- Mini Bio
- Name: Nancy Astor
- Born: 19th May 1879, Danville, Virginia, US
- Died: 2nd May 1964, Grimsthorpe, England
- Resting place: Octagon Temple, Cliveden House, Buckinghamshire
- Alma Mater: Miss Brown's Academy for Young Ladies, a finishing school in New York
- Occupation: Politician
- Political party: Coalition Conservative
- Marriage resume: Robert Gould Shaw II 1897 - 1903 (divorced) Waldorf Astor 1906 - 1952 (his death)
- Maiden name: Nancy Witcher Langhorne
- Title: Viscountess Astor
- Nickname: Lady Dis-Astor
- Residence: Cliveden Estate and Grimsthorpe Castle.
- Ground breaker: She was the first female MP to take her seat in England's House of Parliament on 28th November 1919
"I do feel that you break the ordinary decencies and relationships of public life when you drag in personalities. You hardly ever have a difference with me without calling me a Yankee (your mother was a Yankee – I am a Virginian)"Nancy Astor
"I stand for clean, democratic, and independent politics, and no truckling to the brewers. I stand for a single moral standard for men and women, and for fair play for the children, the England of to-morrow"Nancy Astor
"Social reform… is still in the forefront on my programme. I appeal to all Liberals to help me fight for those reforms which all parties have in their programmes, but which few politicians have in their hearts"Nancy Astor
"During my 25 years in the House of Commons, the Socialists did nothing but promise the Kingdom of God without praying and the good of this world without working"Nancy Astor
"I am absolutely against food taxes, which free traders claimed would result from the higher costs of importing foreign food into a tariff-protected Britain, given the impact this would have on mothers and working families"Nancy Astor
"I made it my business to know the people; to find out what they were thinking; to discuss points with them, and if need be, to argue with them"Nancy Astor
"I do not promise to cure all your troubles at once, but I will strive to change the world into a much better place for your children"Nancy Astor
"Real education should educate us out of self into something far finer; into a selflessness which links us with all humanity"Nancy Astor
"The trouble with most people is that they think with their hopes or fears or wishes rather than with their minds"Nancy Astor
"In passing, also, I would like to say that the first time Adam had a chance he laid the blame on a woman"Nancy Astor
"Women have got to make the world safe for men since men have made it so darned unsafe for women"Nancy Astor
"The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change everything... or nothing"Nancy Astor
"One reason why I don’t drink is because I wish to know when I am having a good time"Nancy Astor
"I knew Plymouth; I knew its narrow streets and alleys; I knew its mothers and infants"Nancy Astor
"We are not asking for superiority for we have always had that; all we ask is equality"Nancy Astor
"My vigour, vitality, and cheek repel me. I am the kind of woman I would run from"Nancy Astor
"Pioneers may be picturesque figures, but they are often rather lonely ones"Nancy Astor
"I married beneath me. All women do"Nancy Astor
"You will never end war with wars"Nancy Astor
"The penalty of success is to be bored by people who used to snub you"Nancy Astor
"We women talk too much, but even then we don’t tell half what we know"Nancy Astor
"It isn't the common man at all who is important; it's the uncommon man"Nancy Astor
"I really cared about social reform and I cared what I was there for"Nancy Astor
"It's no good crying Winston, you've got to do something!"Nancy Astor
"The only thing I like about rich people is their money"Nancy Astor
"People who talk about peace are very often the most quarrelsome"Nancy Astor
"Only a Jew like you would dare to be rude to me"Nancy Astor
"I would be a socialist if I thought it would work"Nancy Astor
"I stuck to Plymouth, Plymouth stuck to me"Nancy Astor
"I’m a Virginian; we shoot to kill"Nancy Astor
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Nancy Astor's Legacy
In 1919 Lady Astor was not the first elected female MP, this distinguished accolade went to revolutionary suffragist Constance Markievicz who was elected to parliament one year earlier in 1918. But, as an active Irish member of Sinn Fein, she refused to take the oath to enter parliament and she just happened to be residing at her majesties pleasure in London's Holloway Prison at the time and was pre-occupied with a death sentence that was eventually commuted to life imprisonment for her role in the 1916 Easter rising.
Nancy Astor was not just the symbolically important torch bearer of women's politics, she broke the mould of parliamentary male dominance by taking up the mantle of focus on women's issues at the expense of internal party politics. By her own admittance, she had no history in the pre-WWI suffrage campaign, yet she proved a worthy parliamentary adversary to the patriarchal dominance so typical of 1920's Westminster.
Between the wars she became the stand-out celebrity female politician much to the chagrin of established political men. Crossing swords with male MP's enhanced the legend of Lady Astor. She possessed a sharp wit and was never afraid to share an opinion.
