politics womens rights womens suffrage

Margaret Bondfield

Margaret Bondfield was a British Labour politician, trade 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

Bondfield began work as a shop assistant, after completing her apprenticeship she began work as a living-in assistant where she was shocked by the working conditions. She become active in the National Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen and Clerks. In 1886, shocked by working conditions, she went undercover for the union, penning secret reports under the name Grace Dare for the union journal where she would write that the working environment was “overcrowded, [with] insanitary conditions, poor and insufficient food were the main characteristics of this system, with an undertone of danger … In some houses both natural and unnatural vices found a breeding ground”. She became an expert on shop workers, giving evidence to the Select Committee on Shops in 1902 and to the Select Committee on the Truck System in 1907.

From 1904, Bondfield focused her efforts on women’s rights, and became chair of the Adult Suffrage Society, where she pushed for universal suffrage, believing that the vote should be extended to all adults regardless of gender or property. In 1910, she became an adviser to the Liberal Government and helped to influence the Health Insurance Bill, which led to improved maternity benefits for mothers. The introduction of state maternity pay owed much to that work.

In 1923, she became the first woman Chair of the TUC general council and was elected to Parliament. She became Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour in 1924 and the first woman ever to become a Government Minister. In the 1929 Labour Government, she became the first woman Cabinet Minister and Privy Counsellor.

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