BLACK COUNTRY WOMEN The legacy lives on ... BE INSPIRED
Betty Boothroyd, Baroness Boothroyd of Sandwell OM, PC, Hon. FSLL
Office Worker, Dancer, M.P., Speaker of the House of Commons & honoured by the Queen
Betty Boothroyd was born 8 October 1929 in Dewsbury, Yorkshire but since she became a Member of
Parliament for West Bromwich in 1973, has always been looked at as having the same attributes, drive and
ambition as the strong women who have defined the Black Country.
She was the only child of Ben Archibald Boothroyd and his second wife Mary, both of whom were textile
Betty was educated at council schools and went on to study at Dewsbury College of Commerce and Art.
The Tiller Girls were tall elegant young ladies with long legs. They performed a sequence of coordinated
dance moves to music and were stars of the show. Unfortunately Betty suffered a foot injury which brought
an end to her dancing career.
Her next career move was to enter politics.
She has since proved that women can make a difference in the political arena and has been an outstanding
example, in a time when society may have thought a woman’s place was in the home.
In 1960, she travelled to the United States to see the JF Kennedy campaign and subsequently began work in
Washington as a legislative assistant for an American Congressman, Silvio Conte, until 1962. When she
returned to London she continued her work as secretary and political assistant to various senior Labour politicians. In 1965, she was elected to a seat on Hammersmith Borough Council, in Gibbs Green ward, where she remained until 1968.
Betty Boothroyd contested several Parliamentary seats in elections – Leicester South East in 1957, Peterborough in 1959, Nelson and Colne in 1968, and Rossendale in 1970. She contested West Bromwich in a by-election in 1973 and was elected as MP. She served the area until 2000, however from 1987 she also served as Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons under Bernard Weatherill. She was elected in1992 as Speaker of the House of Commons; a position she fulfilled until to 2000.
As the first woman ever to hold the position, there was some debate as to whether or not Betty should wear the traditional Speaker's wig upon her election. She chose not to but also stated that any subsequent Speakers would be free to choose to wear the wig.
In 1974, she was appointed an assistant Government Whip and she was a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from 1975 to 1977. In 1979, she became a member of the Select committee on Foreign Affairs, until 1981, and of the Speaker's Panel of Chairmen, until 1987. She was also a member of the Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC) from 1981 to 1987 and the House of Commons Commission from 1983 to 1987.
On 12 July 2000, she declared to the House of Commons that she would resign as Speaker after the summer recess. Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, paid tribute to her as "something of a national institution". Blair's predecessor, John Major, described her as an "outstanding Speaker". She resigned as Speaker and as an MP by accepting an appointment to the position of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds on 23 October 2000.
Betty was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Civil Law (Hon DCL) by the City University London in 1993. She was chancellor of the Open University from 1994 until October 2006, and has donated some of her personal papers to the University's archives. In March 1995, she also was awarded an honorary degree from the Open University as Doctor of the University (DUniv). Since 1999, she is an Honorary Fellow of St Hugh's College, Oxford.
On 15 January 2001, she was created a life peer, the first of the millennium, taking as her title Baroness Boothroyd, of Sandwell in the County of West Midlands and her autobiography was published in the same year. In April 2005, she was appointed to the Order of Merit (OM), an honour in the personal gift of the Queen.
She was keen to get young people interested in politics, and in the 1990s made an appearance as a special guest on the BBC's Saturday morning children's programme Live & Kicking.
Betty Boothroyd is an Honorary Fellow of the Society of Light and Lighting (Hon. FSLL) since 2009, and she is an Honorary Fellow of St Edmund's College, Cambridge. Boothroyd is furthermore the Patron of the Jo Richardson Community School in Dagenham, East London, England, as well as being President of NBFA Assisting the Elderly. She was also, for a period, Vice President of the Industry and Parliament Trust.
In January 2011, Betty Boothroyd posited that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's plans for some members to the upper house to be directly elected could leave Britain in constitutional disarray: "It is wantonly destructive. It is destruction that hasn’t been thought through properly.” Betty said she was concerned that an elected Lords would rival the Commons, risking power-struggles between the two.