First Woman in the British Parliament

Posted on
July 11, 2016

Just as Great Britain is on the eve of having its first woman prime minister to serve since Margaret, Lady Thatcher stepped down in 1990, Swem Library’s Special Collections received a few letters written by Nancy, Lady Astor, along with a printed image that she captioned. Born in Danville, Va., Lady Astor was the first woman to serve as a Member of Parliament. (Another woman had been elected in 1918 but did not take her seat.) She was elected from Plymouth in 1919 when her husband Waldorf Astor had to forfeit that seat upon ascending to the House of Lords after his father’s death.

To A Virginian from a Virginian Nancy Astor as she never looked.
"To A Virginian from a Virginian -  Nancy Astor as she never looked."  (Mss. Acc. 2016.110)


These letters were written to the mother of the donor, who remembers Lady Astor visiting her house! The letters were written from 35 Hill Street in London in January 1952, May and November of 1953. The May 1953 letter mentions getting ready for the Coronation [of Queen Elizabeth II] and a flight to Rhodesia. The letters are very personal in tone. Unfortunately, Lady Astor’s handwriting is very difficult to read.

Special Collections also has other letters written by Lady Astor. There are eighteen letters (1927-1956) from Nancy Astor, at London, Taplow, and Plymouth, England, to Lilly Harrison Hill Smith Bradbury, who was a childhood friend. Other letters also appear in several other SCRC collections: John Garland Pollard Papers, Virginia Taylor McCormick Papers, A. Willis Robertson Papers, and William M. Tuck Papers. Lady Astor endowed the Nancy Astor Scholarship Program for women from Plymouth, England who wish to study for a year at William & Mary.


Nancy Astor to Mrs. John Bailey, 2nd January 1953.
Nancy Astor to Mrs. John Bailey, 2nd January 1953 (Mss. Acc. 2016.110)