Nancy Astor


Biography of Nancy Astor

Nancy Witcher Astor, Viscountess Astor, CH, (19 May 1879 – 2 May 1964) was the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament (MP) in the British House of Commons. She was the wife of Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor.

Astor was born Nancy Witcher Langhorne in Danville, Virginia, in the United States. Her father was Chiswell Dabney Langhorne and her mother was Nancy Witcher Keene. Her father's earlier business venture had depended at least in part upon slave labour, and the outcome of the American Civil War caused the family to live in near-poverty for several years before Nancy was born. After her birth her father began working to regain the family wealth, first with a job as an auctioneer and later with a job that he obtained with the railroad by using old contacts from his work as a contractor. By the time she was thirteen years old, the Langhornes were again a rich family with a sizeable home. Chiswell Langhorne later moved the family to their estate, known as Mirador, in Albemarle County, Virginia.

Nancy Langhorne had four sisters and three brothers. All of the sisters were known for their beauty; her sister Irene later married the artist Charles Dana Gibson and became a model for the Gibson girl. Nancy and Irene both went to a finishing school in New York City. There Nancy met her first husband, Robert Gould Shaw II, a cousin of the Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who commanded the all-black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. They were married in New York City on October 27, 1897, when she was 18.

The marriage was a disaster. Shaw's friends accused Nancy of becoming puritanical and rigid after she married, while her friends claimed that Shaw was an alcoholic rapist. They remained married for four years and had one son, Bobbie. Nancy left Shaw numerous times during their marriage, the first during their honeymoon. In 1903, Nancy's mother died and the now divorced Nancy moved back to Mirador to try to run the household, but was unsuccessful. She left on a tour of England and fell in love with the country. Since she had been so happy there, her father suggested that she move to England. Nancy was reluctant, so he told her the move had been her mother’s wish and would also be good for Nancy's younger sister, Phyllis. Nancy and Phyllis finally moved to England in 1905.

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