Hilda Runciman © National Portrait Gallery

Vera Terrington and Hilda Runciman

The next in our series on women MPs by the House of Commons Hansard Writing Team.

Liberal MPs Vera Terrington (1889-1973) and Hilda Runciman (1869-1956) both had family connections with the House of Commons. Terrington’s grandfather was a firefighter and watchman in Parliament, and her father had once been an attendant and messenger there. Runciman’s father had been a Member of Parliament, making her the first woman MP to follow her father into the House, and her husband was an MP when she was elected, making them the first married couple to sit in the Commons at the same time.

Terrington and Runciman both made maiden speeches on social inequality. Terrington wanted to remove the means test from old age pensions and declared: “I want to see both men and women get their fair share, that is, the whole pension, without any question of inquiry into their means”. Runciman, who criticised poor housing provision, said, “I often think of the task of the poor women whose duty it is to try to make a home under these conditions.”

As Liberal MPs, Terrington and Runciman are often forgotten as by this period Labour had become the main party of opposition.  Only six women were elected as Liberal MPs, before the formation of the Liberal Democrats in 1988.

© National Portrait Gallery,
Vera Florence Annie Woodhouse (née Bousher), Lady Terrington by Bassano Ltd, whole-plate glass negative, 3 March 1921, NPG x 36690 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Terrington was born Vera Bousher and was the daughter of a London druggist’s assistant. She married at 18; after being widowed she married Harold Woodhouse, Baron Terrington, and became active in Liberal politics. She stood for Wycombe in the general elections of 1922, 1923 and 1924, coming second in 1922 and winning the seat in 1923.

Terrington attributed her victory to the women’s vote, having campaigned against Conservative plans on tariff reform, which it was argued would cause food price rises for housewives. She spoke feelingly about the hardship endured by women and supported equal parental rights in the Guardianship of Infants Bill in April 1924. She strongly championed animal welfare. As an MP for a rural constituency, she supported credit facilities for farmers, farming co-operatives, and the provision of smallholdings and rural housing.

Terrington lost her seat to the Conservatives at the 1924 election, and dropped out of politics amid marriage difficulties. After divorcing, she emigrated to South Africa but had no involvement in politics. After her third husband’s death she returned to England, and died in Sussex in 1973.

Hilda Runciman © National Portrait Gallery
Hilda Runciman (née Stevenson), Viscountess Runciman by Bassano Ltd, bromide print, 1927, NPG x84646, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Runciman was the daughter of James Cochran Stevenson, Liberal MP for South Shields from 1868 to 1895. After studying history at Girton College, Cambridge, she became a teacher. In 1898, she married Walter Runciman, later a prominent Liberal MP and Minister. In 1897 she was the first woman to be elected to the Newcastle school board, and in 1903 she joined the Northumberland county education committee. She served on the executive of the National Liberal Federation, including as president. She chaired the Westminster Housing Association and was a founder of the Westminster Housing Trust.

Walter Runciman was MP for Swansea West from 1924, but was adopted as the Liberal candidate for St Ives in Cornwall. When the sitting St Ives MP retired early in 1928, Walter was unwilling to trigger a by-election in Swansea. Hilda Runciman stood as a stop-gap candidate, winning St Ives from the Conservatives, and joined her husband in the House; she ceded the seat to him at the 1929 general election. That year, she contested Tavistock but failed to win by 152 votes. Her husband entered the Lords in 1937, and she became Viscountess Runciman of Doxford. As an MP, she focused on housing, unemployment and significant constituency issues, such as fishing and Warminster School.

House of Commons Hansard Writing Team

Hyperlinks:

Continuing a tradition: Women MPs who are widows of former Members https://ukvote100.org/2016/06/06/widow-mps/

Matt Cole, ‘The Yellow glass ceiling The mystery of the disappearing Liberal women MPs’, Journal of Liberal History, Issue 62, Spring 2009
https://liberalhistory.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/62_Spring_2009.pdf

Terrington making her maiden speech in Hansard, 27 February 1924; Vol. 170, c. 637: http://bit.ly/2HiCI3V

Runciman making her maiden speech in Hansard,  15 May 1928; Vol. 217, c. 914: http://bit.ly/2HesKkf

YouTube video: “In Victory or Defeat—Keep Smiling: Lady Terrington & Maj.-Gen. Sir A. Knox at the Wycombe declaration” (Critical Past: “Major-General Sir Alfred Knox declared winner over Lady Terrington, in the 1924 election for MP from Wycombe, England”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKefQugXm6Q

Runciman being sworn in on 13 March 1928, and voting in three Divisions that day, with her name appearing alongside her husband’s in the lists published in Hansard: http://bit.ly/2VEUDvP

 

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