The Birthplace of the First Woman Cabinet Minister
Margaret Grace Bondfield was born in Chard, Somerset, in 1873. She went to school in the town but moved to Brighton in 1887 to be apprenticed to a Brighton draper. In 1894 she went to live with her brother Frank in London and again found work in a shop. Her experience of shop workers’ working conditions led her to join the newly formed Shop Assistants’ Union in which she was soon elected to the Union District Council.In 1896 she was asked to carry out an investigation into the pay and conditions of shop workers and her report, published in 1898, was used by reformers and eventually led to the 1904 Shops Act. In 1910 the Liberal Government asked her to serve as a member of its Advisory Committee on the Health Insurance Bill
Her trades union activities grew and in 1923 Margaret Bondfield was elected first woman Chairman of the Trades Union Congress. In the same year she became one of the first women to enter the House of Commons when she was elected Labour MP for Northampton.
When Ramsay McDonald became Prime Minister for a second time in 1929 he appointed Margaret as his new Minister of Labour. She thus became the first woman to gain a place in the British Cabinet.
In the general election following the financial crisis of 1931, Margaret lost her Wallsend seat and never again sat in Parliament. Between 1939 and 1945 she was chairperson of the Women’s Group on Public Welfare and spent much of the war years lecturing in the United States and Canada on behalf of the British government.
After the war she retired to Tunbridge Wells and later lived in a small house in Sanderstead, Surrey, where she died in 1953.