An unusually elegant Image of the Month for November, highlighting the papers of one of the first women MPs, Florence Horsbrugh.

This elegant lady is not perhaps the most famous of the many politicians whose archives we hold, but she certainly deserves to be better-known than she is. This is the MP Florence Horsbrugh, pictured on the occasion of being the first woman to give the address in response to the King’s speech in the House of Commons, in November 1936 (a difficult year, given that Britain was then right in the middle of the Abdication Crisis).

Born in Edinburgh in 1889, Florence Horsbrugh first rose to prominence as head of the Ministry of Munitions canteen in the First World War. She also managed the National Kitchen in Chelsea, and started the “travelling kitchen” by going out with a cart after the National Kitchen had shut, selling food on the streets. So successful was the travelling kitchen that it was invited to provide Queen Mary with lunch at Buckingham Palace: apparently Her Majesty particularly approved of the sweets. Horsbrugh’s war work for the Ministry of Food earned her the MBE.

Although Horsbrugh was well-known as a speaker and voluntary worker for the Conservatives in Scotland, it was much harder for her to make the breakthrough of becoming an MP. She finally managed it in 1931, overturning a 14,000 Labour majority in Dundee, and so became one of the first women to enter Westminster. She was a successful backbencher, but did not go out of her way to promote women’s interests, preferring instead to represent the needs of her Scottish constituents, arguing that it would not help the feminist cause if women MPs limited themselves to women’s issues.

During the Second World War Horsbrugh served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, then after a brief return to the Ministry of Food, lost her Dundee seat in the Labour election victory of 1945. She then made a return to Parliament in 1950, as a Manchester MP, and became Minister of Education in Churchill’s second administration, from 1951 to 1954. Following her resignation from the Cabinet, Horsbrugh was a Delegate to the Council of Europe and Western European Union, 1955-1960, and in 1959, entered the House of Lords, as Baroness Horsbrugh.

Horsbrugh Papers, HSBR 3/1