Margaret Thatcher, one of the most important British politicians of the 20th century, has died. She was the first woman to become U.K. prime minister and Britain’s only prime minister of the 20th century to win three consecutive terms.
After leading the Conservatives to victory in the 1979 election, Thatcher shook Britain to its economic roots in a relentless battle to restructure the country.
Richard Longworth of the Chicago Tribune described Thatcher in 1989 as “perhaps the most admired, hated, fascinating, boring, radical and conservative leader in the western world.”
The next year she would be forced from office by her own party.
The mayor’s daughter
Born Margaret Hilda Roberts in Grantham, England in 1925 she was the second daughter of Alfred and Beatrice Roberts. Her father eventually owned two grocery stores (the family lived above one of them) and would become mayor of Grantham.
He had a huge influence on Margaret, as she observed when she became prime minister.
“Of course I just owe almost everything to my father. He brought me up to believe almost all the things I do believe.”
She graduated from Oxford in 1947 after majoring in chemistry. She was barred from joining the all-male Oxford Union debating society, so she joined Oxford’s conservative association and in 1946 became its first female president.
She ran for parliament in 1950, the youngest person seeking a seat. She lost — and lost again the next year.
At the end of 1951 she married Denis Thatcher, a wealthy, divorced businessman she met in 1949.
Since graduating, Margaret had been working as a research chemist. She returned to university and earned a law degree in 1953. A multi-tasker, she gave birth that year to twins and continued to be politically active.
After being called to the bar she specialized in patent law and then tax law, until 1961.
Elected to parliament on her third try
In 1959 she was elected as the MP from Finchley. Two years later Prime Minister Harold Macmillan named her parliamentary secretary to the minister of pensions and insurance.
From 1964 to 1970 the Labour Party governed and Thatcher held various portfolios in the opposition shadow cabinet.
When the Conservatives were back in power under Edward Heath, Thatcher was the secretary of state for education and science, the only woman in the cabinet. She got attention when she abolished a free milk program for school children, and was dubbed ‘Thatcher the milk snatcher’ by the Labour opposition.
Heath resigned as leader after losing the 1974 election and his successor was the first women to lead the Conservatives, Margaret Thatcher.
“I am not a consensus politician. I am a conviction politician,” Thatcher announced when she took over in 1975.
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