Nancy Witcher Astor Viscountess Astor

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Astor, Nancy W. (1879–1964). Politician, and daughter of an American railway developer in Virginia. Nancy Astor had an unhappy first marriage, which ended in divorce in 1903. The following year she travelled to England, marrying Waldorf Astor three years later; when Waldorf, Conservative MP for Plymouth, Sutton, succeeded to the peerage in 1919, Nancy was returned in his stead at the subsequent by-election, becoming only the second woman to be elected to Parliament and the first to take her seat (Constance Gore-Booth having declined, along with the other Sinn Fein MPs, to sit in 1918). As a parliamentarian (1919–45) Nancy was outspoken—perhaps too much so—in favour of those causes she held dear: opposition to divorce (despite her own experience); raising to 18 the age at which it was legal to purchase alcohol; lowering to 21 the voting age for women; above all, appeasement of Nazi Germany. The Astor home, Cliveden, became a by-word for appeasement, but in fact Nancy was anti-Nazi, refused to meet Hitler, and had her name included on a Nazi blacklist.

Geoffrey Alderman

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Nancy Witcher (Langhorne) Astor Astor, Viscountess, 1879–1964, British politician, b. Virginia. She was first married to Robert Gould Shaw, and after her divorce (1903) from him she went to England. There she was married (1906) to Waldorf Astor (see under Astor, William Waldorf Astor, 1st Viscount). When he succeeded his father as viscount and had to give up his seat in the House of Commons as member for Plymouth, she was elected in his place and became the first woman to sit in Parliament. In her years as a Conservative member (1919–45) her sharp tongue in debate, her passionate espousal of temperance and of reforms in woman and child welfare, and her cheerful lack of reverence for any and all won respect and attention. In the late 1930s their pleas for settlement and peace with the fascist powers in Europe were interpreted as treasonable by their enemies. At their country house, Cliveden (given to the government in 1942), the Astors brought together great literary figures and leaders of all political persuasions.

See biographies by M. Collis (1960) and C. Sykes (1972, repr. 1984); study by E. Langhorne (1974).

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Astor, Nancy Witcher (Langhorne), Viscountess (1879–1964) British politician, b. USA, the first woman elected to the House of Commons (1919–45). A Conservative, she advocated temperance, educational reform, and women's and children's welfare. In the 1930s she and her husband Viscount William Waldorf Astor headed a group of influential proponents of appeasement toward Nazi Germany.