On this day in history : 8th October 1929 – The birth of former Speaker of the House of Commons Betty Boothroyd – the only woman to have ever served as speaker….

Betty Boothroyd – UK Parliament official portraits 2017 – Image credit : Chris McAndrew CC BY 3.0

Born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, Betty was the only child of textile workers Ben and Mary Boothroyd…. Both of her parents were trade unionists and her mother was a member of the women’s section of the Labour Party – giving Betty her first insight into the world of politics…. She herself joined the League of Youth, an organisation within the Labour Party – and she showed an early talent for public speaking, even winning a national contest….

Betty was to study at the Dewsbury College of Commerce and Art and then she was to embark on a career as a dancer – joining the dance troupe The Tiller Girls, even performing at the London Palladium…. However, a foot infection brought her dancing career to an early end – and so she decided to enter politics….

During the late 1950s she was to work for some senior Labour Members of Parliament, including Barbara Castle…. Then in 1960 she travelled to Washington to observe the campaign of John F Kennedy – and worked briefly for American Congressman Silvio Conte…. She returned to London in 1962 and resumed her career as a political assistant – and then in 1965 was elected herself to a seat on Hammersmith Borough Council….

In 1973 Betty became elected Member of Parliament for West Bromwich – and in 1974 she was appointed assistant government whip, then becoming a Member of European Parliament (MEP) from 1975-77….

She was to become Deputy Speaker under Speaker Bernard Weatherill in 1987…. Then in 1992 she was elected Speaker of the House of Commons, making her the first ever and so far only woman Speaker…. It was a position she was to hold until the 23rd of October 2000…. On announcing her intention to resign – after Prime Minister’s Questions on the 12th of July 2000 – then Prime Minister Tony Blair said in tribute to her that she was ‘something of a national institution’…. As Speaker Betty had sought to modernise the role – she chose not to wear the Speaker’s traditional wig – and developed her own catchphrase “Righttime’s up!” when bringing Prime Minister’s Questions to a close…. She was well-liked and respected – especially in her firm, authoritative handling of a sometimes unruly House of Commons….

A year after her retirement as Speaker Betty was made a life peer, with the title of Baroness Boothroyd, of Sandwell in the County of West Midlands…. She was awarded the Order of Merit by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2005…. Nowadays Baroness Boothroyd sits as a cross bench peer in the House of Lords….

Coat of Arms for Baroness Boothroyd – Image : Robin S Taylor – own work CC BY 3.0

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