Fifty Years of Women Peers

Mari Takayanagi, archivist at the Parliamentary Archives, explains the significance of the Life Peerages Act,1958.

Women had, of course, been involved in politics for centuries in different ways before they were able to sit in either House of Parliament. Some women were even able to inherit peerages, but this did not entitle them to take a seat in the Lords. After Nancy Astor became the first woman MP to take her seat in the Commons in 1919, women began campaigning for admission to the Lords. The test case was Lady Rhondda (Margaret Mackworth Haig). Her father D.A. Thomas was made a peer for services during the First World War and as he had no sons a special remainder was made to enable his daughter to take his title. A former suffragette, businesswoman and the leading equalitarian feminist of her day, Lady Rhondda attempted to take her seat in the Lords in 1922. She lost her case in the Committee for Privileges in the face of opposition by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Birkenhead. His argument was that the admission of women to the Lords was such a major change that it required legislation.

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