In London, England, the flag at No. 10 Downing Street—home of Britain’s Prime Minister—is flying half-mast in remembrance of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died on April 8 after a stroke. She was 87 years old.
One of the most influential world leaders of the 20th century, Thatcher helped pave the way for female political leaders. In 1979, Thatcher became Britain's first female Prime Minister—Britain’s top elected office. She served until 1990, which makes her the only British leader to serve three consecutive terms. Her high standards and strong will earned her the nickname Britain's Iron Lady.
“We’ve lost a great Prime Minister, a great leader, a great Briton,” current Prime Minister David Cameron said. “As our first woman Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher succeeded against all the odds.”
A Life of Politics
Thatcher was born Margaret Hilda Roberts on October 13, 1925, in Grantham, Lincolnshire, in eastern England. She was the daughter of Beatrice and Alfred Roberts, a grocery store owner who later became Grantham’s mayor. As a teen, she was a passionate debater. She went on to get a degree in chemistry at Oxford University, in England, where she became involved in political organizations. After graduating, she worked as a chemist and married businessman Denis Thatcher in 1951. Two years later, she had twins, Mark and Carol.
After several years of failed campaigns, Thatcher earned her first elected position as the Member of Parliament from Finchley, an area in Greater London, in 1959. She was recognized for her intelligence and energy. When Edward Heath was elected Prime Minister in 1970, he made Thatcher his Secretary of State for Education and Science. She became the first woman to lead a major political party in Britain in 1975 as the elected leader of the Tory Party.
The Iron Lady
Thatcher became Britain’s Prime Minister on May 4, 1979. A conservative leader, her goals included shrinking the government, cutting public expenses, cutting income tax and fighting against labor unions. Her blunt and stubborn style of politics at first made her unpopular in Britain, which was still struggling after the end of World War II.
Then, in 1982, the Argentina military invaded the Falkland Islands, a British territory in the South Atlantic Ocean. Thatcher quickly launched a campaign to take back the islands. Britain won the two-month-long war, restoring national pride and earning Thatcher respect. She won reelection in 1983 and 1987.
While in office, Thatcher transformed Britain’s economy and politics, beginning what many call the “Thatcher Revolution.” In 1990, she was forced by her party to resign, but she remained in Parliament until she retired in 1992. Sir John Major, who served as Prime Minister for seven years following Thatcher, released a statement after her death. “Her reforms of the economy [and] union law and her recovery of the Falkland Islands elevated her above normal politics,” Major said. “And [they] may not have been achieved under any other leader."