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Boothroyd, Betty (1929—)

Boothroyd, Betty (1929—)

British politician and first female speaker of the House of Commons. Born Betty Boothroyd in 1929; daughter of union activists; never married.

Betty Boothroyd, the daughter of union activists, spent the 1940s on tour with a dancing troupe called the Tiller Girls, before entering politics in 1950 as an assistant to several members of Parliament. After a side step to the United States to campaign for John F. Kennedy, she returned to London in 1962 and made a few unsuccessful runs for MP within the Labour Party. She was victorious in 1973 and became deputy speaker in 1987. In 1992, she was elected speaker in a landslide victory.

As the first female speaker in the House of Commons, Boothroyd sacrificed much to the demands of her position but remained a spirited and independent thinker. Refusing to wear the traditional wig when presiding (she conceded to the robe), she ruled over the sometimes unruly House sessions in a style that was a cross between schoolmarm and seducer. During heated debates that often dissolved into name-calling shouting matches, she remained dignified and in charge, with an uncanny ability to know how long to let the antics proceed before making her presence felt. A formidable force when necessary, she has expelled and sanctioned members of the House, regardless of their status. During her speaker tenure, Boothroyd, who never married, resided in a lavish apartment located within the Houses of Parliament.

related media:

Interview on "60 Minutes," CBS television, July 14, 1996.

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