The Essential: Florence Horsbrugh

Florence HorsbrughFlorence Gertrude Horsbrugh, Baroness Horsbrugh, GBE, PC

Born: 13 October 1889

Died: 6 December 1969 (aged 80)

Party: Conservative

Dates as Education Minister: 2 Nov 1951 – 18 Oct 1954 (1082 days)

Age when Minister: 62 yrs (0m) to 65 yrs (0m)

Best Fact: The first woman to hold a Cabinet seat in a Conservative government

Born in Edinburgh to an accountant father she was educated at Landsdowne House and St. Hilda’s in Folkestone, before completing a Liberal Arts education at Mills College in California.

Her initial rise to prominence was through her work as head of the Ministry of Munitions canteen during the First World War.  During this time she created a ‘travelling kitchen’ that could feed people after the National Kitchens shut, and she even managed to secure an invite to feed the Queen.

In 1931 she overturned a 14,000 Labour majority to become MP in Dundee and in 1939 gained a junior position as parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Health in 1939. During this time she oversaw the evacuation of children and the beginning of NHS reforms.

After losing her seat in 1945 she stood, and won, a seat in Manchester’s Moss Side in 1950 (can’t work out if this is even more surprising than a Conservative winning Dundee) . Shortly afterwards she became Education Secretary.

Unfortunately Horsbrugh inherited a bad lot. Churchill’s 1951 government put housing as its top priority and the budget for education was slashed right at the moment that the raising of the school leaving age and the 1946 baby boom were felt in force. The lack of money for school buildings meant over-crowding and squalor. In 1954 the TES argued that her policies were vague and she suffered ‘a want of courage’.

She left office in 1954, aged 65. In 1959 she took up residence in the House of Lords.

Is she a contender for ‘greatest’ ever education secretary? Highly unlikely.

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