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WOMEN'S POLITICAL RECORDS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

This page lists some of the political records held by women MPs, peers, and office-holders, drawn from the information in our Observatory. Similar information about women in Irish politics is listed on this page.

I) WOMEN MPs' RECORDS

FIRST WOMAN MEMBER OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
Constance Markievicz
was elected MP for Dublin St Patrick's Ward in the general election of December 1918, the first election at which women voted and stood as candidates. Markievicz was in Holloway Gaol for her suspected involvement with the 'German plot' when she was declared the new MP. Prime Minister Lloyd George nonetheless sent a letter inviting her to the State Opening of Parliament, though with her Sinn Féin colleagues she refused to sit at Westminster. Instead, after being released in March 1919, she became Minister for Labour in Dáil Eireann, where she served until her death in 1927. However she was reported to have secretly visited the MPs' cloakroom to see her name on the hat-peg reserved for her.

The first woman to sit in the Commons was American-born Nancy, Viscountess Astor, who on 28 November 1919 was elected as a Conservative in her husband's former seat of Plymouth Sutton after he succeeded to the peerage. It was hoped that the law could be changed to enable Lord Astor to surrender his peerage and she would only hold his seat until he could return, but this effort failed and she remained an MP until July 1945. A plaque commemorating her achievement now hangs near the entrance to Strangers' Gallery.

FIRST MARRIED COUPLE IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
There have been over a dozen husbands and wives to sit in the House of Commons together and the first was Walter and Hilda Runciman. Sir Walter, a former Liberal minister, was unhappy with his constituency of Swansea and wanted to move to St Ives at the next election. When it became vacant his wife successfully stood for the seat at a by-election in March 1928 and held it for him until parliament was dissolved in May 1929. Mrs Runciman stood for Tavistock at the ensuing general election but was very narrowly defeated.

FIRST FATHER AND DAUGHTER/BROTHER AND SISTER MPs
David Lloyd George
's son Gwylim and daughter Megan followed him into the House of Commons, respectively, in 1922 and 1929 as MPs for Pembrokeshire and Anglesey. Both began their careers as Liberals but Gwylim eventually joined the Conservatives and become Home Secretary, while his sister, after being defeated in 1950, returned in 1957 as Labour MP for Camarthen until her death in 1966. She was also the first woman MP from Wales, of whom there have been less than ten.

FIRST MOTHER AND SON MPs
Three of Nancy Astor's sons sat in the Commons, though only one, William Waldorf Astor, served in the House with her, as MP for East Fulham from 1935 until 1945. Her son John Jacob represented her old constituency of Plymouth Sutton in 1950, five years after she had reluctantly retired.

(No mother and daughter have ever sat in the House together, though Shirley Summerskill became MP for Halifax in 1964, five years after her mother Edith Summerskill retired as MP for West Fulham.)

FIRST SISTERS IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
The first pair of sisters to be elected to the House of Commons were twins Angela and Maria Eagle. On 2 May 1997 Maria was elected MP for Liverpool Garston and joined her sister who had earlier been re-elected MP for Wallasey. A few hours later sisters and fellow Labour MPs Sylvia Heal (Mid Staffordshire 1990-1992, Halesowen & Rowley Regis, 1997-present) and Ann Keen (Brentford and Isleworth, 1997-present) were elected. The Eagles are both now junior ministers.

OLDEST AND LONGEST SERVING WOMAN MP
Dame Irene Ward
(born 23 February 1895) retired as an MP on 20 September 1974, aged 79 years 6 months and 25 days after having served 38 years as an MP. She represented Wallsend from 27 October 1931 until 15 June 1945, and Tynemouth from 8 February 1950 until 8 February 1974. Though no woman has ever been the longest-serving of all members she was known unofficially as the Mother of the House.

Barbara Castle holds the record for longest unbroken service in the Commons, having been MP for Blackburn and Blackburn East from July 1945 until April 1979. Following her retirement as an MP she served ten years in the European Parliament and has been a member of the House of Lords for the past eleven years. The oldest woman first elected to the House was Dr Ethel Bentham, who became Labour MP for Islington East in 1929 at age 68 and died two years later.

YOUNGEST WOMAN MP
Bernadette Devlin
was 21 at time of her election as Independent Unity MP for Mid Ulster on 17 April 1969 and took her seat on her twenty-second birthday, 23 April, when she delivered an 'electrifying' maiden speech. Defeated in February 1974, she unsuccessfully contested the 1979 European election and the Irish Dáil elections of 1982.

