Betty Boothroyd, Britain’s First Female House of Commons Speaker, Dies at 93

Betty Boothroyd, the first female speaker of Britain’s House of Commons who commanded over proceedings with wit and gravitas, died on Sunday. She was 93.

Her death was confirmed by Lindsay Hoyle, the current speaker, who did not specify a cause. The Associated Press said she died at a hospital in Cambridge, England.

When Ms. Boothroyd was named speaker as a member of the opposition Labour Party in 1992, there were just 60 women in the 651-member House of Commons. There was a barber for men in the basement of the House, but no hairdresser for women.

She served until 2000 and was responsible for corralling the jeering, cackling members, often with repeated shouts of “order, order,” leading to common comparisons to a school principal. Her performance turned Prime Minister’s Questions, the weekly political spectacle in which lawmakers needle their opponents, into captivating television, even for audiences watching abroad.

Ms. Boothroyd “broke that glass ceiling with panache,” Mr. Hoyle said in a statement on Monday. He called her a “sharp, witty and formidable woman,” adding that she had a no-nonsense style “but any reprimands she did issue were done with good humor and charm.”

Ms. Boothroyd was born on Oct. 8, 1929. An only child, her parents were woolen mill workers in Dewsbury, a town southwest of Leeds, and she left school at 16 to become a dancer.

She moved to London and worked as a Tiller Girl, the equivalent of a Rockette, before getting involved in politics. She started her career in politics in the 1950s as an assistant to members of Parliament in the Labour Party and lost two elections before moving to the United States to campaign for John F. Kennedy.

Ms. Boothroyd won her first election as a member of Parliament in 1973. She became especially popular in her later role as speaker, earning a reputation for fairness and impartiality. She did away with the tradition of speakers wearing a white wig and instructed the members to “call me Madam.”

In 1993, The Times noted her skills for navigating the unruly body of lawmakers.

“Like the conductor of some cacophonous orchestra, she seems to know just when to give way and when to pull in tight, tolerating the antics of a runaway flutist with good humor but banging her gavel and intoning ‘Order! Order!’ in the broad flat vowels of her native Yorkshire when the brass and percussion sections fall into open brawl,” The Times said.

Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, said on Twitter that “the passion, wit & sense of fairness she brought to politics will not be forgotten.”

Ms. Boothroyd started her career in politics in the 1950s as an assistant to members of Parliament in the Labour Party.Credit…Greaves/Mirrorpix/Getty Images
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