Margaret Hilda Thatcher
13 October 1925
Best Known As:
Prime Minister of Great Britain, 1979-90
Margaret Hilda Thatcher
In 1979 Margaret Thatcher became the first woman to serve as prime minister of Great Britain, a post she held until 1990. Thatcher rose to office with promises to restore Britain’s economic prosperity, and she worked toward this goal by selling and privatizing many government-owned industries. Thatcher’s tenure as prime minister included leading Britain to victory over Argentina in the brief military dispute oover the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands in 1982.
She is first woman to hold the office of prime minister of Great Britain (1979-1990). She was born Margaret Hilda Roberts in Grantham and educated at the University of Oxford, where she earned degrees in chemistry; from 1947 to 1951 she worked as a research chemist. She married Denis Thatcher in 1951. In 1953, having studied for the bar, she became a tax lawyer. Joining the Conservative party, Thatcher was elected tto the House of Commons in 1959. As minister of education and science from 1970 to 1974 under Edward Heath, she provoked a storm of protest by abolishing free milk in the schools. After the Conservative defeat in 1974, she cchallenged Heath for the leadership of the party and won the post in 1975. Four years later she led the party to victory, vowing to reverse Britain’s economic decline and to reduce the role of government. In 1982 Argentine forces occupied the nearby Falkland Islands, which were claimed by both Argentina and Great Britain. Thatcher’s government sent a task force to the Falklands that defeated the Argentines. Bolstered by the success of her Falkland Islands policy, Thatcher led the Conservatives to a sweeping victory in the parliamentary elections of June 1983. In October 1984 she narrowly escaped injury when a bomb planted by Irish extremists exploded in Brighton’s Grand Hotel during a party conference. Victorious in the June 1987 elections, sshe became the first British prime minister in the 20th century to serve three consecutive terms. During Thatcher’s years as prime minister, unemployment rose, almost doubling in her first term. Thatcher opposed the socialist programs of the Labour party and worked to decrease the role of the government in the economy. She privatized some nationalized industries and social programs, including education, housing, and health care. In 1990 controversy over Thatcher’s tax policy and over her reluctance to commit Great Britain tto full economic integration with Europe inspired a strong challenge to her leadership. She resigned in November and was succeeded as party leader and prime minister by her protégé, John Major.
The Thatcher Decade
In the elections of April 1979 the Conservatives, led by Margaret Thatcher, emerged with a substantial majority of parliamentary seats and with the first woman prime minister in British
or European history. She was to remain in office for the next 11 years, making hers the longest continuous prime ministership since the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
Thatcher’s first years were difficult. She sought ...