"I love argument, I love debate. I don't expect anyone just to sit there and agree with me, that's not their job."
- Margaret Thatcher, first female Prime Minister of Great Britain
Today, we're taking a moment to honor Margaret Thatcher, Great Britain's first female Prime Minister. During her illustrious career, Thatcher was a scientist, barrister, politician, and author. She was also renowned for her eloquent speeches and excellent debating skills.
Britain's first female Prime Minister was born Margaret Hilda Roberts on Oct. 13, 1925, in Lincolnshire, United Kingdom. She grew up in Grantham, a small market town in eastern England. Thatcher's parents were local grocery store owner, Alfred Roberts, and her mother, Beatrice.
Her family lived in a flat located above the store. Her social life was closely tied to a local Methodist church. The congregation instilled qualities of self-help, charitable work, and honesty in Thatcher.
Her father became a local councilor in Grantham. He routinely talked with his daughter about conservative politics. Her discussions with her parent inspired a love for politics and debating.
Education: Grantham Girls School and Oxford
Thatcher attended Grantham Girls High School during her teen years. In high school when her teacher told Margaret that she was “”lucky” to have won first prize in a local speech contest. Margaret- without hesitation - responded, “ I wasn’t lucky, I deserved it.” Similarly, that mentality of believing that hard work, great effort, and productivity reap compensatory reward was also evident after she won the Tory Party leadership election in 1975. At that time, a reporter asked her to what did she attribute her success. And she succinctly and confidently responded Merit!” - A Communication Perspective on Margaret Thatcher” by Janet L. Fallon
After graduation, she secured a place at Oxford University. On campus, she attended Somerville College, where she studied chemistry. Nobel Prize winner Dorothy Hodgkin, a pioneer of X-Ray crystallography, was her tutor.
Thatcher's scientific studies took second place to her love of politics. Peers elected Thatcher as the president of Oxford's Conservative Association. Thatcher met several leading British politicians during her tenure. She networked with conservative leaders after the Labour Party defeated them in 1945.
In 1947, she graduated from Oxford with a degree in chemistry. She later went on to work as a research chemist in Colchester and Dartford.
Forays into Politics
Thatcher ran as a conservative for the Dartford parliamentary seat in the 1950 election. The candidate knew that it would be impossible to win a seat against her opponent. Although Thatcher lost, she earned the respect of peers because of her great debating skills and speeches.
Thatcher ran again the following year. She also lost the second election.
Two months after her electoral loss in 1951, Thatcher married a local businessman, Denis Thatcher. He became an oil industry executive. Margaret Thatcher gave birth to fraternal twins, Mark and Carol, in 1953.
Early Barrister and Political Career
Thatcher later received training as a barrister who specialized in taxation. In 1959, citizens elected her to Parliament as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Finchley. She represented the north London town until 1992 when she earned a place at the House of Lords.
The politician became a Parliamentary Undersecretary for Pensions and National Insurance in 1961. When the Labour Party assumed control of the government, she became a member of the Shadow Cabinet. Members of the organization received cabinet-level posts once the party assumed power.
In 1970, she worked as a Secretary of State for Education and Science. Some of the policies that Thatcher instituted drew opposition. Protesters disrupted her speeches, and the press sometimes vilified her.
Leader of the Conservative Party
Thatcher's party, the conservative Heath Government, ruled from 1970-74. Edward Heath's rule left a legacy of inflation and strife. These problems led conservatives to lose the next election. The Labour Party defeated the ruling party during the General Election in February 1974.
Britain's conservatives were ready for a new approach after the party lost. Thatcher fought Conservative Party Leader Edward Heath for leadership. To her surprise, she won. Thatcher defeated Heath in February 1975. She became the first woman to ever lead a political party in the West. She also served as the first female Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons.
Margaret Thatcher ruled as the opposition leader until 1979. When the Labour Party lost in the General Election in May 1979, Margaret Thatcher became Great Britain's first female Prime Minister.
Britain’s First Female Prime Minister
Brits nicknamed Thatcher the Iron Lady. She tried reigning in Britain's recession by raising interest rates to control inflation. During Thatcher's first term, Britain faced a military challenge. An Argentinian junta invaded a British territory, the Falkland Islands in April 1982.
Thatcher attempted diplomacy with the Argentinian government. When it failed, she opted for military action. The British troops regained control of the island. Argentina surrendered control in 1982.
She earned a second term (1983 - 1987). After her re-election, the British government discovered a bomb plot by the Irish Republic Army. The organization wanted to assassinate her at a Conservative Conference in Brighton. Thatcher remained unafraid and delivered her speech.
Thatcher won a third term. She wanted to change to the country's socialized medical system. Thatcher lost popular support when she argued for a fixed rate local tax. Citizens dubbed it a poll tax because voters that did not pay it could be disenfranchised. These issues created tension between conservatives.
The politician fought for leadership in the 1990s but bowed down to party pressure. She resigned on Nov. 22, 1990.
Thatcher received an appointment to the House of Lords after she retired. She became Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven in 1992. Thatcher wrote about her political career in three published books: The Downing Street Years, The Path to Power and Statecraft.
In her later years, she suffered a series of small strokes. She lost her husband, Denis, in 2003. Thatcher delivered the eulogy for U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
The former prime minister celebrated her 80th birthday in 2005. Six hundred friends and former colleagues honored her life at an event. During her later years, Thatcher battled memory problems due to strokes.
Thatcher died on April 8, 2013, at the age of 87. She is survived by her daughter and son.
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