This week, the United Kingdom is celebrating 70 years of Queen Elizabeth II on the throne. The Spectator has come across this fascinating article, written by a young Margaret Thatcher, celebrating her accession. It was published in the Sunday Graphic on 17 February 1952. Thatcher just a few months older than the Queen. As Margaret Roberts, she had already been the youngest woman candidate in the last two general elections and had just married Denis Thatcher in December of 1951. At the time of writing, she was studying for the bar.
A young Queen, the loveliest ever to reign over us, now occupies the highest position in the land. If, as many earnestly pray, the accession of Elizabeth II can help to remove the last shreds of prejudice against women aspiring to the highest places, then a new era for women will indeed be at hand. We owe it to the Queen — and to the memory of her father who set her such a wonderful example throughout his life — to play our part with increasing enterprise in the years ahead.
I hope we shall see more and more women combining marriage and a career. Prejudice against this dual role is not confined to men. Far too often, I regret to say, it comes from our own sex. But the happy management of home and career can and is being achieved.
The name of Mrs Norman Harper, wife of a Liverpool surgeon and mother of a three-year-old daughter, may mean little to many of you. But the name of Miss Rose Heilbron QC whose moving advocacy in recent trials has been so widely praised is known throughout the land. Unless Britain, in the new age to come, can produce more Rose Heilbrons — not only in the field of law, of course — we shall have betrayed the tremendous work of those who fought for equal rights against such misguided opposition.
The term ‘career woman’ has unfortunately come to imply in many minds a ‘hard’ woman, devoid of all feminine characteristics. But Rose Heilbron and many more have shown only too well that capability and charm can go together. Why have so few women in recent years risen to the top of the professions?
One reason may be that so many have cut short their careers when they marry. In my view this is a great pity. For it is possible to carry on working, taking a short leave of absence when families arrive, and returning later.In this way, gifts and talents that would otherwise be wasted are developed to the benefit of the community.
The idea that the family suffers is, I believe, quite mistaken. To carry on with a career stimulates the mind, provides a refreshing contact with the world outside — and so means that a wife can be a much better companion at home. Moreover, when her children themselves marry, she is not left with a gap in her life which so often seems impossible to fill.
Women can — and must — play a leading part in the creation of a glorious Elizabethan era. The opportunities are there in abundance — in almost every sphere of British endeavour.
We must emulate the example of such women as Barbara Ward, at 37 one of our leading economists and an expert on foreign affairs. Dr Janet Vaughan, mother of two children and principal of Somerville College; Mary Field who, as president of the 90,000-strong British Federation of Business and Professional Women, is one of our most successful ‘career women’; and Dame Caroline Haslett, Britain’s No. 1 woman engineer and founder more than a quarter of a century ago of the Electrical Association for Women.
That there is a place for women at the top of the tree has been proved beyond question by these and very many others. And if there are those who would say: ‘It couldn’t happen to me.’ They would do well to remember that Dame Caroline Haslett herself started as a 10s-a-week apprentice in a London boiler works more than 30 years ago.
I have heard it said that American women have far more influence over the nation’s affairs than do the women of Britain. Yet American women have only six out of 435 members in the House of Representatives. We have 17 out of 625 in the House of Commons. But it is still not good enough. If we are to have better representation in parliament, the women of England must fight harder for it.
Should a woman arise equal to the task, I say let her have an equal chance with the men for the leading cabinet posts. Why not a woman chancellor — or foreign secretary? Why not? And if they made mistakes they would not be the first to do so in those jobs!
To sum up, I should like to see the woman with a career holding down her responsibility with easy assurance during the Elizabethan age. I should like to see married women carrying on with their jobs. If so inclined after their children are born. I should like to see every woman trying to overcome ignorance of day-to-day affairs; and every woman taking an acting part in local life.
And, above all, I should like to see more and more women at Westminster, and in the highest places too. It would certainly be a good thing for the women of Britain, and I’m sure it would be a good thing for the men too.
Thank you to Clarissa Reilly, proprietor of Digger & Mojo antiques in Woodborough, Wiltshire, for providing a copy of the article.