Teresa Gorman (1931-2015) and Judith Chaplin (1939-1993) were both prominent Conservative MPs who actively campaigned for women’s equality and representation in Parliament. Both received national attention in a Parliament where there were few role models for women – only around 10 per cent of those elected in 1992 were female. Gorman was well known as a straight-talking politician, one of nine MPs from whom the Whip was removed for rebelling against the Government over the Maastricht treaty, nearly bringing down the Major Government, whereas Chaplin, who had run Major’s political office before her election, was seen as “destined for high office” before her early death.
Gorman was born Teresa Moore in Putney; her father was a demolition contractor and former labourer, and her mother a tearoom waitress. She worked as a science teacher before establishing a successful business that sold nursing and biological teaching aids and founding the Alliance of Small Firms and Self-Employed People. She stood unsuccessfully as an independent in the October 1974 general election, but later served as a Conservative councillor and on the party’s Women’s National Committee. She was selected as a Conservative parliamentary candidate at her ninth attempt and elected for Billericay in 1987.
In Parliament, Gorman argued passionately against abortion restrictions, saying: “It is a matter of civil rights. It is a matter of a woman’s right to decide her own future and her own fertility. This Chamber should not lightly take that right from her.” She also campaigned to improve the representation of women at Westminster. While introducing a private Member’s Bill that would have created two-Member constituencies represented by one man and one woman, she said: “we will know that women have really reached their place in our political community when they are allowed to be as mediocre as some of the men who occupy these Benches.”
Gorman was a fervent campaigner for hormone replacement therapy, which she raised repeatedly in the House. She used her personal experiences to fight for HRT, saying: “Yes, I am over 50. Yes, I am menopausal. Yes, I have hormone replacement therapy. Yes, it is terrific.” She referred to herself as “St Teresa of the menopause” and credited HRT with allowing her to claim to be 10 years younger than she was when she was first selected.
Gorman was on the right of her party, a Eurosceptic who would vote against her own Government on the issue 40 times. She often made her point through private Members’ Bills, from the 1988 Small Firms (Liberation) Bill to the 1998 Referendum (English Parliament) Bill. Although she did not seek re-election in 2001, following her husband’s diagnosis with cancer, she continued to champion the benefits of HRT.
Sybil Judith Schofield, later Chaplin, was born in St Albans, the daughter of a hospital dentist. She studied economics at Cambridge. Unable to find a suitable nursery for her four children, she took over as headmistress of a nursery and pre-preparatory school before serving for 11 years on Norfolk County Council, where she chaired the education committee. Following the end of her first marriage, she retrained as an accountant and later led the economics section of the Conservative party research department and the policy unit at the Institute of Directors before becoming a special adviser to the Chancellor, Norman Lamont, in 1988. She remained at the Treasury under Lamont’s successor, John Major, who appointed her to run his political office when he became Prime Minister in 1990.
Chaplin was elected to Newbury in the 1992 election and was the first woman to represent the seat. She served on the Treasury and Civil Service Committee and spoke frequently in debates about tax and other aspects of economics. Observing that the national insurance system should no longer be based on “the explicit assumption that wives [are] financially dependent upon their husbands”, she introduced a ten-minute rule Bill that sought to equalise the treatment of men and women with dependent children by creating a widowed father’s allowance to match the existing allowance for widowed mothers.
In 1993, Chaplin died unexpectedly following a minor operation. She had been an MP for just 10 months, but at her memorial service there were readings from both the then Prime Minister and Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Employment. Excerpts from her diary would later be published by The Sunday Telegraph, providing an insight into her time at the heart of government.
Mr David Rendel MP, tribute to Judith Chaplin in his maiden speech, 19 May 1993: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1993-05-19/debates/96780f82-7674-4f08-962c-516af0bdc56e/CommonsChamber#contribution-6e91023c-368d-43d9-add4-7a53a384cd3a
Teresa Gorman, maiden speech, 1 July 1987: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1987-07-01/debates/53592556-7a35-42b0-be51-e07d915e9288/CommonsChamber#contribution-42708ff1-52aa-402e-b9f4-1a9b8e9835c3
Teresa Gorman, speech on Abortion (Amendment) Bill, 22 January 1988: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/1988-01-22/debates/784d7815-f3f2-4fc5-8506-099e2f68c802/Abortion(Amendment)Bill#contribution-6f9f32e1-947a-436a-854c-f9db9d456906
Teresa Gorman, speech on Women’s Health, 10 June 1988: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/1988-06-10/debates/2b7b5507-5b12-4dd4-a785-9b6fedeb80c1/WomenSHealth#contribution-6081e4be-80ad-4574-adcb-873139ef106e
Teresa Gorman, speech on Second Reading of the Women Into Parliament Bill, 14 July 1993: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1993-07-14/debates/cee630b9-5d63-4013-acd1-1e708c23f3ed/WomenIntoParliament
Teresa Gorman, Small Firms (Liberation) Bill, 20 April 1988: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1988-04-20/debates/a30e6f5f-d94a-4f3d-9d33-ee122d6e091b/SmallFirms(Liberation)#contribution-47ae31f2-5b9a-4190-94d4-578950201d50
Teresa Gorman, Referendum (English Parliament) Bill, 16 January 1998: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1998-01-16/debates/3991db5d-e3e0-4152-8364-6610ad36dbe3/Referendum(EnglishParliament)Bill#contribution-90e0cc9c-fe58-4825-bad6-0d84635b6f96
Judith Chaplin, maiden speech, 10 June 1992: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1992-06-10/debates/1e599bf6-1bc6-4bd3-bdf0-c0760f0b2c24/SmallCompanies#contribution-00a08de1-4294-493c-8684-f942303f5237
Judith Chaplin, 10-minute rule Bill, 3 February 1993: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/1993-02-03/debates/d14e863e-3b30-428a-88a7-ef938155c9e8/WidowedFatherSAllowance#contribution-437c3df6-1632-4978-8b25-d06ea9208922