Who was Nancy Astor? The first woman to take her seat in parliament was also branded 'a vicious antisemite'

Row erupts over statue of trailblazer, unveiled by Theresa May last week


A row has broken out after Theresa May unveiled a statue of the first woman to take her seat in parliament, who was also "virulently antisemitic" and accused of sympathising with the Nazis.

Nancy Astor was elected to the House of Commons in November 1919 as the Conservative member for Plymouth Sutton, replacing her husband Waldorf Astor who had entered the House of Lords on the death of his father.

She was the first woman to sit in parliament as the first woman elected, Constance Markievicz, abstained from taking her seat as a member of the Irish Nationalist Sinn Fein.

Mrs May unveiled the statue on Friday in Plymouth to mark the centenary of her election, tweeting that Ms Astor changed "our country and our democracy... for the better". Prime Minister Boris Johnson was also there.

But American-born Ms Astor, who died in 1964, also loathes Jewish people and other minorities. She was a prominent member of the "Cliveden set" that pre-war group that met at her family's home and had a reputation for sympathising with the Nazis.

She once complained the Observer, which belonged to her husband's family, was "full of homosexuals and Jews" and worked to bar the hiring of Jews and Catholics from the Sunday newspaper's senior positions, a position staff later had to work to undo after her involvement in The Observer Trust came to an end.

She also wrote letters to US Ambassador Joseph Kennedy in which she suggested the Nazis were a solution to "the world problems" of Jewry and Communism.

She told Kennedy Hitler would have to do more than "give a rough time" to "the killers of Christ" for her to want Britain and America to launch "Armageddon to save them. The wheel of history swings round as the Lord would have it. Who are we to stand in the way of the future?"

She was seen as being so pro-German that she was referred to as "the member for Berlin" during a 1939 House of Commons debate.

According to Dr David Feldman of the Pears Institute For The Study Antisemitism, Astor attended a 1934 dinner at the Savoy Hotel and asked the League of Nations' high commissioner for refugees whether he "after all believe there must be something in the Jews themselves that had bought them persecution throughout all the ages”.

Dr Feldman added the notion that "Jewish behaviour contributed to antisemitism was a conventional idea in the UK at the time”.

The short obituary the JC ran on her death in 1964 noted she "had much to say about the Jewish struggle for a homeland in Palestine", describing how in 1947 she had "clashed" with reporters after arriving in New York who reported she had told an American official "I'm not anti-Jewish but gangsterism isn't going to solve the Palestine problem."

She was branded a "a vicious antisemite" by a congressman after she was reported to have said: "I don't care how many Jews are killed in Palestine; my only interest is in the number of innocent British who are slaughtered."

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