November 28 – A Lady in Parliament!

Posted on November 28, 2015

Lady Astor

On this date in 1919, Lady Astor was elected as a Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom.

She wasn't the first woman to be elected MP, but she was the first woman to sit in the House of Commons as an MP.

(In 1918 Countess Markievicz, from Ireland, was elected to the British House of Commons, but she was working for Ireland's independence from the U.K., and so she and 72 other Sinn Fein members who were also elected to represent Ireland refused to sit in Parliament. This abstentionist policy was part of the political and military actions that resulted in the Republic of Ireland.)

Okay, back to Lady Astor, who was really the first woman to serve as MP:

She was born Nancy Witcher Langhorne in America in 1879, and she married an American man (a Mr. Shaw) at age 18. However, the marriage was unhappy, and she ended up divorcing her husband and moving to England to start again.

Now named Nancy Shaw, she was known as a beautiful, witty, and often unexpected young woman whose “saucy” conversation yet prudish behavior confused many Brits. She met another American, Waldorf Astor, who had moved to England when he was 12 years old. They hit it off! Astor was raised to be an aristocrat, and when Nancy Shaw married him, they moved to a posh estate in the country and a posh house in London. Now named Nancy Astor, she busied herself hosting parties and other get-togethers with the social elite. Her husband was elected a Member of Parliament, serving in the House of Commons, but when his father died Mr. Astor became Sir Astor as he took the title of Viscount; he was automatically moved up to the House of Lords, and his seat became available in the House of Commons.

Now named Viscountess Astor (addressed as Lady Astor) wondered why SHE shouldn't have that seat! Despite the fact that she hadn't been involved in the women's suffrage movement, hadn't been imprisoned for the cause, hadn't really paid her dues (some said), she ran and won and became the first woman to take her seat in Parliament.

Bits about Lady Astor

  • Did you notice how many times this woman changed her name? I guess we could give her full name as Viscountess (Lady) Nancy Witcher Langhorne Shaw Astor!
  • The iconic Gibson Girl
    When they met, Nancy and Waldorf Astor had a lot in common—they even shared the exact same birthday! Both were born on May 19, 1879.
  • Lady Astor's sisters were also known for their beauty. One of her sisters, Irene, married an illustrator named Charles Dana Gibson – and she served as one of the models (perhaps the original model) for his popular “Gibson Girls.”

Here are some quotes from Lady Astor:

  • Pioneers may be picturesque figures, but they are often rather lonely ones.
  • The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change everything... or nothing.

  • The only thing I like about rich people is their money.

  • The penalty for success is to be bored by the people who used to snub you.
  • Women have got to make the world safe for men since men have made it so darned unsafe for women.

Also on this date:

Anniversary of the first skywriting in U.S. skies

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