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Lives Across the Pond: Nancy Astor

Each month we feature a person included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography who was either born in the United States, and made their name in the UK, or came to the US from the British Isles.This month we feature Nancy Astor who was born at Danville, Virginia, on 19 May and who, in 1919, became the first woman to take her seat in the British House of Commons.

Nancy Witcher Astor, Viscountess Astor (1879–1964), society hostess and politician, was born at Danville, Virginia, on 19 May 1879, the eighth child in a family of eleven. Her father, Chiswell Dabney Langhorne (1843–1919), a veteran of the American Civil War, had made his fortune in railway construction and bought an estate at Mirador near Charlottesville ….

.… In the following year Nancy went to England, attracted by the hunting and the social life. She soon felt at home. ‘I suppose you have come over here to get one of our husbands’, Nancy Cunard reportedly told her. ‘If you knew the trouble I’ve had getting rid of mine, you’d know I don’t want yours’, Nancy replied.

.… At this point no woman had sat in the House of Commons, and prejudice ran high. In the event she managed to overcome the prejudice by posing as a loyal wife and by denying any intention of seeking a career in politics: ‘I am not standing before you as a sex candidate. I do not believe in sexes or classes’ (Western Morning News, 4 Nov 1919). The newspapers, which appreciated her lively exchanges with hecklers, treated her sympathetically, and the working-class voters who dominated the constituency were fascinated to find a wealthy and titled lady who had the common touch ….

Continue reading the Oxford DNB biography of Nancy Astor.

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