A new short film about Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor, the first woman to sit in the House of Commons, is released today on the anniversary of her maiden speech in 1920.
Astor was elected to Parliament on 15 November 1919. She took her seat on 1 December 1919. She gave her maiden speech in a debate on Liquor Traffic (Restrictions), a subject close to her heart, on 24 February 1920. She started her speech traditionally with reference to her election and to Plymouth:
“I know that it was very difficult for some hon. Members to receive the first lady M.P. into the House. It was almost as difficult for some of them as it was for the lady M.P. herself to come in. Hon. Members, however, should not be frightened of what Plymouth sends out into the world. After all, I suppose when Drake and Raleigh wanted to set out on their venturesome careers, some cautious person said, "Do not do it; it has never been tried before. You stay at home, my sons, cruising around in home waters." I have no doubt that the same thing occurred when the Pilgrim Fathers set out. I have no doubt that there were cautious Christian brethren who did not understand their going into the wide seas to worship God in their own way. But, on the whole, the world is all the better for those venturesome and courageous west country people, and I would like to say that I am quite certain that the women of the whole world will not forget that it was the fighting men of Devon who dared to send the first woman to represent women in the Mother of Parliaments.”
But at the heart of her speech was her concern for women and children: “I am simply trying to speak for hundreds of women and children throughout the country who cannot speak for themselves”, and the damage that she believed alcohol caused to communities. Her passion was clear not only in the speech but in the frequent interjections she made during the whole debate.
In 1923 Astor introduced the first Private Member’s Bill sponsored by a women. When the bill was debated in the House of Lords, Lady Astor’s husband, Viscount Astor introduced the debate. It passed and became the Intoxicating Liquor (Sale to Persons under Eighteen) Act 1923.
The film and a leaflet has been produced in partnership with Dr Jacqui Turner, University of Reading and the Vote100 project to accompany the portrait relief.