Astor, Nancy (politician)

Reference: MS 1416Date: 1900-1964Extent: 374 boxes and 91 volumes

Lady Nancy Astor (née Langhorne) was born in Danville, Virginia on 19 May 1879.

In 1897, she married her first husband, Robert Shaw II, and the couple had one son together. However, the marriage was unsuccessful, and they divorced in 1903.

Nancy travelled to the United Kingdom with her son in 1904 and quickly became a member of the social elite. In 1906, she married Waldorf Astor and they settled at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire. The couple went on to have five children together.

When Waldorf succeeded his father as Viscount Astor in 1919, he had to forfeit his position as MP of Plymouth (Sutton Division) in order to take his seat in the House of Lords. Nancy decided to run in the subsequent by-election and, on 28 November 1919, was elected in a landslide victory. She became the first woman MP to take her seat in the House of Commons on 1 December 1919. During her political career, Nancy campaigned in particular for women’s causes and for temperance and was known for her sharp wit. She continued to represent the Plymouth constituency until her retirement in 1945.

Both Nancy and Waldorf were Christian Scientists. Nancy Astor died at her daughter’s home at Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire on 2 May 1964.

The collection consists of two main groups of Nancy Astor’s papers. Political correspondence 1919-1945 contains letters in and out, as well as parliamentary papers, prospective legislation and other publications. Subjects covered include elections and local affairs in Plymouth; children’s education and welfare and the creation of nursery schools; Christian Science; health; pensions; protection and support of the family; temperance; tours to Canada and the United States; unemployment; women’s suffrage and work during the two world wars.

General/Personal correspondence 1900-1964 contains letters from family, friends and eminent people in the UK, Europe, Canada and the United States. Sundry papers include unclassified files relating to Plymouth, non-parliamentary and parliamentary speeches, articles and messages, invitations and royal visits, political diaries and other diaries. There is also a large collection of bound newspaper cuttings: American 1919-1940; British 1908-1964.

More Information

  • A description of the collection down to file level is available on our online database.
  • A handlist for the whole collection can be found here.
  • An index to the political correspondence in the Nancy Astor collection is available at the Special Collections Service.
  • Letters from TE Lawrence and GB Shaw to Nancy Astor from the collection were Featured Items and you can read more about them here.
  • See also the Waldorf Astor Collection (MS 1066) and the Cliveden Visitor Books Collection (MS 2421).
  • See also the Astor 100 project, which celebrated the centenary of Nancy Astor election.