Thursday 5 December 2019

These are the pioneering women who blazed a trail in Parliament

Sarah Clarke is introduced to the House of Lords as the new Black Rod.

Lady Nancy Astor made history (PA)
Lady Nancy Astor made history (PA)

By Nicola Irwin, Press Association

As Sarah Clarke is introduced to the House of Lords as the new Black Rod, we look at other female firsts from Parliament.

Queen receives the new Black Rod

We might all know the name of Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, but what about other trailblazers whose presence has helped to make Westminster more accessible to women?

Since 1918 when some women were given the right to vote, 489 women have been elected to the House of Commons.

While Black Rod is not an elected position, it is one of seniority. The post holder is responsible for controlling access to and maintaining order in the estate and is thrust into the spotlight at the annual State Opening of Parliament. Ms Clarke is the first Lady Usher of the Black Rod in 650 years of the role.

First woman in Parliament

Politics – First Female MP – Lady Nancy Astor – 1919

Nancy Astor was the first female MP to take up her seat in the House of Commons in 1919, but not the first woman to be elected.

That honour went to Constance Markievicz who was elected in 1918 but, as a member of Sinn Fein, did not take up her seat.

Viscountess Astor, who took over the Plymouth Sutton constituency of her husband after he was made a peer, served until she stood down in 1945.

First woman to sit in the House of Lords

Politics – New Life Peers Oath Sitting – House of Lords, Westminster

Baroness Wootton of Abinger was the first woman to receive her letters patent as a life peer in the Lords, on August 8 1958. She went on to become the first woman to chair proceedings, as deputy speaker.

First female speaker of the House of Commons

Betty Boothroyd as Speaker of the House of Commons

Betty Boothroyd became the first woman speaker of the House of Commons in 1992. It was the same year that MP Marion Roe became the first woman to chair a select committee. Boothroyd remained as speaker until her resignation in 2000, and became a peer in 2001.

Blazing a trail before Baroness Boothroyd was Betty Harvie Anderson, who was elected as the first woman deputy speaker in 1970.

The first black woman MP


Diane Abbott was elected in 1987, representing Hackney North and Stoke Newington. She took up positions on various treasury and foreign affairs select committees.

From 2010 she has served at various times in Labour’s shadow cabinet as shadow minister for public health and shadow secretary for international development, health and, most recently, as shadow home secretary.

Other firsts

Margaret Bondfield became the first woman to hold a Cabinet post in 1929 when she was appointed minister of labour. But the next woman was not appointed until 1945, when Ellen Wilkinson was made minister for education.

In 1997, when Labour’s landslide and all-female shortlists helped increase the proportion of women in the House, Ann Taylor became the first female leader of the House and chief whip.

More recent firsts include in 2006, when Margaret Beckett became the first woman to hold the post of foreign secretary, and 2007 when Jacqui Smith became the first female home secretary.

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