Nancy Astor – Britain’s First Female MP

Day 208 of Colourisation Project – December 1

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

On this day, December 1, 1919, American-born socialite, Nancy Astor paved the way for women in British politics, by becoming the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament in the British House of Commons. 

The first woman to be elected to the British House of Commons was actually Constance Markievicz in 1918, but as a member of Sinn Fein, she had disqualified herself by refusing to take the oath.

Nancy Astor

Photographer Unknown – Nancy Astor c1907 – Colourised by Loredana Crupi

Back home in Astor’s native America women had only just been granted the right to vote, while in England the Representation of the People Bill received Royal Assent a year earlier, giving only women over the age of 30, the right to vote. UK women had to wait until 1928 before they were granted full voting rights. 

Nonetheless, Astor was able to sit as a representative of the Conservative Party for Plymouth Sutton and served until 1945, when she had to be persuaded to step down.

Always outspoken she was noted for her ready wit, which often stooped into outright rudeness. She was especially noted for her exchanges with Winston Churchill, who she did not particularly like. He was reputed to have told her 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.”

When Churchill inquired about what disguise he should wear to a masquerade ball, Astor replied quick as a flash, “Why don’t you come sober, Prime Minister?” Being the only woman in an all-male chamber didn’t seem to faze her, though she needed to have all her wits about her to survive in the male dominated world of politics.  And wit was something she had plenty of.

Another amusing exchange in the House of Commons occurred as Churchill was orating about mankind, saying ‘Man’ this and ‘Man’ that. Every time he would mention ‘Man,’ Astor would interject: “…And Woman, Mr. Speaker…And Woman!” Exasperated Churchill is supposed to have exclaimed, “In this context, Mr. Speaker, the understanding is that Man EMBRACES Woman.” Outside of the Parliament, there was the time Astor told Churchill, “If you were my husband, I’d poison your coffee,” to which he responded, “Madam, if you were my wife, I’d drink it!”

A master of repartee, Nancy Astor was equally famous for her quick sharp wit as she was for her political career. The list below includes just some of the witticisms that have been attributed to her:

  • I married beneath me. All women do.
  • I refuse to admit that I am more than fifty-two, even if that does make my sons illegitimate.
  • In passing, also, I would like to say that the first time Adam had a chance he laid the blame on a woman.
  • My vigour, vitality, and cheek repel me. I am the kind of woman I would run from.
  • One reason why I don’t drink is because I wish to know when I am having a good time. (Known for her opposition to alcohol consumption, she made a speech on one occasion saying the reason for the defeat of the England cricket team against Australia was their use of alcohol. That didn’t go down too well with the House!)
  • Pioneers may be picturesque figures, but they are often rather lonely ones.
  • Real education should educate us out of self into something far finer; into a selflessness which links us with all humanity.
  • 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.
  • We women talk too much, but even then we don’t tell half what we know.
  • Jakie, is it my birthday or am I dying? (Seeing all her children assembled at her bedside in her last illness.)
  • What do those earthworms want now? (On hearing of the 1930s miners’ strike)

Nancy Astor died in 1964 in Lincolnshire, at the age of 85.

___________________________________________________________

 “No one sex can govern alone. I believe that one of the reasons why civilization has failed so lamentably is that it has had one-sided government.”   –  Nancy Astor

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