Margaret Grace Bondfield CH PC ( b. 17 March 1873 d. 16 June 1953 ) was a British Labour politician, trades unionist and women’s rights activist. She became the first female cabinet minister, and the first woman to be a privy counsellor in the UK, when she was appointed Minister of Labour in the Labour government of 1929–31. She had earlier become the first woman to chair the General Council of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
Her early political and literary education was centred on the Ideal Club, where she met George Bernard Shaw, and Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Under the influence of these socialist luminaries, she joined the Fabian Society and later the Independent Labour Party (ILP).
Standing for the London County Council elections in 1910 and later 1913 she was defeated on both occasions. The latter campaign saw her enlist the support of G. B Shaw for the first time.
Bondfield first stood for parliament in 1920, as the Labour candidate in a by-election in Northampton. She increased the Labour vote significantly, but lost by 3,371 votes, to the Coalition Liberal candidate. At the general election of 1922 she was again adopted by Labour at Northampton and, as she had at Woolwich in 1913, turned to George Bernard Shaw for help in the campaign. He was contemptuous of the Labour leadership for not arranging a more promising seat but nevertheless, he came and spoke for her. However, in spite of this her margin of defeat widened to 5,476.
In November 1923 Stanley Baldwin‘s Conservative Government fell. In the following month’s general election Bondfield was elected in Northampton with a majority of 4,306 over her Conservative opponent. She was one of the first three women—Susan Lawrence and Dorothy Jewson were the others—to be elected as Labour MPs. In an outburst of local celebration her supporters, whom she described as “nearly crazy with joy”, paraded her around the town in a charabanc. It has been speculated that the ongoing support and advice of both Shaw, an international figure, and Bassett-Lowke, a politically astute local were key factors in achieving the victory. The Labour Party had won 191 seats to the Conservatives’ 258 and the Liberals’ 158; with no party in possession of a parliamentary majority, the make-up of the next government was in doubt for several weeks.
Margaret Bondfield’s election communication from her winning campaign of 1923.
Print on paper.
Mounted and framed.
78 Derngate collection.
Text of Margaret Bondfield’s election communication from her winning campaign of 1923.
66 ABINGTON STREET,
Dec 4th 1923
To the Electors of Northampton
My final word to you – whether supporters or opponents is to appeal for a serious consideration of your responsibilities at this election.
Three candidates have placed before you their views concerning our Country’s need and their remedial programmes.
You are the judges, and I would beg you to lift the controversy above petty wrangling and consider that you are deciding the destiny of the Country. It is righteousness that exalts a nation – it is in the degree to which we can bring our politics in line with the Golden Rule that we shall be judges by the generations to come.
I believe profoundly that the House of Commons can be used to Elevate the national life – to secure peace between nations, and to establish a new social order for the common good.
For some, this vision is so clear; for others it means an act of faith.
Will you not at least strive to use your vote this time as a sacred trust?
Printed and Published by John Dickens & Co Ltd. Abington Street, Northampton.