Margaret Grace Bondfield

(1873—1953) trade unionist, campaigner for women's interests, and politician

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(b. Chard, Somerset, 17 Mar. 1873; d. Sanderstead, Surrey, 16 June 1953)

British; Minister of Labour 1929–31 The daughter of a lace worker, Bondfield left elementary school at 13. Most of her life was devoted to trade unionism. Before the First World War she was organizing secretary of the Women's Labour League and the National Federation of Women Workers. During the war she held official positions on the Central Committee on Women's Employment and the War Emergency Workers' National Committee. Afterwards, she served as vice-president of the International Federation of Working Women and in 1924 was appointed official British representative on the governing body of the International Labour Office of the League of Nations. In 1920 she became the chief women's officer of the Gas and Municipal Workers' Union—a post she held until her retirement in 1938. After her retirement she served as a vice-president of the National Council of Social Service.

Bondfield's excursion into parliamentary politics was brief. She was elected Labour MP for Northampton in 1923, only to lose the seat in 1924. Re-elected for Wallsend, in 1926, she left the Commons for good in the 1931 landslide against Labour. Despite its brevity, her political career was noteworthy. Having achieved a number of ‘firsts’ in the industrial labour movement—first female TUC council member (1918) and chair (1923)—she established a similar record in national politics. She became one of the first women to hold junior ministerial office—in the first Labour government. She then became the first female Privy Counsellor and Cabinet Minister as Minister of Labour (1929–31).

Bondfield was at her best in the industrial labour movement. She was never an accomplished parliamentarian and adverse economic circumstances made her occupancy of the Ministry of Labour thoroughly thankless.

Subjects: British History — Politics.

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