Today is the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, where some women (not all) were given the right to vote for the first time. Here we take a look at some of the inspirational women who have contributed to British politics.
Emmeline Pankhurst was a controversial figure as the head of the British Suffragette movement. In 1903 she began the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and members became known for resorting to militant tactics, including crimes and hunger strikes, to get their message across: that women should have the right to vote in the UK.
Pankhurst has been heralded as a crucial figure in helping women achieve the vote which they did on February 6, 1918.
Born in Virginia in 1879, she moved to the UK at the age of 26. After being appointed as a member of parliament for Plymouth Sutton, Nancy Astor entered the House of Commons on 1 December 1919, becoming the first female MP in British history to take a seat in parliament. Although not an active participant in the suffragette movement, she was an advocate of women’s rights, prison reform, and changes to the legal drinking age. She held her seat in Parliament until 1945 and frequently came into conflict with Winston Churchill. She died in 1964 and is often remembered for her tenacity.
Margaret Thatcher was the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain. She came to power in 1979 and she became the longest-serving Prime Minister of the twentieth century. Her time in office marked a period of significant reform for Britain and today she is considered one of the most divisive characters in British politics.
She was born in Grantham in 1925 and inherited many of her believes from her father. She graduated with a degree in Chemistry from Oxford University before becoming the Member for Parliament for Finchley in 1959.
Betty Boothroyd was the first female Speaker of the House of Commons. Born in Yorkshire in 1929, she joined the Labour Party as the Member for Bromwich in 1973. She became the Speaker of the House of Commons in 1992 and served until 2000. Her tenure of Speaker was defined by her wit and her no-nonsense style. Upon her retirement, she dedicated herself to getting young people involved into politics and Tony Blair called her a “national institution.”
Harriet Harman is a current Labour Member for Parliament and she served as the first Minister for Women. She has been a passionate advocate for women since entering Parliament since 1982. In 2017, Harman published A Woman’s Work, her personal examination of women’s progressive politics over the last thirty years and she regularly advocates for women’s rights. She is currently the longest serving female member of parliament.
The current Shadow Home Secretary became the first black woman to hold a seat in the House of Commons, being elected to the seat of Hackney North and Stoke Newington in 1987. She was born to Jamaican parents and grew up in London and has referenced that the early days of her parliamentary career were faced with many challenges. She became the Shadow Home Secretary in 2016 and a member of the Privy Council in 2017.
Amber Rudd is the current Home Secretary and Minister for Women. Elected to Parliament in 2010, she is the fastest rising politician to a Great Office of State since the Second World War. She has championed the cause of sex equality as chairperson of the All-party parliamentary group for Sex Equality, which published a report on women in work. Rudd chaired a cross-party enquiry into unplanned pregnancies which called for statutory sex and relationships education in all secondary schools. She has also called for a higher proportion of women in Cabinet.
The current Prime Minister and only second female Prime Minister in British history. Throughout her time in office she has dedicated her time to closing the gender pay gap, combating domestic violence and working on reproductive rights. To mark 100 years of women in politics, she imparted the advice that women should “be themselves” and “resist male stereotypes.”