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Margaret Hilda Thatcher is the first woman to have held the office of prime minister in Great Britain. She was born Margaret Hilda Roberts in Grantham, Lincolnshire and educated at the University of Oxford, where she earned degrees in chemistry. After graduation she worked as a research chemist from 1947 to 1951. She married Denis Thatcher in 1951, and in 1953, having studied for the bar, she became a tax lawyer. Thatcher joined the Conservative party, and was elected to the House of Commons in 1959. She defeated Edward Heath for the minority leadership of the party in 1974, and then led the Conservative party to victory in 1979.
Thatcher is the only British prime minister in the twentieth century to serve three consecutive terms. In 1990, controversy over Thatcher's tax policy and her reluctance to commit Great Britain to full economic integration with Europe inspired a strong challenge to her leadership. Ms. Thatcher was ousted from leadership, and resigned in November 1990 and was succeeded as party leader and prime minister by her protégée, John Major: who, consequently, only served one short term. Margaret Hilda Roberts was born October 13, 1925 to Beatrice and Alfred Roberts in the flat above her parents small grocery store. Margaret's father was the greatest influence in Margaret's life, politically as well as religiously and socially.
Alfred Roberts came to Grantham during the First World War where he met and married Beatrice Stevenson. 'The young couple worked hard and saved money with a passion. Before long Alfred opened his own grocery shop, and eventually he came to own two.' (Mayer,1979) Alfred often discussed current events with his two daughters, and also his keenly-held political beliefs. Margaret's father had a considerable effect on her political beliefs. Although he had once been a member of the Liberal party, he won a place on the local town council as an independent, which essentially meant conservative.
He served in this position for twenty-five years, and later became the chair of its finance committee. 'In the 1940's, he was selected for the largely honorary but still prestigious post of Mayor of Grantham.' (Mayer, 1979) When asked about the part her father had played in her life Margaret replied that 'of course, I just owe almost everything to my . . . father, and the things which I learned in a small town, in a very modest home. .
. .' (Mayer, 1979) At the age of fifteen, Margaret had to start thinking seriously about what she wanted to do with her life. The British education system required young people at that age to choose between two totally separate curriculums which they would follow for the remainder of their secondary school career. One was an arts and humanities course, and the other was science. Margaret had little trouble making up her mind. Though she had always been interested in politics, the idea of a political career seemed out of the question. At the time Members of Parliament were paid only 600 Pounds a year and were given no allowances for secretarial or office expenses. That deliberately limited professional politics mainly to successful businessmen, lawyers, and the rich.
At the same time, science seemed to be the coming thing; research was booming, and a science degree appeared to provide a passport to assured employment. Margaret chose science - specifically, chemistry. At the age of seventeen, a year younger than most candidates, she took the examinations one had to pass to gain admittance to Oxford's Sommerville College. She did well and scored high marks in all categories, she tied for first in the competitive exam. This exam was given to candidates to decide which would win the one scholarship the college had to offer.
But Somerville officials decided to give the scholarship to the other top-scoring candidate, an older girl who had been waiting a year longer than Margaret to get into Oxford. Margaret was to be admitted to Oxford, however she would not go there on scholarship. 'Having seen his daughter get so far so quickly, Alfred Roberts was not about to let the lack of a scholarship permit the greatest opportunity of her young life to slip through her fingers. He scraped together the money she needed, and in October of 1943, Margaret moved out of the flat above the grocery store and went off to university.' (Mayer, 1979) Margaret's life at the university revolved around her work in the chemistry lab, and the lively political world that Oxford had to offer. The organization Margaret most wanted to join was the Oxford University Conservative Association.
Her membership in OUCA marked her first formal association with the Conservative party. 'It has been suggested . . . that Margaret joined the OUCA because it was a small and sleepy group in which she could quickly shine. The facts are, however, that Oxford has always been something of a Conservative bastion, that the OUCA was a fairly large organization, and that she joined because she was a true believer.' (Mayer, 1979) In 1946, the OUCA became the largest club on campus, with 1750 members.
That same year it elected the second woman ever to serve as its president, Margaret Roberts. 'She became president, ' says a class mate, 'because of her obvious abilities: a good organizer, extremely capable, intelligent, and sociable.' (Mayer, 1979) 'There was evidently no bias against her because she was a woman; as Maurice Chandler, a classmate, and secretary of OUCA at the time puts it, she was considered just one of a number of talented people in the association.' (Mayer,1979) It was at about this time in her life that Margaret realized she could consider pursuing a career in politics. The salaries of members of Parliament had recently been raised to one thousand pounds per year, which was a liveable wage at the time. It began to seem possible to Margaret to have a political career without a private income. Margaret was graduated from Oxford with a degree in Chemistry, however, her friend Margaret Goodrich recalls Margaret saying that Chemistry would not be a good field for a politician.