There were many memorable dialogues with the likes of the acid tongued Winston Churchill; she was once alleged to have remarked:
"Oh, if you were my husband, I'd put poison in your tea" to which Winston purportedly replied without batting an eyelid:
"If I were your husband, I'd drink it with pleasure". Another anecdote was when she putatively exclaimed in horror:
"Winston, you're drunk!" to which he supposedly remarked:
"And you are ugly. However, when I wake up tomorrow, I shall be sober, and you will still be ugly!"
Quotes About Nancy Astor
Her friend and regular close correspondent George Bernard Shaw began this 1939 letter sharing this opinion:
"I think it is time for you, as a sensible woman trying to keep your political household of dunderheads and lunatics out of mischief, to get up to the House and point out the cruelty of keeping up the pretence of a three years war when everyone who can see three moves in front of his or her nose knows that the war is over"
The far right politician Oswald Moseley was impressed by her prowess on the hustings:
”She was absolutely unabashed by any situation. Great effrontery but also, of course, enormous charm. People were usually overcome by it. She was much better when she was interrupted. She must have prayed for hecklers and interrupters. She certainly got a lot”
The British archaeologist Thomas Edward Lawrence wrote in an intimate but platonic 1929 letter to her:
"I do not know when or with whom I have ever maintained so long so hot a correspondence. Clearly we are soul mates!"
Fellow parliamentarian, the fiery Labour MP Ellen Wilkinson wrote and was close enough to state:
"You are a dear … your letters always come when I am feeling ‘down’ to cheer me up"
The author and suffragette Millicent Fawcett wrote following her successful 1923 re-election to parliament:
"Heartiest congratulations to you dear Lady Astor, both on your own success and on your going back into the House of Commons with seven other women … We have a lasting gratitude to you"
The American writer Edward J. Renehan Jr. talked of her anti-Semitic rhetoric:
"As fiercely anti-Communist as they were anti-Semitic, Kennedy and Astor looked upon Adolf Hitler as a welcome solution to both of these "world problems" (Nancy's phrase). ... Kennedy replied that he expected the "Jew media" in the United States to become a problem, that "Jewish pundits in New York and Los Angeles" were already making noises contrived to "set a match to the fuse of the world"
The British politician Sir Harold George Nicolson talked of a fiery exchange in the corridors of power:
"In the corridor a friend of mine named Alan Graham came up to Nancy and said, 'I do not think you behaved very well' [in a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee]. She turned upon him and said, 'Only a Jew like you would dare to be rude to me.' He replied, 'I should like very much to smack you in your face.' I think she is a little mad"
Her husband, William Waldorf Astor, tried to play down her sympathetic tendencies towards appeasement:
"To link our weekends with any particular clique is as absurd as is the allegation that those of us who desire to establish better relations with Germany or Italy are pro-Nazis or pro-Fascists"
On her initial arrival in parliament, Winston Churchill told her unequivocally:
"We hoped to freeze you out"
Churchill went further by stating:
"I find a woman’s intrusion into the House of Commons as embarrassing as if she burst into my bathroom when I had nothing to defend myself with, not even a sponge"
The historian Martin Pugh gave this assessment:
“She campaigned for many women's issues including the provision of nursery schools, widows' pensions, equal employment, women police, and measures to reduce the maternal mortality rates”
The educator and writer Susannah O’Brien gave this assessment:
"In the 1920s women were emerging into the public sphere with a voice and a vote for the first time. Yet despite these new freedoms, they were still imprisoned behind societal expectations. We see these contradictions in the letters both sent and received from Astor’s office"
The history professor at the University of Reading, Dr Jacqui Turner, discussed her electioneering:
"Nancy ran an amazing, lively, witty American-style campaign. She didn’t have that English upper class stiffness [or] formality about her"
Dr Jacqui Turner noted with great insight:
"Nancy Astor has almost become more synonymous with the prejudices of her time than the many men who held similar views but escaped similar censure. They have not been subject to the same level of scrutiny"
Dr Jacqui Turner talked of historical importance:
"The election of Nancy Astor changed British democracy forever. The importance of her election is that, for the first time, a woman was able to directly influence the parliamentary debate and the writing of the laws of her own land – a responsibility she willingly and ostensibly shouldered for all women"
Glenys Williams, a member of the public in her constituency during WW2 commented:
"Lady Astor continually inspired us with her optimism, courage and indomitable spirit"
The University of Exeter researcher Lisa Berry-Waite shared this observation:
"Nancy Astor’s election success in the 1919 Plymouth Sutton by-election made headlines around the world and represented a new era for British politics"
The Conservative politician Rebecca Smith remembered with admiration and respect:
"Although the circumstances in which she was elected are different than what a lot of us find now, ultimately she opened the door for women MPs to come through, and she held that door open"
The labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was excited at the unveiling of her statue in Plymouth:
"I'm really pleased the statue is going up"