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Nancy Witcher Langhorne Astor, Viscountess Astor, CH (19 May 1879 – 2 May 1964) was the first woman MP sitting (Conservative, Plymouth) in 1919.
She was the first female Member of Parliament to take her seat. Alison Neilans worked closely with Hilda Matheson who was a lesbian and political secretary to MP Nancy Astor. Lady Astor was a close friend of Mary Agnes Hamilton and Ellen Wilkinson.
She was an American citizen who moved to England at age 26. She made a second marriage to Waldorf Astor as a young woman in England. After he succeeded to the peerage and entered the House of Lords, she entered politics, in 1919 winning his former seat in Plymouth and becoming the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons.[Note 1] Her first husband was an American citizen, Robert Gould Shaw II, and they divorced. She served in Parliament as a member of the Conservative Party for Plymouth Sutton until 1945, when she was persuaded to step down.
On November 3 1938, a large group of Neilans' feminist friends and colleagues wrote a letter to the editor of The Times requesting donations for a presentation of a gift to Alison Nielans. Among the women signatories of the “wide circle of friends” who wished “to pay a public tribute to the magnificent work” Nielans had accomplished were Nina Boyle, Nancy Astor, Margery Corbett Ashby, Marjorie Nunburnholme, Eva Harterr, Vera Laughton Matthews, Maude Royden, Jane Walker and Helen Wilson. Nina Boyle, Dr. Maude Royden and Nancy Astor were among the speakers. Nancy Astor “proposed Miss Nielans’s health,” and demonstrated the quick wit she was known for in claiming that Nielans’ successful contribution to the raising of the age of consent bill “had changed the lives of thousands of men throughout the world”. The Times did not report the content of Nina Boyle’s and Maude Royden’s speeches but quoted the Archbishop of York’s admiration that Nielans “manfully stood for the fundamental unity of moral law and ideal for all persons, races and sexes”. Several lesbians and spinsters in the international feminist sorority were attributed with masculine characteristics in association with their work. Nina Boyle was considered “mannish.” Alison Neilans was seen as “manfully” carrying out her duties. Katharine Furse was remembered in obituaries, as much for her physical prowess as a champion skier, as for her role in international feminism.
Margaret Wintringham and Nancy Astor
Alison Roberta Noble Neilans died at the young age of fifty-eight on July 17 1942 after twenty-nine years as Secretary of the Association for Social and Moral Hygiene. Among the numerous mourners at her funeral, at Golders Green on July 21 1942, were her feminist friends and colleagues Rachel Crowdy, Nina Boyle, Nancy Astor, Grace Abbott (chairman of AMSH), Miss F. Barry of St. Joan’s International Alliance, Miss K. Courtney of the League of Nations Union, Daisy Solomon of the British Commonwealth League, Miss Anna Munro, Miss Marian Reeves of the Women’s Freedom League and many more from the international arms of organisations such as the Open Door Council and the International Council of Women, Bessie Rischbieth of the Australian Federation of Women Voters represented Australian women.
Nina Boyle’s political and friendship network was far-reaching and on her death in 1943, a memorial fund was set up by her women colleagues specifically to keep alive the political issues that Nina Boyle fought for all her feminist career. The Nina Boyle Memorial Committee comprised Cicely Hamilton as chairwoman, Elsa Gye as honorary secretary and Marie Lawson, honorary treasurer. Members of Parliament who were also patrons to the Nina Boyle Memorial Fund included Eleanor Rathbone, Nancy Astor, Ellen Wilkinson, Irene Ward, Dr. Edith Summerskill and Megan Lloyd George.
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