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The Story Of Nancy Astor, The First Woman To Serve As A Member Of Parliament — And Churchill's Enemy

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Nancy Astor was a glamorous American in London. Now on marriage number two, she could easily have been the stuff of turn-of-the century gossip, but Nancy had better things to do. See, Nancy wanted to be in politics.

Now, in 1918, this was not an easy thing to do! Women had just gotten the vote (literally; some women in the UK could first start voting in 1918). BUT Nancy’s husband had just had to give up his seat as MP (Member of Parliament) for his constituency of Plymouth Sutton. And seeing as Nancy was the one who actually got her husband into social reform and politics in the first place, she figured it made sense for her to take his place.

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So Nancy made the ballsy decision to become one of the first women to ever run for a seat in the Houses of Parliament.

And in 1919, she only went on and won!

nancy astor 069b5Nancy Astor, casually knocking down all the gender barriers

Sadly, her fellow MPs were not huge fans of Nancy. 

Though she wasn’t the first female MP (that was Irish Republican, Constance Markievicz, who couldn’t take her seat because she was in prison…) Nancy WAS the first female MP to actually serve in the Houses of Parliament.

Many male MPs were not down with this. And so began a campaign of icing Nancy out.

Because apparently, in 1919 MPs were the cast of Mean Girls

meangirlsSaid every douchebag MP

Along with the frostiness was a healthy level of good, old-fashioned bitching. Winston Churchill (the Regina George of Parliament) did not get along with Nancy.

Winston was not a fan of the fact Nancy was in Parliament, full stop, and Nancy was not a fan of the fact that Winston was against her being an MP and was also a highly functioning alcoholic in such an important role.

In one notable spat, Nancy shot at Winston:

"If I were your wife, I’d put poison in your tea."

To which Winston Churchill supposedly replied:

"And if I were your husband, I’d drink it."

churchill 946f4Winston Churchill, King of Maturity

 But being an MP wasn’t just about forming cliques and griping; there was actual work to be done. Nancy and her ilk needed to run the country!

A quick note, before we move on: I know we have a lot of non-UK based reader,s so a quick FYI for you guys: in Parliament, MPs respond by shouting, jeering and sometimes just making a ton of guttural noises as a sign of disapproval.

Politicians started doing this centuries ago, and despite it slowing everything the fuck down, we’ve just continued, because, history.

So to summarize, Parliament looks a lot like this: 

And you thought Brits were classy

Nancy was due to make her first speech, highlighting the need for alcohol control. Considering this was a topic she had campaigned for during the election and she was about to stand in front of several hundred men that hated her, you’d understand if she was nervous.

Luckily though, Parliament has a rule that during a new MP's first speech (known as a Maiden Speech), every member of Parliament must be quiet, because giving a speech is scary enough without some randomer suddenly screaming.

BUT: Nancy was about to be the first female MP to give a speech to Parliament…

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So naturally, that unwritten rule went out the window as her fellow MPs happily jumped aboard the "let’s all be cocks for no reason" train.

Toot Toot! All aboard the wanker express!

Nancy started her speech by immediately addressing the fact that she would not be "craving the indulgence’"of her fellow MPs. That she was there to do a job and like it or not, she was damn well going to do it.

As she continued her speech she was met with shouts of:

"No!"

To this Nancy cooly shot back:

"I know what I am talking about and you must remember that women have got a vote now and we mean to use it."

And just like that, Nancy made it clear that she was not to be fucked with.

Get it Nancy!

 For over two years, Nancy remained the sole female MP in parliament.

She fought for the voting age for women to be lowered (which it was in 1928) and for the legal drinking age to be made higher (because it used to be 14, what the actual fuck?!?) as well as championing countless causes for women and children.

Nancy also became renowned for put-downs, should another MP try and have a go.

By the time Nancy Astor left her post as MP, she had served for a whopping 26 years, and opened the door for female politicians everywhere.

nancy astor at a war equality rally at 1941 3dce3Nancy speaking in Trafalgar Square, 1941

This was interesting, where can I find out more? You should totally check out the biography Nancy: The Story of Lady Astor by Adrian Forts. There are also some cracking documentaries on Nancy Astor, including a BBC4 one.

This post originally appeared on F Yeah History and is reprinted here with permission.

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Written by Natasha Tidd and Sara Westrop, F Yeah History is dedicated to unearthing history that's just too good for history class. From historic hangover cures to unsung historic heroes, all told with a healthy does of gifs and somewhat terrible jokes, it's history...just not as you know it. Follow F Yeah History on FYeahHistory.com and on Twitter @F_yeah_history. 

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