Statue of Nancy Astor unveiled in Plymouth on election centenary
A statue honouring Nancy Astor as the first female MP to sit in Parliament has been unveiled on the 100th anniversary of her election.
Nancy Astor was elected to represent Plymouth Sutton for the Conservative Party on November 28 1919, a seat she held for a quarter of a century.
Former prime minister Theresa May unveiled the bronze statue on the Hoe in Plymouth, near to Lady Astor’s former family home, during a ceremony on Thursday.
The political pioneer has also been commemorated by having a Great Western Railway (GWR) train named after her – the Nancy Astor Express – which will travel from London’s Paddington Station to Plymouth, Devon.
Hundreds of people looked on as Mrs May said she was “honoured” to be taking part in the unveiling, adding she was “especially pleased to do so, as our country’s second female prime minister”.
Boris Johnson also made a visit to the statue while on the General Election campaign trail, joining Rebecca Smith, the Conservative candidate for Plymouth Sutton.
Mrs May told the crowd: “When Nancy Astor became the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons, 100 years ago, our country and our democracy were changed for the better.
“Her arrival in Parliament ushered in a new era. Finally giving a voice to a huge swathe of the population, who for too long had been missing from our politics and our law-making.”
The bronze tribute, by artist and sculptor Hayley Gibbs, is the result of a £125,000 crowdfunding project spearheaded by the Nancy Astor Statue Appeal.
A quote by Lady Astor features on the plinth, reading: “Real education should educate us out of self into something far finer; into a selflessness which links us with all humanity.”
On Lady Astor’s legacy, Mrs May said: “The first to take her seat on those green benches among more than 700 men, and the first to rise to her feet and speak, not just for the people of Plymouth, but for more than half the population.
“For two years, she was the only woman in a house, which quite simply was not designed for women.
“A place of honourable gentleman, of smoking rooms, and with no ladies loos.
“But she ignored the jeering, the patronising, and the bawdy jokes, and began to make the House of Commons an easier place for the many, but still too few, women who followed her.”
The former prime minister added: “Plymouth and the whole country should be proud of the great strides Nancy Astor made for equality and representation.”
Born in Virginia, United States, in 1879, Lady Astor moved to England in 1904 where she met and married Waldorf Astor.
The wealthy newspaper proprietor represented Plymouth in the Commons from 1910 to 1918 and then the Sutton division from 1918.
Lady Astor won the Plymouth Sutton seat in a by-election in 1919, after her husband ascended to the House of Lords following the death of his father, becoming the first woman to sit in Parliament.
She stood down in 1945 and died in 1964 aged 84.
There will also be an exhibition at Plymouth Guildhall of 100 Years of Plymouth Powerful Women, examining Lady Astor’s impact on Plymouth but also those of women who, over the last century, have made contributions to the city.
Last year marked the centenary of women winning the right to vote and being able to stand as MPs.