Nancy Witcher Langhorne Astor was born in 1879 in Virginia, United States. Her father was a former plantation owner who turned to the railway business following the abolition of slavery.
After attending school Nancy was sent to a finishing school in New York where she met Robert Gould Shaw II, cousin of the Robert Gould Shaw famous for leading the 54th regiment, the first to allow African Americans to enlist, who died in action in 1863. Nancy married Robert Gould Shaw II when she was just 18 in 1897. The marriage was not a success and the pair divorced in 1903.
In 1905 Nancy and her sister Phyllis moved to England where they became popular members of English society. She met fellow American Waldorf Astor in England and the pair married in 1906. Nancy encouraged her second husband to enter politics and in December 1910 he won the seat for Plymouth. After the death of his father, Waldorf inherited the title Viscount Astor and, as a member of the peerage, became a member of the House of Lords.
Nancy decided to stand for her husband’s seat and on 28th November 1919 was elected with a large majority as member of parliament for Plymouth Sutton. She was the second woman to be elected as a member of parliament, the first, Constance Markievicz, an Irish Republican, had refused to take her seat. Nancy Astor was, therefore, the first woman to take a seat in the House of Commons.
She remained popular during the 1920s but during the 1930s her popularity began to decline. During the war many of speeches were seen as controversial and her popularity decreased further. She was persuaded to retire from politics in 1945 but was not happy about this. Her marriage began to suffer and she became increasingly distanced from her husband.
Nancy Astor died in 1969.