BBC Radio 4, 15-19 October 2012
Nancy Astor (1879-1964), the first woman to take a seat in the British
Parliament, came across in Adrian Fort's biography as a vigorous personality - sometimes liable to make mistakes, but possessing
sufficient strength of character to overcome them. Her first marriage to Robert Gould Shaw II was a disaster; it collapsed
after four years, and Nancy made her home in England. Her second marriage to fellow-expatriate William Waldorf Astor
was far more successful; a successful business person, Waldorf purchased Cliveden - which became notorious during the 1960s
as the place where John Profumo first encountered Christine Keeler.
Nancy began her English life as a prominent hostess, but eventually moved into Parliament
as a MP for Plymouth once her husband had obtained a peerage. The reaction to her presence from the other MPs was
predictable; most thought that, as a woman, she was temperamentally unsuitable for the job. However time proved a great
leveller: during her 20-plus years as an MP, she worked hard on behalf of her constituents, especially during World War
II, when the city suffered particularly badly from air-raids by the Luftwaffe.
Nancy Astor retired at the 1945 election, a decision prompted in no small part by
her husband's decision to withdraw his support - both financial and personal. Her final years were spent in relative
obscurity, even though she and her husband reconciled before his death in 1952. She died in relative isolation in 1964.
Alison Joseph's abridgement left out some of the seamier details of Nancy Astor's
life - her anti-Semitism, her unfortunate description of the 8th Army in Italy during the Second World War as "D-Day
dodgers," and her innate fear of ethnic minorities. She came across instead as a tireless worker; someone who, in spite
of her privileged life, had to work hard for everything she achieved. The producer was Kirsteen Cameron.