Betty Boothroyd in her official potrait for the UK house of lords

1929 – 2023

She was the first (and so far, only) female speaker in the UK House of Commons.

Betty was born in a mill town in Yorkshire, the daughter of textile workers. Her dream as a child was to be a dancer and she spent a short time with the Tiller Girls who performed on stage and TV.

She became involved in politics and although she failed to get elected four times she continued and was successful in her bid to become a Member of Parliament for the Labour party in 1973. She was one of only 27 female MPs at that time.

She became deputy speaker of the House in 1987 and Speaker of the House in 1992. The role of the speaker is to supervise debates, announce the results of votes and, when necessary, discipline members of parliament. Betty used her fairness to treat all members of the House equally without favouritism and bias. Her humour made her beloved of those working in Parliament and in the country. Her catchphrase “Right, time’s up” indicated the end of questions for the prime minister.

Humour is a wonderful strength, but it needs to be used without causing others distress or discomfort. Who do you know who shows humour without being silly and without putting others down?

After she retired, she was made a life peer and was called Baroness Boothroyd. The Queen honoured her with an Order of Merit in 2005. Not bad for a girl born to mill workers!

When asked how she would like to be remembered, she said as “an honest and fair speaker”.

Other women in politics that you can explore on the site include Eva Perón from Argentina and Sarojini Naidu from India.

How do you practice fairness? When you have been given a leadership role (perhaps to pick a sports team or to monitor other pupils) and has it been easy or hard to practice fairness? Who in your class best demonstrates fairness?

Photo: Chris McAndrew, CC BY 3.0