Shirley Williams Biography

Shirley Williams is a British politician and academic, who served in cabinets of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. Check out this biography to know about her childhood, family life, achievements and fun facts about her.

Quick Facts

Birthday: July 27, 1930

Nationality: British

Famous: Political Leaders British Women

Age: 89 Years, 89 Year Old Females

Sun Sign: Leo

Also Known As: Shirley Vivian Teresa Brittain Williams

Born Country: England

Born in: Chelsea, London, United Kingdom

Famous as: Political Leader


Spouse/Ex-: Richard Neustadt (m. 1987), Bernard Williams (m. 1955 – div. 1974)

father: George Catlin

mother: Vera Brittain

siblings: John Edward Jocelyn Brittain-Catlin

children: Rebecca Williams

City: London, England

More Facts

education: Somerville College (1948–1951), Columbia University, St Paul's Girls' School

Continue Reading Below

Shirley Williams is a British politician and academic who was a Member of Parliament from the Labour Party and one of the 'Gang of Four' rebels who formed the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981. She served as Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection in Prime Minister Harold Wilson's cabinet and later served as Secretary of State for Education and Paymaster General in the cabinet of James Callaghan. She was made life peer in 1981, becoming Baroness Williams of Crosby, of Stevenage in the County of Hertfordshire. She served as Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords from 2001 to 2004, and remained an active member of the House of Lords until 2016. A former professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, she remains Professor Emerita of Electoral Politics there.

Recommended Lists:

Recommended Lists:

Childhood & Early Life
  • Shirley Williams, who became active in politics while studying at Somerville, ran for Parliament from the constituency of Harwich at the 1954 by-election, when she was nicknamed the 'schoolgirl candidate'. She lost that year, as well as the general election the next year, following which she spent three years in Africa with her husband, teaching at the University of Ghana in Accra.
  • Her attempt to run for a seat in Parliament from Southampton following her return in 1959 was also unsuccessful, but she became the general secretary of the Fabian Society in 1960. She was finally elected to Parliament from the Labour Party at Hitchin, Hertfordshire in October 1964.
  • Prime Minister Harold Wilson gave her minor roles in the Ministry of Health (1964–66), the Ministry of Labor (1966–67), the Ministry of Education and Science (1967–69), and the Home Office (1969–70). As she was a Catholic, the Protestants of Ulster never trusted her, which was made worse after she voted against liberalizing divorce laws and abortion rights in the 1960s.
  • She served as Shadow Home Secretary in 1971-73, and in February 1974, won seat in Parliament representing Hertford and Stevenage, following which she became minister of Prices and Consumer Protection in Harold Wilson's cabinet. Under Wilson's successor James Callaghan, she served as Secretary of State for Education and Paymaster General in 1976-79.
  • Following a striking defeat in 1979, she resigned from the Labour Party in 1981 to co-found the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and was joined by 31 other Labour MPs and one Conservative. In 1981, she became the first SDP member to be elected to Parliament, but lost in the 1983 general election, and later supported merger with the Liberal Party forming the Liberal Democrats.
  • She moved to the US in 1988 and became a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. She was honorably discharged in 2001, and remains a Public Service Professor of Electoral Politics, Emerita.
Recommended Lists:

Recommended Lists:

Major Works
  • In May 1971, Shirley Williams was among 100 Labour MPs to sign a declaration endorsing the cmmon market. As Secretary of State for Education, she led a campaign for the comprehensive school system.
Awards & Achievements
  • While Shirley Williams had previously turned down a DBE honor, she was made a life peer on February 1, 1993 as Baroness Williams of Crosby, of Stevenage in the County of Hertfordshire.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • Shirley Williams fell in love with Peter Parker after she met him at Oxford. She later met moral philosopher Bernard Williams while studying in New York in 1952 and married him in 1955.
  • She and Bernard had a daughter named Rebecca and lived happily for a time despite their schedules keeping them apart, but their different religious beliefs often clashed. They divorced in 1974 following Bernard’s affair with Patricia Law Skinner, after which she married professor and presidential historian Richard Neustadt in 1987.
  • Shirley Williams spent three years in Minnesota, US, during World War II. Later, she toured the USA with OUDS, playing the role of Cordelia in a production of Shakespeare's 'King Lear'.

See the events in life of Shirley Williams in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Shirley Williams Biography
- Editors,
Shirley Williams

People Also Viewed

Vera Brittain
Boris Johnson
(American, British)
Tony Blair
David Cameron

Jeremy Corbyn
Gordon Brown
Michael Portillo
John Major