Childhood & Early Life
Betty Boothroyd was born on October 8, 1929, in Dewsbury, England, to Archibald and Mary Boothroyd. She was the only child of her parents. Both her parents worked in the textile industry. Mary was her father’s second wife.
Her family lacked financial resources, and Betty spent the early years of her life in poverty. However, despite being financially weak, her parents were idealistic and were ardent followers of the ‘Labour Party.’ Betty once stated that she had had a “happy childhood.”
Her parents were active in local politics, as trade unionists. They also had a little influence in the ‘Labour Party.’ Betty was raised in an extremely liberal environment. However, she never thought of entering politics. She trained as a dancer since childhood, and it was her lifelong dream to become a professional dancer.
She received her early education at council schools and later joined the ‘Dewsbury College of Commerce and Art.’ She then joined a dance group called the ‘Tiller Girls Dancing Troupe.’ Along with her troupe, she performed at the highly famous ‘London Palladium.’ Thus, she was on her way to become a successful dancer.
However, she received a huge blow when she contracted a foot infection, which eventually ended her dance career. She then graduated college and decided to enter politics.
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She kick-started her political career in the mid-1950s, when she began working as a secretary to the ‘Labour Party’ MP Barbara Castle. She later worked as a secretary to another ‘Labour Party’ MP, Geoffrey de Freitas. After gaining initial experience in national politics, she became interested in understanding American politics. She then moved to the United States of America in 1960, to observe the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy.
The same year, she entered the American political arena, working as a legislative assistant for Silvio Conte, an American congressman from the ‘Republican Party.’ She worked with Silvio for 2 years. However, her ultimate goal was to begin her own political career back in her home country. Thus, in 1962, she moved back to London.
Upon returning, she started working as a secretary to another major ‘Labour Party’ politician, Harry Walston, who was the under-secretary of state for foreign affairs.
She began her individual political career in 1965, when she was elected to a seat in London’s ‘Hammersmith Borough Council.’ She remained in the position until 1968.
As a ‘Labour Party’ candidate, she contested in several elections, beginning in the 1950s. However, she was relatively new and inexperienced in politics and thus lost many of her earlier elections. She contested from Leicester South East, Peterborough, and Rossendale.
In 1973, things improved, as she won her first election and the MP seat from West Bromwich. The following year, her constituency was renamed West Bromwich West.
Her position in the party became stronger after she won her first election. In 1974, she was made the assistant government whip. A whip’s job is to ensure there is discipline within the party during the legislature. The following year, she became an MP of the European parliament.
In the late 1970s, she became a member of the select committee of foreign affairs. She was also made a member of the ‘Speaker’s Panel of Chairmen.’ She served in the former position until 1981 and in the latter until 1987.
She was then made a member of the ‘Labour Party’s ‘National Executive Committee’ and the ‘House of Commons Commission.’ Hence, by the late 1980s, she was a well-known name in the ‘Labour Party’ and was also slowly making her mark in national politics.
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The U.K. held general elections in 1987, and following the elections, Betty was made a deputy speaker, working under Speaker Bernard Weatherill. She remained in the position for 5 years, until 1992. That year, she was made the speaker of the ‘House of Commons.’ She thus became the first woman in history to earn the honor.
However, she also faced a controversy due to this. Being a woman, she was confused about wearing the wig that is associated with the speaker. She chose not to wear it but also mentioned that women speakers, if there were any after her, must decide for themselves, whether to wear it or not.
She was interested in politics even as a teenager. She attempted to make younger people interested in politics. Thus, in the 1990s, she made an appearance in the ‘BBC’ children’s program ‘Live & Kicking.’
In July 2000, she declared to the ‘House of Commons’ that she was going to resign from her position as a speaker, following the “Prime Minister’s Questions.”
While she was working as the speaker of the ‘House of Commons,’ her work was appreciated by the erstwhile prime minister, Tony Blair, along with former prime minister John Major.
During her political career, she received many honorary degrees from major universities of the United Kingdom. She was awarded the Honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree, by the ‘City University,’ London, and the Doctor of the University, by the ‘Open University.’
She has also received an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the ‘University of St. Andrews’ and the Doctor of Letters from the ‘University of Cambridge.’
In 2001, she published her autobiography.
A few years later, she was appointed to the ‘Order of Merit.’