Beauty, Wit, Charm
December 1, 1919: Nancy Witcher Astor (née Langhorne) takes her seat in the House of Commons. Nancy was born in Danville, Virginia to a family of once and future wealth. At the time of her birth, they lived in near-poverty. Her father became involved with the railroads and the family’s wealth was restored. Nancy had four sisters and three brothers. All the girls were famously beautiful. One sister, Irene, married an artist, Charles Dana Gibson, and became the quintessential Gibson Girl.
Nancy went to a finishing school in New York City and there met Robert Gould Shaw. They married when Nancy was 18. The marriage was volatile and unhappy with the couple splitting up several times during the 4-year marriage. They had one son and were finally divorced in 1903. Nancy’s mother died and she returned to her father’s mansion to help with running the household. Her father encouraged her to take a tour of England. Nancy was reluctant but finally she and her younger sister, Phyllis, went abroad.
Nancy’s puritanical or prudish behaviors were in stark contrast to her wicked way with words. She was interesting and witty, but not seeking a husband. When asked “Have you come to get our husbands?” she replied in what would become her famous style, “If you knew the trouble I had getting rid of mine …” Despite her demur, she married Waldorf Astor. He was also born in the US and on the same day as Nancy. Waldorf’s family moved to England and he was raised as an aristocrat. The Astors became British citizens in 1899 and the elder Astor used his incredible wealth to move up the social ladder. He became 1st Viscount Astor in 1917.
Waldorf Astor held a seat in the House of Commons for Plymouth, and after the seat was split, for Plymouth Station from 1910-1919. When his father died, he became 2nd Viscount Astor and was no longer able to sit in the House of Commons. His wife ran for Member of Parliament and was elected to the seat on November 28. She was the second woman to be elected, but Constance Markievicz did not take her seat. She was elected a year earlier, but was a member of Sinn Fein and would not take an oath of loyalty. Thus Lady Astor, the American, became the first woman to take a seat in the British House of Commons.
“Women have got to make the world safe for men since men have made it so darned unsafe for women.”
“We women talk too much, but even then we don’t tell half what we know.”
“It is no use blaming the men — we made them what they are – and now it is up to us to try and make ourselves – the makers of men – a little more responsible.”
“My vigor, vitality and cheek repel me – I am the kind of woman I would run from.”
“Truth always originates in a minority of one, and every custom begins as a broken precedent.” – all from Lady Astor
This article first appeared at examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: The House of Commons is the lower house of Parliament in the UK. It has gone through several name changes as it was first just the house of England, then of Great Britain and now of the United Kingdom. There are 650 seats in the House with Conservatives holding 304 and the Labour Party as Her Majesty’s Official Opposition holding 257 seats. The Liberal Democrats hold 55 seats with the other seats held between various other parties holding from one to eight seats. The Speaker and Deputies hold four seats. John Barcow has been Speaker since 2009 with Andrew Lansley as Leader since 2012 and Angela Eagle as Shadow Leader since 2011. The last elections were held in 2010 and terms last for five years. The salary for Members is £65,738.
Also on this day: Not a Hot Line – In 1878, a telephone was first installed in the White House.
No President Elect – In 1824, there was no clear candidate for President elected.
Underground – In 1913, the Buenos Aires Metro opened.