1929: A new woman in the House of Commons


Eleanor campaigning (unsuccessfully) as an Independent candidate in East Toxteth, Liverpool, in 1922. LSE Library’s Collection. COLL MISC 1104

Equality for women has gained momentum since Eleanor was elected to parliament in 1929 at the so-called Flapper Election. Of the 615 members returned, she was one of only fourteen women to gain a seat.

She stood as the Independent candidate for the Combined English Universities, which included Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Reading, and Sheffield, and she was the first Somervillian to be elected to parliament, an achievement which has been repeated many times since then. Somerville relinquished it’s all female status with the admission of male Fellows in 1993 and male undergraduates  in 1994. More than eight decades after Eleanor went up to Oxford, in May 2015, women gained 191 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, raising the percentage from around 2.3 per cent to 29.4 per cent.  Eleanor’s Oxford college  is currently represented in the House of Commons by Nicola Blackwood, Dr Therese Coffey, Helen Goodman, Nia Griffith, Sam Gyimah and Lucy Powell. The House of Lords has Baronesses Shirley Williams, Margaret Jay, Onora O’Neill,  Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Shriti Vadera and Alison Wolf.

Eleanor’s maiden speech, delivered on 22 July 1929, resonates with today’s debates for as a novice MP she addressed the House on the housing question. She may have been cutting her teeth in her new environment, but she was exceedingly well acquainted with the subject and the associated problems, having been on the housing committee of the Liverpool City Council for the previous nineteen years.

Some of Eleanor’s speeches


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