(1925-2013) – Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 1979-1990
Margaret Thatcher grew up in Lincolnshire and came to Somerville in 1943 to study Chemistry. After graduation, she worked briefly as a research chemist before training as a barrister. In 1959 she was elected MP for Finchley.
Thatcher became Secretary of State for Education and Science 1970-1974 under Edward Heath. The Conservatives were defeated in 1974 following which Thatcher replaced Heath as leader of the party. She became Prime Minister in 1979 when the Conservatives returned to power and she held office for three consecutive terms, resigning in 1990 following a leadership challenge by Michael Heseltine. A self-described conviction politician, Thatcher privatised state-owned industrites and utilities, reformed the trade unions, lowered taxes and reduced social welfare expenditure. Thatcher’s cuts to higher education led to her being the first Oxford-educated post-war prime minister who was not given an honorary doctorate by the University. Abroad, she cultivated relationships with the world’s leaders (with Ronald Reagan in the US in particular), resulting in an international profile and influence for the UK which has rarely been greater during peacetime. In 1992 took her seat in the House of Lords as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven.
The Margaret Thatcher Scholarship Trust (MTST) was set up at Somerville in 2013 and offers scholarships to foster academic excellence, supporting individuals to succeed and equipping them to excel in their chosen field.
Did you know? Thatcher remained in contact with Somerville and with her tutor (Nobel Prize-winner Dorothy Hodgkin). She reportedly said that she was prouder of becoming the first prime minister with a science degree than becoming the first female prime minister. In 1980, she sent an open letter to Somerville about her time at the college. ‘One last thought – or is it a feeling,’ she wrote. ‘I loved those years, I really did.’