Lady Astor found herself outnumbered 700 to 1 in the House of Commons, yet she managed to make her voice heard, and then some!
“Nancy became the champion of women and children, demanding reforms in health-care, housing, childcare and education, as well as agitating for greater opportunities for women in the workforce,” wrote Natalie Livingstone in The Mistress of Cliveden.
Doing this took grit, and much of Astor’s ability to achieve what she did is attributed to a headstrong personality which, at times, tipped over into harsh criticism of others and even prejudice.
Yet there was also a spiritual bedrock to her character, including a conviction – found in her study of Christian Science – that women were every bit equal to men. Why? Because in its teachings each individual, regardless of gender, is seen as being created to fully express a God best understood as Father-Mother, rather than being thought of solely in masculine or feminine terms.
Astor once hinted at this spiritual basis for equality when describing how much she valued the role of being able to represent women in parliament.
Commenting on how men had ruled the world for 2,000 years, and criticising the perception that, “Christ’s message was for men” in particular, she wryly concluded: “As I told the Archbishop the other day, when you get to heaven God’s not going to ask whether you put on skirts or pants.”
The writings of Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy don’t support prejudice but urge freedom from it. Eddy described, “true prayer” as “learning to love, and to include all mankind in one affection” (No and Yes). Nor do her texts teach of a literal heaven confined to an afterlife. But they do focus on the Bible’s promise of healing. And, indeed, the immediate impact Eddy’s writings had on Astor, when she was first introduced to them, was to quickly overturn a series of physical debilities that had had her living under the shadow of a prognosis of lifelong semi-invalidism.
According to biographer Adrian Fort (Nancy, The Story of Lady Astor) she was restored to health while reading the opening chapter “Prayer” in Eddy’s key text, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, and thereafter experienced a virtually sickness free life.
Through the ideas in this book Lady Astor would have also perceived a different kind of male/female equality than the societal fairness she was striving to promote through her political efforts. She would have read of a spiritual balance inherent in each individual, that gains increasing expression in both women and men through spiritual growth.
“Union of the masculine and feminine qualities constitutes completeness,” Eddy wrote. “The masculine mind reaches a higher tone through certain elements of the feminine, while the feminine mind gains courage and strength through masculine qualities.”
As we increasingly value the full range of male/female attributes in ourselves and others, we can also trust and pray that these qualities will more and more make up a properly rounded government and be reflected in the makeup of leadership around the world.
All of which would have pleased the better angels in Nancy Astor’s complex nature!