Frances Davidson from NPG

Marjorie Graves and Joan Davidson

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

Frances Marjorie Graves’s paternal grandfather Samuel Robert Graves was a Conservative MP for Liverpool while Joan Davidson’s paternal grandfather Sebastian Dickinson was a Liberal MP for Stroud, but both these women Members sat as Conservatives. While Graves served as an MP for only four years, Davidson followed her husband in representing a seat that—between them—they occupied for nearly 40 years.

Marjorie Graves
Photo by ANL/Shutterstock (3277838a). Miss Marjorie Graves Politician, 18 November 1931.

Graves (1884-1961) was no passionate advocate of women’s causes, admitting in evidence to the Schuster Committee on women in the diplomatic service that she had never wanted the vote. A civil servant in the Foreign Office during the first world war—she attended the 1919 Paris peace conference—and later in the Home Office, she thought it undesirable to have women in the diplomatic service on a permanent basis as they lacked the gravitas for ambassadorial roles. But she actually undertook a sensitive in role in the Home Office intelligence division in 1919-20 illustrating her considerable skills in this area.

Graves benefited from the dramatic swing against Labour in 1931 and won Hackney South from Labour Minister Herbert Morrison. One of the two new women MPs to have pursued a professional career—like the other, Mary Pickford, Graves was a published historian—her experience in international affairs informed her contributions to debates. She supported the Lausanne agreement on war debts, warned against reducing British naval power throughout the empire and believed that collective security through the League of Nations “contains the only solution for the future”. She made a radio programme about the voluntary social service in health provision in 1933.

After losing her seat to Morrison in 1935, Graves continued to be active in local government. She became the first female chair of the metropolitan area of the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations. She was a British Government delegate at the League of Nations in Geneva in 1936. Latterly she lived in Dorset, where she served on the county council.

Frances Joan (née Dickinson) Viscountess Davidson by Bassano Ltd, whole-plate film negative, 28 May 1937. NPG x153002 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Davidson (1894-1985) was the youngest daughter of the Liberal MP Willoughby Dickinson, a key political figure in achieving women’s suffrage. Stanley Baldwin, a family friend, introduced her to John Colin Campbell Davidson, whom she married in 1919. He became Conservative MP for Hemel Hempstead in 1920, and when he was ennobled as Viscount Davidson in 1937, Davidson was asked to contest the seat as a Conservative at the by-election. She won comfortably.

In Parliament, Davidson championed women’s ability to take on jobs that had traditionally been done by men, arguing on 20 March 1941, in a debate entitled Woman-Power, that the appointment of a woman inspector of constabulary at the Home Office would encourage more women to join the service. She was the only woman to sit on the National Expenditure Committee for the duration of the Second World War, and, with Irene Ward MP, she formed a two-person sub-committee that reported on women’s conditions in the armed forces and factories. In a debate in 1952, she argued that they saw “a great deal of the work that women were doing in engineering and in other ways, and I know that some of the amazing work which they did was more than equal to the work done by the men.” She and Ward shared an interest in equal pay and helped to increase the salary of female Clerks of the House of Commons.

After the 1945 election, Davidson was briefly the only female Conservative in the House, and in 1947 she became the first woman MP to be a member of the executive of the 1922 Committee of Conservative Back Benchers. She was made a Dame in 1952, and retired in 1959. After she took her seat as Baroness Northchurch in January 1964, the Davidsons became the first husband and wife to serve together in the House of Lords.

House of Commons Hansard Writing Team


Frances Marjorie Graves in Hansard:

Hansard report of Graves’s maiden speech:

Hansard report of Graves speech on the Foreign Office, 2 May 1935:

Notice about Graves’s broadcast on voluntary social service in “Some British Institutions”, 29 November 1933, from The Radio Times, 24 November 1933:

Viscountess Davidson in Hansard:

Hansard report of Davidson’s maiden speech:

Hansard report of Davidson’s speech in the Woman-Power debate, 20 March 1941:

Hansard report of Davidson’s speech on equal pay in the public services, 16 May 1952:

Hansard report of Davidson’s final speech to the House of Lords:

Parliament Living Heritage, “A Question of Justice: Willoughby Dickinson, MP and suffrage supporter”: