By Oonagh Gay and Isobel White. Follows Norah Runge MP: An exceptional woman
Norah Runge became the Conservative MP for Rotherhithe rather unexpectedly in 1931 after the male candidate, Captain Husey, stood down. Norah kept a diary, not just of her personal life but of her political activities and some extracts below give an insight into life as one of the 15 women MPs elected in 1931.
1931-32 Becoming an MP
1 Sep 1931 Norah first hears that Captain Husey (Prospective Conservative candidate for constituency of Rotherhithe) might resign.
10 Sep 1931 Captain Husey resigns and on 16 Sep 1931 Norah becomes the Conservative candidate for Rotherhithe.
19 Sep 1931 Norah writes her speech for her adoption meeting which takes place on 21 Sep 1931.
25 Sep 1931 Captain Shurlock becomes her election agent.
7 Oct 1931 Parliament is dissolved.
15 Oct 1931 Norah speaks for the first time at an open air meeting.
16 Oct 1931 Nomination day at the Town Hall in Rotherhithe.
22 Oct 1931 Women’s mass meeting at Rotherhithe Town Hall: “Miss Worthington Evans and Mr Gorman were the speakers…Rather rowdy meeting”.
23 Oct 1931 Street corner meeting in Rotherhithe at 7 am and meetings later in the day at Courage’s and Dick’s works.
24 Oct 1931 Rally at Town Hall at 8pm: “our final rally…Mr Winter, Chairman of the Liberal Party in chair. Not a really rowdy meeting.”
27 Oct 1931 General election day (Tuesday). Dense fog early in day: “Polled at Rotherhithe at 7am. There all day…Beat Ben Smith by 130 after recount”. Norah Runge was one of 13 Conservative women elected, with only 15 women elected in total to the House of Commons (the other two were Megan Lloyd George for the Liberals and Eleanor Rathbone, an Independent).
28 Oct 1931 “Spent morning opening telegrams and answering the telephone!”
3 Nov 1931 Goes to the House of Commons at 12, “found my bearings”. Election of the Speaker.
4 Nov 1931 Has photograph taken with other women MPs on the Terrace and is sworn in.
10 Nov 1931 Attends the State Opening of Parliament with her husband. Then to lunch with Lady Astor at the Commons, “All women MPs went”. At 6pm Baldwin sees all the new Conservative MPs in one of the Committee rooms.
18 Nov 1931 Attends lunch at the Ladies’ Carlton Club for Conservative women MPs. “Mrs Baldwin there. Lady Iveagh responded to the toast ‘our guests’.”
19 Nov 1931 Goes to the House of Commons at 10 am; has lunch at Lady Iveagh’s and goes back to the House at 5pm: “Kept there till midnight, heaps of divisions. Could not go to Philanthropic dance at Rotherhithe”.
20 Nov 1931 Lunches at the House of Commons with Miss Horsburgh.
18 Dec 1931 Attends political dinner at the Ladies’ Carlton Club, “Mr Baldwin there”.
9 January 1932 Meets Coombs, secretary of the Lightermen’s union, to talk about the strike.
3 Feb 1932 Attends a reception at 10 Downing Street “but the Prime Minister is ill and only Ishbell received”.
4 Feb 1932 Lunches at Lady Astor’s then “To House at 2.45, Neville Chamberlain made his Tariff Speech. Sir Herbert Samuel made preposterous speech against in evening”.
8 Feb 1932 Asks a question about the Lightermen’s strike “and also a supplementary. Got into trouble with Ministry of Labour!”
9 Feb 1932 Sees the Tilbury Lighterage people and on 11 Feb 1932 meets Mr Greenberg Harris, Secretary of the Port Employers Committee about the Lightermen’s strike.
13 Feb 1932 Attends weekend conference for new MPs at Ashridge. “Had two lectures in morning…Mr Baldwin gave a confidential lecture after dinner.”
3 March 1932 Attends Children’s Bill committee at 11 am, lunches with Lady Astor and later goes to Mrs Baldwin’s “at home”.
13 April 1932 Norah makes her maiden speech “just before 6.30 in support of 2nd Reading of the Sunday Cinema Bill”.
26 April 1932 Dr Fawcett and Miss Rattenbury to tea with Norah at House of Commons to talk about Invalid Children’s Aid at Rotherhithe.
28 April 1932 Attends Conservative Women’s Conference at Queens Hall.
29 April 1932 Goes to women’s mass meeting at Albert Hall.
7 May 1932 Goes to Bermondsey on Saturday afternoon to Hall attached to Town Hall to speak at Annual Conference of Seamen and Boatmen’s Friend.
12 May 1932 To House, 3rd Reading of Children’s Bill. “All night sitting home at 5.30am. I withdrew an amendment I had intended to move as it had not been reached at 2am.”
8 June 1932 Goes to the Home Office with a deputation from Bermondsey on behalf of Social Service about Juvenile Court
20 June 1932: Takes part in women Members’ deputation to see Minister of Health about National Health Insurance Bill.
21 June 1932: Intends to speak against Herbert Williams’s clause in National Health Insurance Bill Report Stage but the Government rejects the clause straight away so she does not speak.
23 June 1932 Takes a party of schoolgirls (Fair St School) round the House of Commons.
30 June 1932 Attends the Forum Club, a London club for women at 6 Grosvenor Place.
14 August 1932 Taking a holiday in Scotland for much of August, Norah notes in her diary that whilst in Nairn “the Prime Minister here for tea”.
25 October 1932 Norah attends a Committee at 4.30 to meet Lord Irwin to discuss Education circular 1421. Notes in her diary: “I was truculent”.
27 October 1932 Norah goes to the Commons: “Hunger marches and Demonstration in Hyde Park. Not much disorder.” There were riots subsequently on 1 November 1932 around the Houses of Parliament.
15 November 1932 Photographed at her home in St John’s House, Smith Square, for the Press. Kaye Vaughan was the photographer.
16 November 1932 Speaks in the House on Education Circular 1421
2 December 1932 Speaks on Greyhound racing, a Private Member’s Bill. Norah was a keen greyhound race attender and former owner, indicating her socially liberal politics.
13 December 1932 Attends a private view (for mostly MPs) of a film “Bill for Parliament” at Phoenix Theatre. Attends the House and then goes to Rotherhithe “to fix up about Christmas dining fund”.
Oonagh Gay and Isobel White, Vote 100 Volunteers
Read more about Norah Runge from highlights and extracts from her diaries:
Note on sources: The Runge diaries and scrapbooks
Norah Runge kept a diary throughout her life. Her diaries for 1931 to 1935 when she was MP for Rotherhithe were loaned to the Parliamentary Archives so that they could be transcribed by Vote 100 volunteers. Extracts from the diaries are reproduced with the kind consent of Norah’s family.
Scrapbooks containing press articles about Norah’s political career were discovered early in 2017 and acquired by the Parliamentary Archives. They are on display in Parliament’s Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament exhibition until 6 October 2018.