Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor, was elected to Parliament on 15 November 1919. She took her seat following her introduction to the House of Commons by Prime Minister David Lloyd George and former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour on 1 December 1919.
It was not until the passing of the 1918 Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act that women were allowed to sit in the House of Commons. The first election after the passing of this Act saw seventeen women standing for election in 1918 and one, Countess Constance Markievicz, was successful in St Patrick’s Division of Dublin. But as a Sinn Fein MP she did not take her seat in Westminster. In 1919 Nancy Astor was elected in a by-election for Plymouth Sutton and became the first women to take her seat in Parliament.
Astor was an unlikely woman to become Parliament’s first female sitting MP. She was an American by birth and a socialite with no record of suffragist beliefs, though when she arrived in London on 1 December 1919 a small band of veteran suffragettes met her at Paddington station to mark the event.
Astor considered she represented not just her Plymouth Sutton constituency but the constituency of all women, and her huge postbag reflected her support for many women’s issues. The Astors were associated with the policy of appeasement in the 1930s, and she became increasingly marginalised during WWII, this lead to her family persuading her to stand down in 1945.
A portrait relief of Nancy Astor by Michael Rizzello was presented to the House of Commons in 1996 by the Astor family. It is on permanent display on Committee Corridor in the House of Commons.
A new leaflet has been produced in partnership with Dr Jacqui Turner, University of Reading and the Vote100 project to accompany the portrait relief.
Image: Detail of 'Nancy Astor' by Michael Rizzello, 1995 (WOA S251)