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Nancy Astor

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Nancy Astor Facts:

Known for: first woman to take a seat in the British House of Commons; sharp wit and social commentary
Occupation: society hostess, Member of Parliament
Dates: May 19, 1879 - May 2, 1964
Also known as: Nancy Witcher Langhorne, Nancy Langhorne Astor, Nancy Witcher Langhorne Astor, Viscountess Astor, Lady Astor

Nancy Astor: Childhood:

Nancy Astor was born in Virginia, one of five sisters (and two brothers). One of her sisters married the artist Charles Dana Gibson, who immortalized his wife as the "Gibson girl."

Nancy Astor's father was a Confederate officer. After the war he became a tobacco auctioneer. During her early childhood, the family was poor and struggling; as she became an adolescent, her father's success brought the family wealth. Her father refused to send her to college, a fact that Nancy Astor resented.

Nancy Astor: First Marriage:

In October 1897, Nancy Astor married society Bostonian Robert Gould Shaw. They had one son before they separated in 1902, divorcing in 1903.

Nancy Astor and Waldorf Astor:

Nancy Astor then went to England. On a ship, she met Waldorf Astor, whose American millionaire father had become a British lord. They married in London on April 19, 1906, and Nancy Astor moved with Waldorf to the family home in Cliveden, where she proved an adept and popular society hostess. In the course of their marriage, they had four sons and one daughter. In 1914 the couple, who also shared a birthdate, converted to Christian Science.

Waldorf and Nancy Astor Enter Politics:

Waldorf and Nancy Astor became involved in reform politics, part of a circle of reformers around Lloyd George. In 1909 Waldorf stood for election to the House of Commons as a Conservative from a Plymouth constituency; he lost the election but won on his second try, in 1910. The family moved to Plymouth when he won. Waldorf served in the House of Commons until 1919, when, at his father's death, he became a Lord and thereby became a member of the House of Lords.

The House of Commons:

Nancy Astor decided to run for the seat that Waldorf vacated, and she was elected in 1919. Constance Markiewicz had been elected to the House of Commons in 1918, but chose not to take her seat. Nancy Astor was the first woman to take a seat in Parliament -- the only woman MP until 1921.

Her campaign slogan was "Vote for Lady Astor and your children will weigh more." She worked for temperance, women's rights, and children's rights. Another slogan she used was "If you want a party hack, don't elect me."

In 1923, Nancy Astor published My Two Countries, her own story.

World War II:

Nancy Astor was an opponent of socialism and, later during the Cold War, an outspoken critic of communism. She was also an anti-fascist. She refused to meet Hitler though she had an opportunity. Waldorf Astor met with him about the treatment of Christian Scientists and came away convinced that Hitler was mad.

Despite their opposition to fascism and the Nazis, the Astors supported economic appeasement of Germany, supporting the lifting of economic sanctions against Hitler's regime.

During World War II, Nancy Astor was noted for her morale-boosting visits to her constituents, especially during German bombing raids. She just missed being hit once, herself. She also served, unofficially, as hostess to American troops stationed at Plymouth during the build-up to the Normandy invasion.

Nancy Astor Retires:

In 1945, Nancy Astor left Parliament, at her husband's urging, and not entirely happily. She continued to be a witty and sharp critic of social and political trends when she disapproved, including both communism and the American McCarthy witch-hunts.

She largely withdrew from public life with the death of Waldorf Astor in 1952. She died in 1964.

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