Margaret Travers Symons

Margaret Travers Symons
Margaret Travers Symons (cropped).jpg
Margaret Anne Williams

18 August 1879
Died after 1951
Nationality United Kingdom
Occupation secretary
Employer Keir Hardie
Known for First woman to "speak" in the British House of Commons
Political party Labour

Margaret Ann Travers Symons (born Mary Ann Williams; 18 August 1879 – after 1951) was a British suffragette. On 13 October 1908, she became the first woman to speak in the House of Commons when she broke away from her escort into the debating chamber and made an exclamation to the assembly.

Early life

She was born on 18 August 1879 in Paddington.[1] Her father was Robert Williams, a Welsh architect elected to the London County Council in 1901 and who served on its housing committee. He was subsequently in Egypt.[2][3][4]

In 1902, Margaret married William Travers Symons in Hampstead.[5][6][7] She became known as Margaret Travers Symons. The couple had separated by 1906.[4]

Secretary to Keir Hardie and suffragette

Travers Symons became the secretary to the Labour Party politician Keir Hardie.[4] She wrote to the London Evening Standard in April 1906, relaying the anti-war policy of the 7th meeting (in Brussels) of the International Socialist Bureau, which Hardie had attended as a Labour Party delegate.[8][9]

Hardie was a friend and lover of Sylvia Pankhurst, and a suffragist. They were founding members of the East London Federation of Suffragettes which was a breakaway group of the WSPU.[10] Travers Symons was a suffragette and was briefly the treasurer of the WSPU branch in London.[4]

Incident of 13 October 1908

Travers Symons arranged to be taken around the parliament buildings, on 13 October 1908. There was a peephole where women could see into the main chamber.[11] She escaped from her escort, Howell Idris MP, who admitted her on the strength of her father's name, once he had led her to the peephole.[2] She burst into the main chamber of the House of Commons where a debate was in progress on a bill regarding various issues related to children.[12] Reports vary about the exact words she shouted, but they include:

  • "Drop your talk about the children's bill and give us votes for women!"[12]
  • "Attend to the women's question!"[11]
  • "Address the women's issue!"[13]
  • "Leave off discussing the children's question and give votes to the women first!"[14]

She was removed from the building. She was not arrested, the Metropolitan Police having no jurisdiction in the Houses of Parliament.[15]

That evening suffragettes were outside parliament, protesting summonses laid against three of their leaders. On this occasion 24 women and 12 men were arrested.[16] Emmeline Pankhurst was arrested later for organising the demonstration and she was sentenced to three months in prison.[13] The stunt was reported in major newspapers: she had made history by being the first woman to speak in the House of Commons.[4] She wrote the same day to Idris, assuring him her action was unpremeditated.[2]


Travers Symons filed to divorce her husband in 1910 for his adultery, and the divorce was granted in 1910.[17][7]

It was almost a decade later when the first woman was to take her seat after being elected to the British parliament, Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor, who was elected in 1919 following the relaxation that allowed some women in British elections.[18]

Later life

Travers Symons went to Egypt, working as a journalist and scrutinising British control.[19] She was strongly critical of "Anglicisation": the employment, in the years around World War I, of a higher proportion of civil servants of British origin.[20] She was living in London after World War II.[17]


  • The Riddle of Egypt: A Handbook to the Study of Anglo-Egyptian Affairs (1914)[21]
  • Britain and Egypt: The Rise of Egyptian Nationalism (1925)[22]


  1. ^ "The First Woman to Speak in Parliament was Welsh". Rainbow Dragon. 10 October 2018. Retrieved 12 October 2018.
  2. ^ a b c "Extraordinary Scenes: "Votes for Women" in the House". East & South Devon Advertiser. 17 October 1908. p. 2.
  3. ^ Wohl, Anthony (28 July 2017). The Eternal Slum: Housing and Social Policy in Victorian London. Routledge. p. 258. ISBN 978-1-351-30403-0.
  4. ^ a b c d e Elizabeth Crawford (2 September 2003). The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928. Routledge. pp. 669–670. ISBN 1-135-43402-6. Cite error: The named reference "Crawf2003" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  5. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 9 October 2021.
  6. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 9 October 2021.
  7. ^ a b "Divorce Court File: 279. Appellant: Margaret Ann Symons. Respondent: William Travers..." 1910.
  8. ^ "To the Editor of the Standard". London Evening Standard. 27 April 1906. p. 9.
  9. ^ Maccoby, S. (13 March 2019). English Radicalism (1935–1961): Volume 6. Routledge. p. 33 note 3. ISBN 978-1-136-45045-7.
  10. ^ "Sylvia Pankhurst". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 12 October 2018.
  11. ^ a b Pankhurst, Estelle Sylvia (1912). The Suffragette: The History of the Women's Militant Suffrage Movement, 1905–1910. Sturgis & Walton Company. pp. 269–270. ISBN 978-0-87681-087-3.CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  12. ^ a b "Essence of Parliament". Punch. 21 October 1908. pp. 301–302.
  13. ^ a b "Kezia Dugdale: We desperately need feminists in Labour, including the male ones". The Independent. Retrieved 12 October 2018.
  14. ^ "13 October 1908: Suffragettes try to storm House of Commons". BBC History Magazine. October 2019. p. 13. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  15. ^ Fletcher, Ian Christopher (1996). ""A Star Chamber of the Twentieth Century".: Suffragettes, Liberals, and the 1908 "Rush the Commons" Case". Journal of British Studies. 35 (4): 516. ISSN 0021-9371.
  16. ^ Marcus, Jane (15 April 2013). Suffrage and the Pankhursts. Routledge. p. 52. ISBN 978-1-135-03397-2.
  17. ^ a b Atkinson, Diane (8 February 2018). Rise Up Women!: The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 116, 562. ISBN 9781408844069.
  18. ^ "Women's Political Records in the United Kingdom". Centre for Advancement of Women in Politics. Queen's University Belfast. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  19. ^ Johnson, Robert; Kitchen, James E. (30 January 2019). The Great War in the Middle East: A Clash of Empires. 275: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-351-74493-5.CS1 maint: location (link)
  20. ^ Abugideiri, Hibba (15 April 2016). Gender and the Making of Modern Medicine in Colonial Egypt. Routledge. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-317-13036-9.
  21. ^ Symons, M. Travers (1914). The Riddle of Egypt: A Handbook to the Study of Anglo-Egyptian Affairs. F. Palmer.
  22. ^ Symons, M. Travers (1925). Britain and Egypt: The Rise of Egyptian Nationalism. C. Palmer.

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