A tribute to Betty Boothroyd (1929 to 2023)

Betty Boothroyd with (l-r) Anne Campbell and Nora David

We were sad to hear of the death of Betty, Lady Boothroyd, the first female Speaker of the House of Commons and an Honorary Fellow of Newnham College.

Her Honorary Fellowship was conferred in 1994, two years after Betty took up the role of Speaker. Despite the demands of her political career, she took the time to visit and join College celebrations including our 125th anniversary in 1996.

The title of Honorary Fellow is conferred upon a woman of distinction and that clearly applied to Betty’s achievements in politics. She overturned 900 years of parliamentary tradition as the first woman Speaker.

Principal Alison Rose (NC 1980) said: “I remember sitting in the officials’ box in the House of Commons, watching Betty Boothroyd in action, and admiring how she kept such good order with a firm yet always light touch. She was a pathfinder and a pioneer, and we are proud that she was one of Newnham College’s Honorary Fellows.”

It was the culmination of an unusual career. Betty had started work as a shop assistant aged 13, after failing the 11-plus, and later worked as a dancer which added a touch of glamour to her image in politics. But to get into Parliament required resilience as she was defeated in four by-elections before being elected in 1973, as MP for West Bromwich (later West Bromwich West).

Betty was also a Member of the European Parliament, concurrently, from 1975-77. In 1987 she became Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, before being elected Speaker in 1992. The motto of her Coat of Arms was ‘I speak to serve’.

She resigned as Speaker in 2000, a year later was made a Life Peer and sat in the House of Lords, by tradition as a crossbencher.

She died at Addenbrooke’s Hospital on Sunday.

Photograph shows Betty at a reception held by Gillian Clarke (NC 1959) at 11 Downing Street in 1996, to mark the 125th anniversary of Newnham College. Betty is shown (right), with Anne Campbell (NC 1959), former MP for Cambridge (left), and former Newnham Fellow Lady Nora David (NC 1932).