Celebrating 100 years of women in parliament

Dr Jacqui Turner’s pioneering Astor100 Centenary Project provides a focus for Nancy Astor’s achievements as the first female MP to take her seat in UK Parliament and more broadly, a platform for putting early female MPs on the national stage and securing their place in history.

Astor 100

From archive to House of Commons

Astor100 is a celebration of the life and legacy of Nancy Astor, the first woman to take her seat in the British Parliament. American-born Nancy Astor (1879–1964), née Langhorne, succeeded her second husband Waldorf Astor as Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton in 1919, becoming the first woman to sit in the House of Commons. She continued to represent the Plymouth Sutton constituency until her retirement in 1945.

The research project started with the papers of Nancy Astor, held at the University, but has developed to include strategic collaborations with a range of organisations: Parliament; the National Trust; the City of Plymouth and has facilitated a burgeoning interest in Astor’s home country. These collaborations have involved MPs, community groups, women’s networks, artistic practitioners and the Astor family across the country and together will extend our understanding of culture and society.

Rewriting the traditional narrative

Marginalised groups, including women, are routinely written out of history; their achievements are excluded from the national ‘great narrative’. This project is playing a key role in giving Astor’s own contribution, and those of all early female MPs, a permanent, visible presence in this narrative. The project encourages both policymakers and educationalists to think more broadly about recognising, celebrating and communicating the achievements of women.

Project partners at locations where Astor lived and worked have proactively collaborated with expanding and sharing this historical record. Current female MPs, have shared their knowledge and experiences, demonstrating their commitment to giving appropriate recognition to the women who played a vital role in our political history.

Archival documents and personal interviews with Astor’s living relatives are being used by the National Trust in Astor’s country home, Cliveden, to inform and enhance the experience of visitors. A crowd-funding campaign has made it possible to commission a statue of Nancy Astor to be unveiled in Plymouth in November 2019, which will be, incredibly, the first open air, public statue of a female MP in this country.

“Nancy Astor’s voice was loud and unafraid – we remember her because hers was the first female voice to echo around the chamber of the House of Commons. We hope that her statue, another first and fittingly for the first to a woman MP, will again be a loudspeaker, this time for young women and girls, encouraging them to engage and be heard.”

Professor Jacqui Turner

Fast Facts

  • Nancy Astor was the first woman to sit in Parliament
  • She was responsible for the first Private Member’s Bill passed by a woman
  • This project will deliver the first open air, public statue of a female MP in the UK

Further reading

Astor 100 website: https://research.reading.ac.uk/astor100/

Turner, J. (2019) Keeping up the legacy of Nancy Astor: 100 years since the first woman took her seat in parliament. Conservative History Journal, 2 (7). ISSN 1479-8026 (In Press)

Turner, J. (2018) The Labour Church: religion and politics in Britain 1890-1914. International Library of Political Studies. I.B. Tauris, London, UK, pp304. ISBN 9781784539436

Turner, J., McCarthy, H., Bartley, P., Gay, O. and Sutherland, D. (2018) The Tomb 1918-1963: the first female MPs. In: Voice and Vote: Celebrating 100 Years of Votes for Women. History of Parliament, London, pp. 80-86. ISBN 9781906670702