MP celebrates achievements of inspirational female politicians in new book

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves
Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves

The inspirational female MPs that changed politics are celebrated in a new book.

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves has written 'Women of Westminster: The MPs who Changed Politics' in a year which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the first female MP being elected when Nancy Astor was chosen to represent the Plymouth Sutton constituency.

Dr Sarah Hellawell

Dr Sarah Hellawell

Published last week to coincide with International Women's Day, Reeves looks at the work of politicians including Labour MPs Margaret Bondfield, who became the first female

Cabinet Minister in 1929, and Ellen Wilkinson, who is forever associated with the Jarrow Crusade of 1936.

Rachel said: "I think that these women made huge sacrifices to achieve what they did. Margaret was never married and in many ways she said that she married politics and the Labour Party. They both earned their way through suffrage movement and also through the Labuor and trade unions, so they changed the face of women in parliament".

"Margaret Bondfield was even the first woman to speak in the Trade Union Congress so they really broke through the male-dominated environments in the Labour Party and perhaps more so in the trade unions.

"They both came from a humble backgrounds and overcame many barriers to become Members of Parliament."

She added: "I thought this would be a good way to celebrate International Women's Day by knowing the stories and a little bit more about the women who shaped political life over

the last 100 years.

"It’s remarkable to say that a hundred years ago all 650 MPs were white men and in today there are 209 women in parliament. There’s been a huge change over the last century but there are still glass ceilings to be smashed because women have an equal share of the energy, the talent, the passion, the expertise, so we should be fully represented in the body that makes the laws of our country."

Dr Sarah Hellawell, Lecturer in Modern British History at the University of Sunderland, highlighted the importance of Marion Phillips, the first female MP for Sunderland who got elected in 1929.

Dr Hellawell said: "She was very instrumental in engaging women in politics. She was one of those early women MPs who really lobbied hard in Parliament on behalf of the constituents, so she was often speaking in Parliament about the poverty and deprivation in Sunderland due to unemployment.

"She was also really interested in opportunities for women and in the inter-war period she was advocating for employment opportunities and training schemes particularly for young women.

"She was just like Ellen Wilkinson and Margaret Bondfield, she combined campaigns for local constituents but also for more female rights. It has obviously sparked people’s interest in

learning something about this early women pioneers.

"This year marks 100 years since Nancy Astor was elected as the first woman to take her seat in Parliament and to me it’s the perfect moment to think about how far the women’s movement has come but also look forward at some of those campaigns that are still ongoing today.

Both Rachel Reeves and Dr Hellawell agreed that the legacies of these great women are still seen today in politics.

Dr Hellawell added: "The legacy is obviously the fact that we now have more women MPs in Parliament than ever before, but the battle is still not over because there are not 50/50 in Parliament in the UK."

Rachel Reeves said: "The legacies are the things these women put on the agenda. Things like equal pay, the legislation on human trafficking, domestic violence, abortion law reforms, children centres, and maternity and paternity leave."