RECORDS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
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.
WOMEN MPs' RECORDS
FIRST WOMAN MEMBER
OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
WOMEN OFFICE-HOLDERS' RECORDS
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
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
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
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
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
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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