Elaine Kellett-Bowman (1923-2014) and Constance Monks (1911-1989) were first elected as Conservative MPs representing Lancashire constituencies in 1970. The first of these MPs was able to enjoy a long Parliamentary career despite sitting for a marginal seat; the second lost her seat after just one Parliament so she remains relatively unknown today.
Elaine Kellett-Bowman was the first woman to represent Lancaster. She studied at St Anne’s College, Oxford, at the same time as Margaret Thatcher (between 1943 and 1947). She went on to become a social worker in the East End of London, before moving to north Wales after marrying Charles Norman Kellett, with whom she had four children. She was a Conservative councillor on Denbigh Borough Council in north Wales (1952-55) and again in the London Borough of Camden (1968-1974). She stood for Parliament five times in three different constituencies: Nelson and Colne in 1955; South West Norfolk twice in 1959 (including a by-election); and Buckingham in 1964 and 1966.
In December 1959, Kellett-Bowman’s husband was killed in a car accident, in which she herself sustained serious head injuries. After she recovered, she concentrated on raising her four children and managing the family farm, and in 1960 she was voted “No.1 Country Housewife” by the Women’s Institute. She also trained as a barrister, partly, she claimed, to try and regain some of the memory that she had lost in the car accident, and was called to the Bar in 1964.
Kellett-Bowman was elected as MP for Lancaster in 1970, becoming the first woman to represent the constituency, and she held her seat until her retirement in 1997. She served a parallel role as a Member of the European Parliament for the constituency of Cumbria from 1979, before retiring as an MEP in 1984 to focus exclusively on her parliamentary career. In 1971, she married Edward Bowman, who served as an MEP from 1988 to 1999. Consequently, they were the first married couple to serve in the European Parliament.
As both an MP and an MEP, Kellett-Bowman was keen to tackle rural poverty, an issue that she had become familiar with through her work as a farmer. She even broke ranks with her party and leader, Margaret Thatcher, to support low-priced rural housing. She was socially conservative. For example, she supported tighter abortion laws and the death penalty, as she made clear in a debate on lawlessness in March 1989: “In fact, the original abolition of capital punishment would never have gone through had the then Labour Government not given that Bill extra time, in the same way that it gave extra time to the then Abortion Bill.”
At the end of her political career, Kellett-Bowman wrote, “I can honestly say I have found no discrimination against me as a woman, probably because I didn’t expect any”. This was later quoted in her obituary in The Times.
Constance Monks was the first female MP for Chorley. She was born and raised in Chorley, and she co-founded a branch of the Young Conservatives in the town. She trained as a teacher and married Chorley grocer Jack Monks in 1937. They had a son together, but he died while very young. She was a Conservative Councillor on Chorley Municipal Borough Council from 1947 to 1967 and Mayor from 1959 to 1960. She was a councillor on Lancashire County Council from 1961 to 1964, and chair of the Conservative Women’s Advisory Committee for Lancashire, Cheshire and Westmorland.
In 1970, Monks was elected as MP for Chorley at the second attempt, having tried to take the seat for the Conservatives in the 1966 election. She made her maiden speech on 24 July 1970, the day after a protester had thrown two gas canisters into the Chamber to draw MPs’ attention to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. “Yesterday’s incident in the House reminds us that if we are to maintain law and order it must be based on full confidence in our police”, she said. “If our police forces are to be kept at full strength, we must see to it that they are provided with the facilities which other professions have. They must continue to have our whole-hearted support. It is because I feel so strongly about this that I have been moved to make my maiden speech on this subject.”
Monks was narrowly defeated by Labour candidate George Rodgers in the February 1974 election. She decided not to stand again in the October 1974 election and also retired as a local councillor. She helped to run the family business selling newspapers, and died in 1989 after a long illness.
Elaine Kellett-Bowman, contributions in a debate on lawlessness, 10 March 1989: House of Commons Hansard Debates for 10 Mar 1989 (parliament.uk)
New York Times report on the gas bombs thrown into the Chamber on 23 July 1970: https://www.nytimes.com/1970/07/24/archives/gas-bombs-plunge-commons-into-an-uproar.html
Constance Monks, maiden speech, 24 July 1970: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1970-07-24/debates/92810e26-d81b-4ad0-a6c7-2cd8039e70bb/Police(ServiceAndConditions)#contribution-fc80a05a-0506-4b84-b020-aa881ef07921