Distinguished Women of Past and Present


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Margaret Thatcher

From: United Kingdom
Fields: Government and Politics
Thatcher, Margaret Hilda, (1925- ), first woman to hold the office of prime minister of Great Britain (1979-1990). She was born Margaret Hilda Roberts in Grantham and educated at the University of Oxford, where she earned degrees in chemistry; from 1947 to 1951 she worked as a research chemist. She married Denis Thatcher in 1951. In 1953, having studied for the bar, she became a tax lawyer. Joining the Conservative party, Thatcher was elected to the House of Commons in 1959. As minister of education and science from 1970 to 1974 under Edward Heath, she provoked a storm of protest by abolishing free milk in the schools. After the Conservative defeat in 1974, she challenged Heath for the leadership of the party and won the post in 1975. Four years later she led the party to victory, vowing to reverse Britain's economic decline and to reduce the role of government. In 1982 Argentine forces occupied the nearby Falkland Islands, which were claimed by both Argentina and Great Britain. Thatcher's government sent a task force to the Falklands that defeated the Argentines. Bolstered by the success of her Falkland Islands policy, Thatcher led the Conservatives to a sweeping victory in the parliamentary elections of June 1983. In October 1984 she narrowly escaped injury when a bomb planted by Irish extremists exploded in Brighton's Grand Hotel during a party conference. Victorious in the June 1987 elections, she became the first British prime minister in the 20th century to serve three consecutive terms. During Thatcher's years as prime minister, unemployment rose, almost doubling in her first term. Thatcher opposed the socialist programs of the Labour party and worked to decrease the role of the government in the economy. She privatized some nationalized industries and social programs, including education, housing, and health care. In 1990 controversy over Thatcher's tax policy and over her reluctance to commit Great Britain to full economic integration with Europe inspired a strong challenge to her leadership. She resigned in November and was succeeded as party leader and prime minister by her protégé, John Major.

"Thatcher, Margaret Hilda" Microsoft® Encarta.
Copyright© 1995 Microsoft Corporation.


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