At last year’s election, 220 women won a seat in the House of Commons, boosting to 552 the number of women who have been elected since Constance Markievicz and Nancy Astor became the first female MPs, in 1918 and 1919. The stories of women elected in the twentieth century are at the heart of an exciting project that Hansard’s Writing Team has been asked to undertake by colleagues in the Curator’s Office and the Parliamentary Archives as part of Vote 100.
The project consists of two workstreams. Statistical data—for example, on professional and family background—compiled by our researchers has been passed on to the History of Parliament Trust, which will develop it for use in an online resource. And last week, which marked the centenary of Nancy Astor’s maiden speech, the Vote 100 blog published the first in a series of biographical posts on women MPs by the Writing Team.
This is a huge honour for the Writing Team, and we are thrilled to have an opportunity to share the research and writing skills that we use in our day job with a new audience. When we are reporting speeches in the House of Commons Chamber and Committees we are ready to check anything from dialect words and place names to obscure quotes. Our impartiality and ability to capture the flavour of MPs’ speeches have proved invaluable when it comes to writing concise and balanced biographies: we can provide an objective overview of the political landscape without losing sight of the character and achievements of the women we are profiling.
There are countless inspiring stories. Conservative MP Katharine Stewart-Murray (1874-1960) and Independent MP Eleanor Rathbone (1872-1946) worked across party lines to raise concerns about the rise of fascism, and travelled together to Spain during the civil war to observe events at first hand. Labour MP Leah Manning (1886-1977) undertook humanitarian work in Spain in the same period, and was instrumental in the evacuation of 4,000 children from Bilbao, which was under attack from the Nationalist army.