SHORTEST SERVING WOMAN MP
Labour's Ruth Dalton served only three months in the Commons, from 7 February to 7 May 1929. Like Hilda Runciman, Mrs Dalton entered the Commons at a by-election only to vacate the seat (Bishop Auckland) for her husband at the next general election. However she did not warm to the Commons, preferring the London County Council where she felt more work was accomplished, and never stood for election again. Almost 45 years later Margo McDonald served a similarly short stint in parliament, as SNP MP for Glasgow Govan from 8 November 1973 until 8 February 1974. In 1999 she finally returned to elected office as an MSP.

BIGGEST MAJORITY
The Countess of Iveagh received 46,564 out of 54,305 votes at Southend-on-Sea in 1931, a majority of 71.5 per cent. Her political career began within the Conservative Party, where she was chair of the Conservative women's organization, before inheriting this safe seat from her husband when he became a peer in 1927. Though she was one of the least active women MPs in the House she won a commanding 85% of the vote in 1931, representing the all-party National Government which won a landslide. In 1935 she stood down and was succeeded by her son-in-law.

NARROWEST MAJORITY
Margaret Bain
was elected MP for Dunbartonshire East by 22 votes at the election of October 1974. This was the closest election in the country but marked an improvement for Mrs Bain, who had placed third in the election only the previous February. Her Conservative opponent had enjoyed a mere eight months as an MP, but his party dropped a threatened legal challenge. She lost the seat in 1979 but returned as MP for Moray, as Margaret Ewing, from 1987 until 2001 and now sits in the Scottish Parliament.

II) WOMEN PEERS' RECORDS

FIRST WOMAN IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS
The first woman member of the House of Lords was Baroness Wootton of Abinger, the sociology professor and magistrate Barbara Wootton, who was created a life peer on 8 August 1958. She was one of the first four women so created following passage of the 1958 Life Peerage Act, which addressed the need for fresh blood to revive the House. However the first of these four to take her seat, on 21 October 1958, was Baroness Swanborough, dowager Marchioness of Reading and founder of the Women's Royal Voluntary Service. Lady Wootton sat as a Labour peer and Lady Swanborough was a Cross-Bencher. Lady Wootton's husband hoped he could sit in the same gallery as the peers' wives but was instead given a place in the Distinguished Strangers' Gallery.

FIRST MARRIED COUPLE IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS
The first married couple to sit in the House of Lords was Baroness Beaumont, who had campaigned for women's admission to the Lords in the 1920s and 1940s, and her husband Lord Howard of Glossop. He escorted her to the House on 5 December 1963, a few months after the passage of the Peerage Act enabled hereditary peeresses to take their seats in the Lords, and they both sat as Conservatives.

FIRST MOTHER AND SON IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS
The first mother and son to sit in the Lords were Baroness Strange of Knokin and her son the second Viscount St Davids. During the debates on admitting hereditary peeresses in 1959 and 1963 St Davids, a Labour peer, had argued that extending the hereditary principle to women would be wrong, but was the first to congratulate his mother after her maiden speech in 1965. No mother and daughter have sat in the House of Lords together.

OLDEST WOMAN PEER
The Countess of Kintyre died on 21 September 1974 at the age of 100 years and one day but never took her seat in the House of Lords, having succeeded at the age of 92 and apparently deciding it was too late for a political career. The oldest woman to sit in the Lords was Baroness Hylton-Foster. The daughter and wife of Speakers of the House, her husband died before he could be elevated to the peerage and she was appointed in his stead in 1965. The oldest woman to be created a peer was eighty-year old Baroness Spencer-Churchill (1885-1977), so created after her husband Winston's death in 1965.

YOUNGEST WOMAN PEER
Baroness Masham of Ilton
was 34 years old when created a peer in February 1970. Crippled in a riding accident in 1959, Susan Cunliffe-Lister remained active in sports, and worked for the Paraplegic Sports Endowment Fund and the Yorkshire Association of Disabled. Her services resulted in her becoming the youngest person to be created a peer in the twentieth century. From 1972 until 1999 her husband, the Earl of Swinton, was also a member of the Lords.

LONGEST TENURE IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS
Baroness Darcy de Knayth
was one of the first sixteen hereditary peeresses admitted to the House of Lords by the Peerage Act in August 1963 and the only one to survive the cull of hereditary members in 1999, topping the poll in the election of cross-bench peers. However, she did not actually sit in the House until July 1969. The longest any woman sat in the House was Baroness Brooke of Ystradfellte, vice-chairman of the Conservative Party and mother of former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Brooke, who was created a peer on 7 December 1964 and died 1 September 2000.

