Lady Astor: First female member of parliament

Lady Astor, photographed arriving in New York City, 1922.
Lady Astor, photographed arriving in New York City, 1922.
Photo: Bain New Service, via U.S. Library of Congress.
Recently, Britain paid tribute to the late Lady Nancy Astor, the first woman to serve in Parliament.

   A statue unveiled in Plymouth, England, honors Astor (1879-1964), an American-born woman who married into English nobility and was elected to public office in that country 100 years ago. Here is the rundown:

American royalty: She was born Nancy Witcher Langhorne in Danville, Virginia, May 19, 1879, to Nancy Witcher Keene Langhorne and Chiswell Dabney Langhorne. It was a prominent family. Another of the couple's daughters, Irene, married the famous illustrator, Charles Gibson, whose drawings of women became known as Gibson Girls.

First marriage: Nancy Langhorne married Robert Gould Shaw II of Boston in 1897. He was the cousin of the famous Robert Gould Shaw, a notable Union officer during the Civil War. The marriage didn't last. The two divorced in 1903, and she was given custody the couple's son, also named Robert Shaw.

Marriage to Astor: While crossing the Atlantic, she met Waldorf Astor, "heir to the $110 million Astor fortune in England," according to an obituary in The New York Times. They married in 1906 in London.

She takes office: Her husband, Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor, (1879 -1952) held a seat in the House of Commons. When his father, William Waldorf Astor, 1st Viscount Astor, died, he succeeded to his father’s viscountcy and took his place in the House of Lords. Nancy Langhorne Astor then made a successful run for the position in the House of Commons as a conservative party candidate. 

The first or the second: She wasn't actually the first woman elected to Parliament. That was Constance Markievticz, elected in 1918, the BBC reports. But Markievticz didn't take the oath because of her membership in the Irish republican party Sinn Féin.

Her positions: Astor argued for lowering the age at which women could vote from 30 to 21, according to the BBC. She also championed restricting the sale of alcohol to those over the age of 18. At the time, anyone 14 years old could buy booze.

The Cliveden Set: Astor was hostess at Cliveden, the couple's country house near Taplow, Buckinghamshire. At the house she "maintained a salon that exercised considerable influence in many fields, notably foreign affairs," recounts Encyclopedia Britannica. Members of this group were called the Cliveden set. "It was widely charged (that) during the late 1930s the group was pro‐Nazi and that it had subverted Britain's foreign policy," The New York Times obituary noted. Astor dismissed the charges as “mischievous rubbish.”

Retirement: Astor retired from public office in 1945, after 26 years in the House of Commons. She died in 1964.



    Gibson Girls: Defining 'hot' before Beyoncé

    Like us on Facebook and tell us what you think.