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UK Prime Minister backs campaign to raise a statue to Lady Nancy Astor – University of Reading

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UK Prime Minister backs campaign to raise a statue to Lady Nancy Astor

Release Date 02 November 2018

Lady Nancy Astor was the first Woman MP to take her place in Parliament in 1919

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has backed a campaign to erect a statue in honour of Nancy Astor, the first female MP to take her seat in the Houses of Parliament.

She is joined in supporting the campaign, which is founded in research at the University of Reading, by some of the most long-standing and iconic female MPs who have left their own imprint on British politics from both the House of Lords and the House of Commons across all political parties. Betty Boothroyd, Harriet Harman and other prominent female figures in British politics contributed to a video supporting the statue and recognising Astor's contribution to the progress of women in Parliament.

See women MPs past and present back Astor statue campaign >>>

The Prime Minister said: “As the first woman to take her seat in Parliament, Nancy Astor paved the way for the many - but still too few - women who have followed in her footsteps over the last hundred years. As she said in her maiden speech, her fellow MPs ‘should not be frightened of what Plymouth sends out into the world’ - indeed, Plymouth and the whole UK should be proud of the great strides Nancy Astor made for equality and representation.

“I am proud to serve as the UK’s second female Prime Minister in a Parliament with more female MPs than ever before. But I want that number to continue to grow - so I am proud to support this initiative to mark the centenary of Nancy Astor’s election with a statue, and hope it will inspire new generations of women and girls to play their full part in our democracy.”

Fearful and hostile

Nancy Astor, who was originally from America, was elected to Parliament by a huge majority of voters in Plymouth, just one year after some British women received the vote thanks to the Qualification of Women Act, passed on 21 November 1918.

To date there is no public statue to Lady Astor and campaigners are hoping for backing to raise funds to build one to be unveiled on The Hoe in Plymouth, 100 years to the day since her victory was announced on the steps of Plymouth’s Guildhall on 28 November 1919.

It was on 1 December 1919 that she first walked into Parliament as the first elected female MP to take her seat, facing 620 men – most of whom were fearful and hostile to the idea of women in Parliament.

“The election of Lady Astor changed British democracy forever" - Dr Jacqui Turner, University of Reading

Dr Jacqui Turner, International Astor Scholar at the University of Reading, where the Astor Papers are held, said: “The election of Lady Astor changed British democracy forever. The importance of her election is that here, for the first time, was a woman who was able to directly influence the parliamentary debate and the writing of the laws of their own land, a responsibility she 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. Her 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 to be satisfied.”

'A fitting tribute'

Nancy Astor was persuaded to stand for the seat in Plymouth after her husband Waldorf - who previously held the seat - was elevated to the House of Lords when his father died and he inherited his title becoming the 2nd Viscount Astor.

Nancy Astor’s election came at a time when Plymouth was recovering from the devastating effects of the First World War. Some women had only just been given the vote and Lady Astor made a point of canvassing on the streets, terraces, slums, dockyards, fisheries and areas of Plymouth where many politicians had never been before. She also asked the women of the city themselves what they wanted.

Alice Astor, grand-daughter of Nancy Astor and supporter of the fundraising campaign, said: “I’m thrilled to be supporting this campaign. My grandmother was a trailblazer in politics who was passionate about Plymouth and a statue would be a fitting tribute not only to her service to the people of the city but also to her determination to be the voice of people who until then did not have a voice in Westminster.”

The Lady Astor Statue committee aim to unveil the state on 28th November 2019 in the afternoon exactly 100 years since her victory was announced on the steps of The Guildhall in Plymouth - Lady Nancy Astor had been elected the first female MP in Britain.

The present incumbent of the seat that Nancy Astor held for 26 years is Luke Pollard MP. He is chairing the cross-party campaigning committee. He said: “Nancy Astor was a towering figure in British politics and she is someone who deserves much greater recognition than she gets now. As the current MP for the seat I am proud to chair this appeal and I want to see not only Nancy Astor remembered but also the achievement of Plymouth in electing the first woman to take her seat nearly a century ago recognised."

“There are still not enough women in Parliament and so it is right as we approach the 100th anniversary of Nancy Astor’s election that we go the extra mile to remember her contribution to our city and our country and that we are still not yet at a point when there are equal numbers of men and women sitting in the House of Commons."

The statue fundraising campaign is also supported by former Plymouth MPs Linda Gilroy, Alison Seabeck and Dame Janet Fookes and Cllr Andrea Johnson of Plymouth City Council.

How to support

Among the range of Crowdfunding rewards available are £1,000 tickets to the VIP unveiling of the statue and a champagne reception at Lady Astor’s former family home at Elliot Terrace on The Hoe in Plymouth afterwards, £500 for an engraved stone around the statue, and many rewards of £15 for your name, photo and hopes and dreams for the future to be placed inside a time capsule to be opened in 100 years.

To contribute please visit www.ladyastorstatue100.co.uk and you can follow the campaign on social media at @ladyastorsatue or www.facebook.com/ladyastorstatue


Photo credit: The Box (Plymouth Museums Galleries Archives)

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