Women MPs, 1918-1997

Hansard reporters in the Chamber. ©UK Parliament/Mark Duffy

We recently published a blog post on Constance Markievicz and Nancy Astor, which was the first in a series on the early women MPs – much more to come! This post by the House of Commons Hansard writing team introduces the project. Follow the blog for future posts.

How did it all start?

In 2016, a team of writers from Hansard began work on a research project on female MPs.  We had been asked by colleagues in the Curator’s Office and the Parliamentary Archives organising Vote 100 events to find statistical data, including demographic information and details of public service, on women elected since 1918, and to produce a biographical snapshot of each MP.

This work forms the basis for the blog series, Women MPs, 1918-1997, a survey of the first 167 women to serve as MPs in the UK Parliament. We give an overview of their struggles and successes, as well as the campaigns and cross-party alliances that enabled them to forge their place in a man’s world. Some of the MPs we blog about are famous, but many have been forgotten.  We aim to provide a short, sharp account of their lives and parliamentary careers so that their achievements are brought into focus. With each successive blog post we will build an accurate picture of women in Parliament that can be used as a springboard for further research.

Parliamentary Archives, PUD/19/1/1
Group of women in Parliament, including Viscountess Davidson and Bessie Braddock, c. 1949. Parliamentary Archives, PUD/19/1/1

Why Hansard?

Hansard is a behind-the-scenes operation. Our team of reporters and editors produce accurate transcripts of MPs’ speeches in Parliament. It’s a bit like a play in reverse: we turn the words spoken by MPs in Parliament into text. We work to tight deadlines—we have a three-hour target for publishing reports of speeches made in the Chamber on Parliament’s website. We’re nifty researchers, checking 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 originality of the women we are profiling.

Conservative women MPs on the terrace of the House of Commons, 1931. Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/RO/1/188.
Conservative women MPs on the terrace of the House of Commons, 1931. Front: Norah Runge, Lady Iveagh, Duchess of Atholl, Irene Ward, Mary Pickford. Back: Nancy Astor, Helen Shaw, Mavis Tate, Thelma Cazalet, Sarah Ward, Ida Copeland, Florence Horsburgh. Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/RO/1/188.

The Battle of Mrs Winder

Hansard’s own story intersects with one of the campaigns championed by women in Parliament.  In 1944, Jean Winder became the first woman to be appointed as a permanent Hansard reporter, but was paid less than her male counterparts. She fought for equal pay, backed by Conservative MP Irene Ward, who thought it was case of “rank injustice” and joined what she described as “the battle of Mrs Winder”. On 2 August 1951, Ward told the House that although it “was run on the basis of equal pay…there is one woman on the Hansard staff…Mrs Winder, who has not got equal pay”.  In January 1954, Winder at last won her battle, and was paid “as if she were a male reporter”.

How do we find the time?

Hansard reporters in the Chamber. ©UK Parliament/Mark Duffy
Hansard reporters in the Chamber. ©UK Parliament/Mark Duffy

Our core job of reporting debates in the Chamber and Committees keeps us busy, but when the House is not sitting—for example, during recesses—we have time to work on projects with other parliamentary departments. This is really rewarding, allowing us to step back from the immediate challenges of parliamentary reporting and develop our skills in other areas.

Hansard writing team, House of Commons

Hyperlinks:

Vote 100: https://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/vote-100/

Hansard: https://www.parliament.uk/about/how/publications/hansard/; https://hansard.parliament.uk/

Irene Ward: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKF4Jn187RE

Jean Winder: https://commonshansard.blog.parliament.uk/2018/09/12/the-battle-of-mrs-winder/; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-parliaments-46139815

Irene Ward, equal pay debate, 2 August 1951: https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1951/aug/02/equal-pay

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