Who was the first British woman Member of Parliament?

MARGARET WINTRINGHAM 1879 – 1955

The first British woman to be elected to Parliament was Constance Markievicz who in 1918 topped the poll in the constituency of Dublin St Patrick’s but as a member of Sinn Fein she didn’t take up her seat in the House of Commons.

The first woman to take up a seat in the British Parliament was Nancy Astor who was elected to represent the constituency of Plymouth in 1919. However, as she was born in Virginia USA and didn’t re-locate to the UK until she was in her mid-twenties, she is outside the scope of this blog.

Margaret Wintringham was elected to represent the constituency of Louth in Lincolnshire at a by-election in 1921. She had trained as a teacher and was the head teacher of a school in Grimsby when she met and married a local timber merchant, Thomas Wintringham.

In 1920, Thomas was elected to Parliament to represent Louth and Margaret moved with him to live there. After a few months Thomas died unexpectedly in the House of Commons and in due course Margaret was invited by the local Liberal Party to continue his work. She lost the seat in 1924 and did not return to Parliament despite further attempts to be re-elected.

For example, in 1935 Margaret was adopted as the Liberal candidate for a constituency in mid-Buckinghamshire. However the voters of Aylesbury, in a 70% turnout, gave her only a third of the votes and she lost the seat to the Conservative candidate.

In 1938, Margaret was selected to fight the constituency of Gainsborough in Lincolnshire in the election that was to be called before the end of 1940 but world events intervened and the election was never held.

Instead, Margaret took responsibility for making sure the Women’s Land Army in the part of Lincolnshire where she lived was ready to make the maximum war effort.

On the outbreak of war the Lindsey district had already enrolled 171 recruits and three had been selected for tractor training and another was undertaking a specialist dairy management course. The volunteers were from town and country and Margaret told a newspaper interviewer that she wanted the area to be ready if an emergency was to arise.

In 1940 Margaret organised support for ship-wrecked sailors who’d come ashore in Grimsby after their vessels were sunk by the enemy. She reported that 27 shipwrecked crews consisting of 708 persons had already been looked after at the Queen Mary Hostel in Grimsby which was run by the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen. In addition to emergency accommodation and clothing it was even necessary to pay for spectacles and dentures for the victims. Margaret reported that Queen Mary had made a generous donation to the charity and urged others to follow her example until such time as the government took on responsibility for the seamen’s needs.

The following year, Margaret was the spokesperson for a Lincolnshire scheme to share vegetables grown in different villages because the previous year tons of vegetables had gone to waste because there was no market for them. She reported the story of a man who’d grown three quarters of an acre of beans and was unable to even give them away. Telling her supporters that they couldn’t substitute the spade for the tin opener she urged that every cabbage should be put to the best possible use.

Margaret died in 1955 in a London nursing home and her funeral was held near her former home in Louth.

Photo credit: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons