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Topical Budget 691-2: Government's First Woman Member (1924)


Main image of Topical Budget 691-2: Government's First Woman Member (1924)
Conservative Government's First Woman Member
35mm, 15 ft, black & white, silent
Production Company Topical Film Company

Katharine Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Athol, is appointed parliamentary secretary to the Board of Education in the Conservative government.

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This newsreel item gives an extremely brief portrait of Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl, the first woman to be given a post in a Conservative government. She was the Scottish Unionist Party MP for Kinross and West Perthshire from 1923 to 1938, and served as parliamentary secretary to the Board of Education from 1924 to 1929.

The involvement of women in parliamentary politics was still something of a novelty for the newsreels six years after women finally won the rights to vote and to stand for election. Topical Budget seems to have missed an earlier breakthrough, when Labour MP Margaret Bondfield became the very first woman to serve in a British government following her appointment by Ramsay MacDonald as parliamentary secretary to the minister of Labour in January 1924.

The film shows the Duchess just after her appointment to the Board of Education, and she is seen in a splendid hat talking outside a building for a very few seconds.

During her time as an MP, the Duchess of Atholl (so titled after her husband succeeded his father to become the 8th Duke of Atholl in 1917) campaigned for human rights in the Soviet Union and against female genital mutilation in Africa, before resigning her seat in parliament in protest at Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy toward Hitler. She later spent time in Spain observing the effects of the Civil War and gave support to the republicans. She died in Edinburgh, where she was born, in 1960.

Lucy Smee

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Topical Budget (1911-1931)