'I think I'll get a job somewhere that will allow me to study for the bar.' (Mayer, 1979) In 1948, soon after her graduation from Oxford, a Tory candidate was needed in the Llandudno district which was not known to be a conservative stronghold. When Margaret Roberts' name was mentioned for the position, party leadership responded by saying a woman was most unsuitable. Regardless of what the leadership may have thought of her, they gave her a chance, and when the question of her candidacy was put to a vote there was only one dissent out of a crowd of four hundred. At the age of twenty- three, younger than any other woman candidate in the nation, Margaret Roberts was ready to make her first run for Parliament in a Liberal district. 'She was easily defeated by the Labor party incumbent, but was able to cut his votes by nearly one third.' (Mayer, 1979) Margaret ran in her second general election campaign, but failed to improve on her previous performance. Nevertheless, there was cause for some celebration, Denis Thatcher announced after the election that 'he and the defeated candidate were engaged to be married.' (Mayer, 1979) A few months before they were to be married Margaret began law courses at a special tutorial college.
Mrs. Thatcher's ambition was to become a barrister, which is the 'gowned and wigged advocates who present all cases in court. The barristers in Great Britain are the more exclusive and the most highly regarded in the British legal system.' (Mayer, 1979) Margaret continued her legal studies through 1952. It was at that time she wrote a newspaper article defending unconventional women such as herself who chose to have careers even after they married, especially those who chose political careers. In the article, she wrote: 'Should a woman arise equal to the task, I say let her have an equal chance with the men for leading Cabinet posts.
Why not a woman Chancellor of the Exchequer or Foreign Secretary?' (Mayer, 1979) Mrs. Thatcher continued her law studies even after she became pregnant early in 1953, and was five months along when she took and passed her intermediate bar exam that spring. In August, she gave birth prematurely to twins, a boy and girl who were named Mark and Carol. The birth of her children changed Mrs. Thatcher's life somewhat, but not nearly as much as it did many women of that time. She decided not to seek elective office again until the twins were old enough for school.
But, with the help of a nanny, she continued to work, and just four months after they were born, she passed her final and was called to the bar. When her children were at the age to go to school Margaret Thatcher decided to return to politics. She 'decided to restrict her search for a constituency to the London area, the metropolis itself and the immediately surrounding counties. Her reasoning was simple: if she were to represent a constituency farther away, she would on occasion be forced to leave the twins overnight, and that she refused to do.' (Mayer, 1979) The first seat for which she tried to gain the nomination was an infuriating experience for her. The committee made it clear that it considered her talented, bright, and able, but that it also felt she really should be at home with the children.
The same thing happened when she applied at the next location. Then Mrs. Thatcher heard that a veteran Tory MP for the north London constituency of Finchley was retiring. She along with nearly two hundred other would-be MPs submitted her name to the selection committee. The committee then, after interviews, was able to narrow the mob of 200 applicants down to four finalists, Mrs. Thatcher included.
The finalists were to appear before the local party's divisional council, a group of fifty rank and filers who represented all the Tory party workers in the district. 'The day before the final interview, one of the four finalists dropped out, and only the three candidates remained, but as far as the group selection committee was concerned, there was no real choice.' (Mayer, 1979) A council member John Tiplady recalls 'I know it may seem like hindsight, but when we interviewed the candidates, we asked ourselves, Is this a future Prime Minister? And Margaret clearly was and everyone thought so.' (Mayer, 1979) Margaret was selected as the Tory candidate for the Finchley constituency, and was elected to the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament in October 1959. Mrs. Thatcher rose quickly through the ranks of Commons, and by 1967, with the Tories in the minority, she was selected as the shadow cabinet's minister of power, 'eighteen months later, she got the transport portfolio, and a year after that she got education.' ' (Mayer, 1979) According to Mrs. Thatcher's biographer Allen Mayer, the reasons for her rapid rise are not immediately discernable. Tory journalist Ferdinand Mount has suggested that she might be regarded as the Evita of the Tory party. Mrs. Thatcher, he wrote recently moved up so quickly not despite but because of her sex.
It was not so much her own brilliance as the chronic shortage of Conservative women MPs that insured her rapid promotion.' (Mayer, 1979) But according to one of Mrs. Thatcher's speaches given at the time to References Lewis, R. (1975). Margaret Thatcher: A personal and Political Biography. Southampton: The Camelot Press Ltd. Mayer, A. (1979). Madam Prime Minister: Margaret Thatcher and her Rise to Power.
New York: Newsweek Books. Minogue, K. & Biddiss, M (1987). Thatcherism: Personality and Politics. New York: S. Martin's Press, Inc.Thatcher, M. (1995).
The Path to Power. New York: Harper Collins.Young, H. (1989). The Iron Lady. London: Macmillan.
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