann’s situation. A local charity replied that Mann was indeed in a very bleak state and Astor subsequently sent some money.

In response to a similarly desperate letter from a Mrs Lottie Clark, Astor wrote: “Remember that all your needs are met not by any effort of yours or your husbands but because God is caring for you all … [and] know that God has a plan for them which is finer than anything you could ever wish.” On this occasion, Mrs. Clark’s prayers were indeed answered because Astor enclosed a cheque for £10 along with these words of wisdom.

“You are a dear … your letters always come when I am feeling ‘down’ to cheer me up”. Ellen Wilkinson MP.

Astor was good friends with Labour firebrand Ellen Wilkinson. In a series of undated letters from Wilkinson we see her congratulating Astor for bravery in the Commons (“Please let me congratulate you on your immense courage as a member for a dockyard town in making that statement”), expressing gratitude for her famous hospitality (“It was the most unforgettable party”), and thanking Astor for her friendship. Wilkinson faced financial difficulty when her sister fell ill and she did not have sufficient funds to pay for medical care. “I know I ought to ask someone on my own side to lend me the money … but that means inevitably giving up some of my independence of action which is the dearest thing in my political life,” Wilkinson wrote. Astor lent Wilkinson money and offered to visit the ailing sister.

Perhaps the most telling evidence of Astor’s importance to women is the support and admiration she received from other women. “Heartiest congratulations to you dear Lady Astor,” wrote Millicent Fawcett in 1923 upon Astor’s re-election, “both on your own success and on your going back into the House of Commons with seven other women … We have a lasting gratitude to you...”

In the 1920s women were emerging into the public sphere with a voice and a vote for the first time. Yet despite these new freedoms, they were still imprisoned behind societal expectations. We see these contradictions in the letters both sent and received from Astor’s office.

My novel focuses on Tabitha, a recent Oxford graduate and Lady Astor’s Correspondence Secretary. I wanted to portray a clever young woman who, having fought for the suffragettes, was now looking for a way to make her mark on the world. But all her ambitions were flattened when she became pregnant. Tabitha is fictional, but her story embodies the difficulties faced by many women who wrote to Lady Astor.

Since 2017 I have taken two courses with the prestigious Faber Academy to help me develop my manuscript. I am immensely grateful to receive an independent research fellowship from the WHN. With this funding, I plan to return to the Astor archives to look further at the wonderful correspondence and find more letters to add texture and depth to my novel.

As the 100 th anniversary of Astor’s entrance to the Commons arrives, there is increased interest in her work. My novel will offer an entertaining insight into her words and deeds, and shine a spotlight onto women’s lives in the 1920s. I can’t wait to share Astor’s and Tabitha’s stories with a wider audience.

Susannah O’Brien is a teacher and writer. She has been fascinated by the works of Lady Astor for many years, having studied women’s political history at Royal Holloway, University of London, St John’s College, Oxford, and Trinity College, Dublin. She is now writing a novel based loosely on Lady Astor’s correspondence. She is a Women’s History Network Independent Research Fellow, 2019-2020.

Watch the video: Nancy Astor: First Woman in Parliament