On 28 November 1919, Nancy Astor was elected to Parliament, becoming the first female MP to take her seat. A century on, a train named in her honour took VIP passengers to Nancy’s former Plymouth constituency where a new statue was unveiled. Here we tell the story of the day’s events in tweets and audio clips from the historic journey.

The election of Nancy Astor changed British democracy for ever. For the first time, a woman who was able to directly influence the parliamentary debate and the writing of the laws of her own land – a responsibility Nancy willingly shouldered for all women.

Her courage and resilience in standing alone for almost two years in a hostile House established a platform on which women continue to build today. Nancy’s arrival in Parliament ushered in a new type of politician, a public woman, a new perspective and a reminder that there was a female electorate who increasingly demanded that their voice be heard.

Reading historian Dr Jacqui Turner has spent the past four years curating and leading #Astor100 – a major series of academic and public engagements taking place during 2019 and on into 2020. The programme is underpinned with an online exhibition of Nancy’s political career and legacy using materials from the Astor archive which is held within the University of Reading’s special collections. #Astor100 goes beyond Nancy Astor to be a wider celebration of what Nancy represented and the avenues she pioneered for women who followed.

The anniversary celebrations began in the early hours of the morning of 28 November, with the naming of a new Great Western Railway train in Nancy’s honour at London Paddington.

University of Reading History MA students Abbie Tibbott, Molly Edwards, Rachel Newton and Bronwyn Jacobs were there, wearing commemorative sashes in the women’s suffrage colours purple, white and green.

As was Dr Jacqui Turner, who spoke at the train unveiling ceremony:

Meanwhile, in Reading, where the Astor archive is held at the University’s special collections, Nancy appeared on a huge digital billboard outside the station.

Astor historian and Jacqui’s PhD student Melanie Khuddro hopped off the train at Reading to give media interviews:

As did MA student Bronwyn Jacobs, pictured here with Helen Pankhurst, great-grandaughter of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.

Back onboard, passengers were able to read and handle copies of letters and personal documents from the Astor archive.

And the four Reading MA History students on board told the story of Nancy’s life over the train’s Tannoy system as the train headed west.

Molly Edwards – Introduction:


Rachel Newton – Nancy’s election:


Bronwyn Jacobs – the women’s MP:


Abbie Tibbott – Astor’s legacy:


After the train arrived in Plymouth, passengers were taken by bus to the statue outside Nancy’s former home at 3, Elliot Terrace on Plymouth Hoe.

Nancy’s descendant, Emily Astor, spoke at the unveiling,  joined by Dr Jacqui Turner, TV presenter Alexis Bowater – who led the statue crowdfunding campaign – and former British Prime Minister Teresa May.


The Reading MA students took the opportunity for a selfie with the former Prime Minister:

The unveiling of the statue by Theresa May caused controversy in some quarters, particularly in the current pre-election climate. Jacqui Turner says:

“It is inevitable that we look to the past to find synergies and echoes of the challenges and achievements that are evidenced today. Our present and the future is inevitably shaped by the past and to some extent those who inhabited it. Being the first is never easy and as historical totems they rarely sit comfortably on the pedestal that we force them on to.”

  Visit the Astor100 FAQs page for more context about Nancy Astor’s views and the controversy that has sometimes surrounded her.