Astor’s history

21 November 1918 – Parliament (Qualification of Women Act)

Most people assume that the right for women to become MPs was given with the 1918 Act associated with the partial female vote.  It was not.  It came months later with one of the shortest acts in British parliamentary history – an Act containing just 28 words allowed women to become full members of the polity. 17 women stood in the 1918 election including Christabel Pankhurst. Constance Markievicz of Sinn Fein was duly elected but did not take her seat.

28 November 1919 – Nancy Astor elected at a by-election

There was a high turn out for the Plymouth Sutton by-election – 72.5%* of the 38,539 people on the electoral roll voted.

  • Viscountess Astor (Con) 14,495 (51.9%)
  • WT Gay (Lab) 9292 (33.3%)
  • I Foot (Lib) 4239 (14.8%)

*turnout was 59.6% in General Election 1918

1 December 1919 – Nancy took her oath and seat in Parliament

Accompanied by David Lloyd George and Arthur Balfour.

24 February 1920 – Astor gave her Maiden Speech

First speech by a woman in the House of Commons Chamber.

31 July 1923 – Intoxicating Liquor (Sale to Persons Under Eighteen) Bill passed

Nancy is responsible for the first Private Members Bill ever passed by a woman.

The bill was often commonly referred to as ‘Lady Astor’s Bill’. It was named such to be used against her as an election tactic.

1931 – Astor visited Russia and had an interview with Stalin

Nancy had a long term platonic friendship with George Bernard Shaw despite their very different politics.

George Bernard Shaw, Nancy and Waldorf (her husband)  made up a party who visited Russia.

In an interview with Stalin, Nancy asked him, ‘When are you going to stop killing people?’ Stalin responded ‘When it is no longer necessary for the protection of the state’.

17 June 1936 onwards – The Cliveden Set and appeasement

Many of the Astor’s social circle were supporters of appeasement and were accused of influencing foreign policy. In 1936 the communist journalist Claude Cockburn published an article in his anti-fascist journal, The Week alleging the existence of a ‘Cliveden Set’, a group of influential people who used their wealth, connections and ownership of newspapers to subvert the policy of the government.

This was a claim which Nancy called a ‘terrible lie’. However, her reputation was irretrievably damaged. In reality the Astors’ attitudes were little different than many of their class and social standing who saw fascism as a bulwark against communism. The term ‘Cliveden Set’ was first used by Reynolds News on 28th November, 1937.

5 July 1945 – Nancy retired from Parliament

Nancy Astor won 7 elections between 1919 and 1945. She retired reluctantly, influenced by her family and an aging local party. Lucy Middleton succeeded her (1945-1951) followed by her son Jakie.

17 July 1959 – Nancy given the Freedom of the City of Plymouth