By Lena S.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, AWC London is proud to recognise two of their very own alumni who served as early champions of women’s equality — Lou Henry Hoover and Nancy Astor. These trail-blazing women made great strides in various spheres of public life, inspiring generations of women to come.
Humanitarian, Girl Scout Leader, women’s athletics advocate and First Lady of the United States, Lou Henry Hoover (1874–1944) was an avid traveller who loved the great outdoors. It was her childhood fascination for nature that eventually led her to Stanford University where she became one of the first American women to earn a degree in geology. There, she met her future husband: president of the United States, Herbert Hoover. Years later, her cross-disciplinary knowledge of geology and linguistics enabled her to help her husband translate a seminal 16th-century mining document from Latin to English.
Her life of adventure took a dramatic turn when the first World War broke out in 1914. Thousands of Americans were stranded in Europe, including the Hoovers who were based in London at the time. Undaunted by circumstances, Lou rose to the challenge by providing food, shelter, clothing and advice to those in despair, longing to go home. Driven by wisdom and compassion, she leveraged her husband’s position as Chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belgium to establish a California branch of the organisation — thus raising funds for vital food shipments to be sent to America.
Nancy Astor (1879–1964), the ‘first lady of British politics,’ was the first female MP to sit in the House of Commons in 1918. An American citizen who moved to England at the age of 26, she later married Lord Waldorf Astor, an American-born British politician. Glamorous, intelligent and fashionable, she was known for her charming wit and outrageous sense of humour. In spite of her affiliations with the higher echelons of society, she was a true inspiration to women of all ranks, in particular the early suffragettes. In fact, it was through his wife that Lord Astor developed an interest in social reform.
Lady Astor was well known for her sharp exchanges with Winston Churchill in the House of Commons. Churchill was reported to have likened having a woman in Parliament as having one ‘intrude on him in the bathroom’ — to which she replied, “You’re not handsome enough to have such fears.” Though controversial at times, her remarkable achievements as a champion for women’s rights in the dominant ‘man’s world’ of politics earned her a place in The Evening Standard’s list of 15 British women who have truly changed the world.
Learn about other alumni on the AWC History page
Top left: Lou Hoover | Source: Hoover Archives
Bottom Right: Nancy Astor | Source: English Heritage UK