Groundbreaking women in Parliament

Groundbreaking women in British politics, from the first female MP and Peer to the youngest female MP ever elected.

Groundbreaking women in Parliament


First female MP elected, 1918

Countess Constance de Markievicz won her seat in Parliament as Sinn Fein MP for the St Patrick's division of Dublin. At the time, she was in prison under suspicion of being involved with German conspirators during the First World War. Even after her release she never took up her seat in Parliament due to Sinn Fein's boycott in response to the British government's policies in Ireland at the time.

First female MP to sit in Parliament, 1919


Nancy Astor was the first elected female MP to take up her seat in Parliament. In her maiden speech, she commented on the concern felt by some due to a woman being elected to Parliament and the importance of breaking new ground. She was the Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton until 1945.

Read an extract from Nancy Astor's speech

First female minister (1924) and member of the cabinet (1929)

Margaret Bondfield

As the Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Labour, Margaret Bondfield was the first woman to hold a ministerial position in government. She was then promoted by Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald in 1929 as the Minister for Labour, also making her the first female member of the cabinet.

First female Life Peer, 1958

The passage of the Life Peerages Act in 1958 meant women could now sit in the House of Lords. The first female Life Peer created was Baroness Wootton of Abinger. She served until her death in 1988. She was also the first woman to sit on the woolsack in the House of Lords, as Deputy Chairman of Committees in 1965. The woolsack is a large cushion in the House of Lords chamber where the Lord Speaker sits during debates.

First female Hereditary Peer, 1963

Traditionally, hereditary titles passed from father to son. So it wasn't until the 1963 Peerage Act that women were allowed to inherit their father's roles in the House of Lords. Baroness Strange of Knokin was the first woman to do this in 1963 after the Act was passed. The Act also allowed all Scottish peers to sit whereas previously only a small number had been allowed to take part in the business of the House of Lords.

First female prime minister, 1979

Margaret Thatcher

As well as being the first British female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher was also the longest serving prime minister of the 20th century. She was in office for 11 years and 209 days.

First female leader of the House of Lords, 1981

Janet Mary Young

Baroness Janet Mary Young was the first woman to hold the role of Leader of the House of Lords, which she did for two years between 1981 and 1983. The Leader of the House of Lords is responsible for organising House business and representing the House of Lords on formal occasions.

First female Speaker of the House of Commons, 1992

Betty Boothroyd

The first and, so far, only female Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd held this post for 12 years. The Speaker keeps order and oversees the business of the House of Commons.

First female Law Lord, 2004

Baroness Hale of Richmond was appointed as a Law Lord in 2004. The Law Lords were moved to a newly-formed Supreme Court in 2009. She is still the most senior female judge in the UK.

First Lord Speaker, 2006

Baroness Hayman

The role of the Lord Speaker was established after the Constitutional Reform Act was passed in 2005. Baroness Hayman was appointed, making her the first woman in this role or the Lord Chancellor's post which preceded it.

Longest continuously serving female MP, 1974-2008

Gwyneth Dunwoody served continuously as MP for Crewe (later Crewe and Nantwich) from 1974 until her death in 2008. She was also MP for Exeter from 1966-70, which makes her the longest ever serving female MP in terms of total service.

Youngest ever female MP elected, 1969

Bernadette Devlin

Bernadette Devlin was elected in the 1969 general election at age 21. To this day, she's the youngest female MP ever elected. She represented Mid-Ulster for 5 years until 1974.

First twin sister MPs, 1997

Angela and Maria Eagle both became members of Parliament in the 1990s. Angela Eagle was elected in 1992 as the MP for Wallasey. She was joined by her sister in 1997. Maria was elected MP for Garston and Halewood.

Related links