The next in our series on women MPs by the House of Commons Hansard Writing Team.
Margaret Wintringham (1879-1955), Mabel Philipson (1887-1951) and Gwendolen Guinness (1881-1956) became MPs when they won by-elections in seats previously held by their husbands, following Nancy Astor who had also been elected to her husband’s seat. While not frequent speakers, they made a significant contribution to Parliament’s work by co-ordinating cross-party initiatives, supporting and opposing legislation, and breaking new ground as the first women to take up particular roles.
Wintringham was the first British-born woman to take a seat in Parliament and the first female Liberal MP. She was elected as MP for Louth in a by-election after her husband Thomas died of a heart attack in the House of Commons Library in 1921. She refused to make speeches during the campaign because she was in mourning and was known as the “silent candidate”.
An active participant in the local community and in national organisations, Wintringham had trained as a teacher and became headmistress of a Grimsby school. During the First World War, she helped to organise aid for Belgian refugees. She was a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and the Temperance Society, and was one of the first female Justices of the Peace.
Wintringham worked closely with other women MPs, such as Nancy Astor, who was a good friend. She was the unofficial co-ordinator of a cross-party group of eight women who became MPs in 1923. The Women’s Institute called her “our Institute MP” for her support of its issues in Parliament, such as maintaining the number of women police officers after the First World War, on which the WI also passed resolutions.
On 4 April 1924, in moving Second Reading of the Guardianship, Etc., of Infants Bill, Wintringham spoke out on the rights and responsibilities of guardianship of children: “The modern tendency is to equalise the rights of men and women. This is done… in regard to property and civil rights, and I want… to extend it to domestic rights.”—[Official Report, 4 April 1924, vol.171, c. 2661].
Mabel Philipson, née Russell, was the third woman to serve in the House of Commons. She was elected as the Conservative MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed in a by-election in May 1923 after her husband, a National Liberal, was unseated on petition because of corruption by his election agent.
Philipson was a music hall actress before her marriage—at one time she was a Gaiety Girl—and continued to perform while she was an MP. In the 1927 parliamentary recess, she took part in the musical, “The Beloved Vagabond”, for charity.
Philipson rarely spoke in Parliament, preferring to focus on her constituency and issues such as housing, agriculture and fishing, and infant welfare. She was a member of a Joint Select Committee considering the Guardianship of Infants Bill, which was the result of Margaret Wintringham’s campaigning. She was the only woman MP to oppose the Bill, which became an Act in July 1925. She also sponsored the Nursing Homes Registration Act 1927.
Philipson was the only woman on a Conservative delegation to Italy to meet the Pope and Mussolini and, in 1928, she was offered the job of Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Health Minister. She stood down at the 1929 election as her husband’s business was in financial difficulty.
Gwendolen Onslow, daughter of a Cabinet Minister, married Rupert Guinness of the brewing dynasty, who was MP for Southend-on-Sea. He became the Earl of Iveagh in 1927, inheriting a seat in the House of Lords, and she won his Commons seat in a by-election to become a Conservative MP.
Guinness was awarded an OBE for providing assistance to prisoners of war in 1920. From 1925 to 1933, she chaired the Conservative party’s women’s advisory committee, and in 1930, she chaired the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations.
Although Guinness seldom spoke in Parliament, she could draw a crowd because she was a good speaker. On 29 March 1928, she made a cogent and, according to the Morning Post, unrehearsed speech in favour of extending the franchise to all women over 21. On 7 April 1930, she made a speech on the Housing Bill in which she drew on her experience of conditions in the East End, where she had done philanthropic work since 1903.
Guinness held the seat at the 1931 election, but stood down in favour of her son-in-law, Henry “Chips” Channon, in 1935.
House of Commons Hansard Writing Team
Pathé footage of Wintringham after her election: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/VLVA8FTS86GGAK9Z48KX3XX9MLEX7-MRS-WINTRINGHAM-CONTESTS-HER-LATE-HUSBANDS-SEAT-IN-ELECTION/query/Margaret+Wintringham
Wintringham’s speech in Hansard on women police officers: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1922-06-29/debates/7a245527-f177-4366-9061-6f7dffb09b47/HomeOffice?highlight=%22criminal%20law%20amendment%22#contribution-df1016e7-21e5-4955-a994-b4e5560599cb
The WI on Wintringham’s involvement: https://www.thewi.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/145290/The-WI-and-the-Womens-Suffrage-movement.pdf
Pathé footage of Philipson after her election: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/britains-first-actress-mp-m-p/query/Mabel+Philipson
Anne-Marie Trevelyan (MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, 2015 to present) speaks about Philipson in Parliament: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2015-06-01/debates/1506013000003/BritainInTheWorld?highlight=mabel%20philipson#contribution-15060121000104
National Trust page on Gwendolen Guinness (Lady Iveagh): https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/clandon-park/features/lady-iveagh-celebrating-international-womens-day-at-clandon-park
Guinness’s speech in Hansard on the Housing Bill: http://bit.ly/2Xh3LDn