Margaret Grace Bondfield CH PC was a British Labour politician, trade unionist and women’s rights activist. She was the first female cabinet minister, and the first woman to be a privy counsellor in the UK. Bondfield was born in humble circumstances and received limited formal education.
About Margaret Bondfield in brief
Margaret Grace Bondfield CH PC was a British Labour politician, trade unionist and women’s rights activist. She was the first female cabinet minister, and the first woman to be a privy counsellor in the UK. Bondfield was born in humble circumstances and received limited formal education. After serving an apprenticeship to an embroidress she worked as a shop assistant in Brighton and London. She helped to found the Women’s Labour League in 1906, and was chair of the Adult Suffrage Society. She favoured extending the vote to all adults regardless of gender or property, rather than the limited \”on the same terms as men\” agenda pursued by the militant suffragists. Her willingness to contemplate cuts in unemployment benefits alienated her from much of the Labour movement, although she did not follow Ramsay MacDonald into the National Government that assumed office when the Labour government fell in August 1931. She later became active in NUGMW affairs until 1938, and during the Second World War carried out investigations for the Women’s Group on Public Welfare. In the short-lived minority Labour government of 1924 she served as parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Labour. Her term of cabinet office in 1929–31 was marked by the economic crises that beset the second Labour government. She found some relief from this environment when she was befriended by a wealthy customer, Louisa Martindale, and her daughter Hilda. The Martindales lent her socially conscious liberals and advocates for women’s Rights to her daughter, Hilda Bondfield, in the 1950s and 1960s.
She died in London in 1973, aged 87. She is buried in the Chard Cemetery, Chard, Somerset, with her husband, William Bondfield and their three children. She left school at the age of 14 to work in a draper’s shop in Hove, near Brighton. She became an active member of the shopworkers’ union, and later became its chairman in 1923, the year she was first elected to parliament. Her husband was the co-designer of a flying machine, a prototype of the modern aircraft, that was exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851. The family suffered hardship, with the threat of the workhouse a constant fear. Margaret was a clever child, whose skills at reciting poetry or playing piano pieces were often displayed at town events and Sunday School outings. Her later recollections of this period were uniformly happy. She quickly encountered the realities of shop staff life, where she quickly found the living-in life to be appalling, with no privacy and no privacy. In some houses she found a breeding ground for unnatural vices, both natural and unnatural. She soon became a willing and socially conscious learner, and found the rich to lend her support to her cause. She also became a keen supporter of the Socialist Party, which she joined in the early 1900s. In 1918 she was elected to the TUC Council in 1918, and became its Chairman in 1923.
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