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Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor

From Academic Kids

Nancy Witcher Astor, Viscountess Astor (May 19, 1879May 2, 1964) was a socialite politician and a member of the prominent Astor family.

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Born Nancy Witcher Langhorne, she was born in Danville, Virginia, United States, the third of the five daughters of railroad tycoon Chiswell Dabney Langhorne (1843-1919) and his wife, Anne Witcher Keene. Her sister Irene Langhorne was the wife and model of the artist Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the Gibson Girl. One of her nieces, Joyce Grenfell was a noted British monologuist and actress, while another niece, Nancy Lancaster, became famous as a 20th-century tastemaker and the owner of the influential British decorating firm Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler.

She divorced her first husband, Robert Gould Shaw 2nd, then moved to England where in 1906, she married Waldorf Astor, son of William Waldorf Astor, 1st Viscount Astor and grandson of John Jacob Astor III.

On the death of her father-in-law, her husband inherited the title Viscount Astor and she became Viscountess Astor. Her husband automatically became a member of the House of Lords and as a result of this appointment he was required to give up his seat in the British House of Commons as MP for Plymouth Sutton. Nancy Astor then became the Conservative Party candidate in the required by-election. Elected on November 28, 1919, in December she became the second woman elected, and the first to take a seat, in the House of Commons. She would be re-elected many times, serving until 1945. She attracted much attention as she was the first woman member to actually take her seat, since the first elected female member in 1918, Constance Markiewicz, had chosen not to do so.

During the military buildup by Adolf Hitler in Germany in the 1930s, Nancy Astor recognized the vulnerability of the weak British military, believing that war would most certainly bring defeat. Her promotion of entente with Germany was seen by some as appeasement of Hitler and led to much criticism of her position. However, Nancy Astor was often fiercely critical of the Nazis, and her husband had protested to Hitler about his treatment of the Jews. In 1940 she urged Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to resign and supported Winston Churchill as his replacement. Her son David Astor, who became editor/owner of The Observer newspaper, would never forgive Claud Cockburn and his newssheet "The Week" for spreading lies about the "Cliveden Set."

It is generally believed that it was Nancy Astor who, during a World War II speech, first referred to the men of the 8th Army fighting the Italian campaign as the D-Day Dodgers. Her implication that they had it easy because they were avoiding the real war in France and the future invasion. The allied soldiers in Italy were so incensed, they composed a sarcastic song to the tune of the haunting Marlene Dietrich song Lili Marlene that they called "The Ballad Of The D-Day Dodgers".

Nancy Astor died in 1964 at her daughter's home at Grimsthorpe in Lincolnshire.

Children:

  1. Robert Gould Shaw III (1898-1970)
  2. William Waldorf Astor, 3rd Viscount Astor (1907-1966)
  3. Nancy Phyllis Louise Astor (1909-1975)
  4. Francis David Langhorne Astor (1912-2001)
  5. Michael Langhorne Astor (1916-1979)
  6. John Jacob Astor (born 1918)
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