A statue has been erected in honour of the first woman MP to take her seat in Parliament – despite claims Nancy Astor was part of a society set sympathetic towards Adolf Hitler.
Prominent politician and society hostess Lady Astor was born in Virginia in 1879 and moved to England in 1904, where she met and married the wealthy newspaper proprietor Waldorf Astor.
Lady Astor was elected to represent Plymouth Sutton for the Conservative Party on 28 November 1919, a seat she held for a quarter of a century.
But Lady Astor was at the centre of a clique which became known in the press as the Cliveden set, a group often accused of being sympathetic towards Hitler and influencing foreign policy, a claim which she called a “terrible lie”.
When Nancy Astor became the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons, our country and our democracy were changed for the better.
— Theresa May (@theresa_may) November 28, 2019
Professor David Feldman, director of the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism, recounted an episode he uncovered in which Lady Astor argued Jews were to blame in some measure for their persecution.
At a Jewish charity dinner held at the Savoy Hotel in London in November 1934, “she turned to James McDonald [the League of Nations’ high commissioner for refugees] and asked ‘did I not after all believe there must be something of the Jews themselves which had brought them persecution throughout all the ages. Was it not therefore, in the final analysis, their responsibility?,'” he said.
“That’s Astor saying that persecution reflects something about the Jews. This was a fairly mainstream idea in Britain, among some Jews as well as non-Jews, in the 1930s,” he added.
According to the i newspaper, she expressed virulently antisemitic views in letters to US ambassador Joseph P Kennedy, including her belief the Nazis were a solution to “the world problems” of Judaism and Communism.
The bronze tribute, by artist and sculptor Hayley Gibbs, is the result of a £125,000 crowdfunding project spearheaded by the Nancy Astor Statue Appeal.
Former prime minister Theresa May unveiled the bronze statue in Plymouth near to Lady Astor‘s former family home during a ceremony on Thursday. Boris Johnson was accompanied by ministers Liz Truss and Victoria Atkins to view the bronze statue in Plymouth Hoe, Devon.
May paid tribute to Lady Astor yesterday, saying: “When Nancy Astor became the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons, 100 years ago, our country and our democracy were changed for the better.
“Her arrival in Parliament ushered in a new era. Finally giving a voice to a huge swathe of the population, who for too long had been missing from our politics and our law-making.”