SHORTEST TENURE IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS
On 2 October 1979 Betty Harvie Anderson was created Baroness Skrimshire of Quarter after twenty years as a Conservative MP. At the end of the month she took her seat in the Upper House but died of bronchitis exactly one week later, on 7 November, aged 66.

III) WOMEN OFFICE-HOLDERS' RECORDS

FIRST WOMAN MINISTER, CABINET MINISTER, AND PRIVY COUNCILLOR Margaret Bondfield, who had entered the Labour Party through her trade union involvement, became Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour in the first Labour government of 1924 and Minister of Labour when the party returned to power in 1929. Like most of the Labour cabinet she refused to serve in the National Government, opposing its plans to reduce unemployment insurance, and was defeated at the election that year. After failing to re-enter parliament in 1935 she resumed her activity with the union movement.

FIRST WOMAN PRIME MINISTER AND LONGEST MINISTERIAL CAREER
Margaret Thatcher held three portfolios over a total period of 18 years. After two years as an MP she replaced Patricia Hornsby-Smith as Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance from October 1961 until the Conservative defeat in October 1964. When the Conservatives returned to power in June 1970 she became Secretary of State for Education and Science (and only the second-ever Conservative woman cabinet member) until the government's defeat in February 1974. Finally her tenure as Prime Minister from 3 May 1979 until 28 November 1990 was the seventh longest in history, and one of the most influential.

One of Thatcher's appointees, Lynda Chalker, had the longest consecutive service of any woman minister. Mrs Chalker, MP for Wallasey until 1992 then Baroness Chalker of Wallasey, held various junior offices for eighteen years minus one day from 3 May 1979 until 2 May 1997, notably that of Minister for Overseas Development (1989 to 1997). She was one of only four ministers to serve throughout the party's longest stretch in power since the 1820s, and continued to work for aid in Africa after retiring.

SHORTEST MINISTERIAL CAREER
Thelma Cazalet-Keir was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Board of Education as part of the Caretaker government formed on 26 May 1945 after the wartime coalition government broke up. Exactly two months later the new ministry resigned after the Conservatives lost the general election and she lost her own seat. Education had been a particular concern of hers and she famously defeated the Churchill government by one vote on an equal pay amendment to the Education Act. The vote was overturned but a royal commission was formed to consider the matter.

FIRST WOMAN WHIP
The first woman whips in the Lords and Commons were both appointed in Harold Wilson's first government. Harriet Slater, MP for Stoke-on-Trent, became a Lord Commissioner of the Treasury when the government was formed in October 1964 and retired from politics at the 1966 election. In the Lords it was Baroness Phillips, widow of Labour Party general secretary Morgan Phillips and mother of MP Gwyneth Dunwoody, a junior minister in the same government. She served as Baroness in Waiting from 1965 until the government's defeat in 1970.

FIRST WOMAN DEPUTY SPEAKER AND SPEAKER
The first woman to serve as deputy chairman of the committee of ways and means, or deputy speaker, was Conservative Betty Harvie Anderson. Appointed in 1970, she chose clothing tailored to stay wrinkle-free during all-night sittings and colours which would complement the Commons' green benches. Initially she only accepted the appointment on trial, to see if MPs would accept a woman in the chair, but remained in the post until 1973, when she stepped down to fight against Scottish devolution.

Almost two decades later another Betty, Betty Boothroyd, was elected the first woman Speaker of the House in over 700 years. Prior to 1992 she had served five years as Deputy Speaker, where unlike her predecessor she had a special blue silk robe with Tudor roses designed. Her firmness in dealing with MPs and good humour made her popular with MPs and the public, but she retired to a seat in the Lords in 2000.

The first woman deputy speaker of the House of Lords was Baroness Wootton of Abinger. Although no woman has ever been Lord Chancellor, it was believed that women have been eligible for this office since the Sex Disqualification Removal Act (1919) opened all judicial offices to women, including, potentially, the highest such office of all. Technically the woolsack is outside the House - a number of lord chancellors assumed office before or without being created peers - meaning that a 'Lady Chancellor' before 1958 could not have spoken in the House.

OLDEST WOMAN MINISTER

Baroness Trumpington (born 23 October 1922), was a Minister of State at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food, from 1989 until April 1992, when she was 69. After the post-election reshuffle she became a Baroness-in-Waiting, a post she held until the Conservative defeat of May 1997.

YOUNGEST WOMAN MINISTER
Yvette Cooper
(born 20 March 1969) became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health (Minister for Public Health) in July 1999, aged 30, and retains the post today. Among her responsibilities are Food Standards, alternative medicine, and maternity care. In 2001 she became the first ever minister to take maternity leave and give birth; her husband is Treasury adviser Ed Balls.

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