Image of Nancy Astor talking to a crowd during an election campaign.

Nancy Astor the first female Member of Parliament to take her seat. TWL/2004/305

Thirty-five years ago this month, The 300 Group was launched in the Grand Committee Room in the House of Commons. In 1979, Margaret Thatcher had been elected as Britain’s first female Prime Minister, but there were only 18 other women amongst 635 Members elected to the House of Commons. Only 3% of the House of Commons were women. This fact was little discussed or reported in the press.

Lesley Abdela and her partner, Tim Symonds, wanted to change this. In 1980, they, together with an American academic, Constance Blackwell, founded the all-Party 300 Group campaign. Their aim was to get at least 300 women elected. Their first T-shirt slogan was ‘A Woman’s Place Is In The House…of Commons’.

Margaret Bondfield with Annie Lacon.

Margaret Bondfield (right), the first woman cabinet minister following the 1929 General Election.

Within four years, The 300 group had 4,000 paying members. They lobbied the political Parties to encourage more women to become candidates in elections, rather than just playing supportive roles. It also encouraged women to lobby within Parties to try and rectify the gender imbalance. Within four general elections, the number of women entering the House of Commons increased from 19 to 122.

Due to insufficient funding, so common to women’s pressure groups, the campaign finally ‘closed its doors’ in the late 1990s.

There are now 191 women MPs in Parliament out of 650 Members.

Take a look at a table showing the number of women MPs and candidates at every general election since 1945.

Barbara Castle, Labour MP for Blackburn

Barbara Castle, Labour MP for Blackburn (1945-1979), Britain’s first female Transport Minister in 1965, and introduced the Equal Pay Act in 1970. TWL2003

The Women’s Library @ LSE holds papers of The 300 Group. Posters and badges are amongst the museum collection (search the Women’s Library archive catalogue) and for The 300 Group newsletter use Library Search.

 

Gillian Murphy

About Gillian Murphy

Gillian Murphy is an Assistant Archivist in LSE Library.