Margaret Hilda Thatcher is the first woman to have held the office of prime minister in Great Britain. She was born Margaret Hilda Roberts in Grantham, Lincolnshire and educated at the University of Oxford, where she earned degrees in chemistry. After graduation she worked as a research chemist from 1947 to 1951. She married Denis Thatcher in 1951, and in 1953, having studied for the bar, she became a tax lawyer. Thatcher joined the Conservative party, and was elected to the House of Commons in 1959. She defeated Edward Heath for the minority leadership of the party in 1974, and then led the Conservative party to victory in 1979. Thatcher is the only British prime minister in the twentieth century to serve three consecutive terms. In 1990, controversy over Thatcher's tax policy and her reluctance to commit Great Britain to full economic integration with Europe inspired a strong challenge to her leadership. Ms. Thatcher was ousted from leadership, and resigned in November 1990 and was succeeded as party leader and prime minister by her protégée, John Major: who, consequently, only served one short term.
Margaret Hilda Roberts was born October 13, 1925 to Beatrice and Alfred Roberts in the flat above her parents small grocery store. Margaret's father was the greatest influence in Margaret's life, politically as well as religiously and socially. Alfred Roberts came to Grantham during the First World War where he met and married Beatrice Stevenson. "The young couple worked hard and saved money with a passion. Before long Alfred opened his own grocery shop, and eventually he came to own two." (Mayer,1979) Alfred often discussed current events with his two daughters, and also his keenly-held political beliefs. Margaret's father had a considerable effect on her political beliefs. Although he had once been a member of the Liberal party, he won a place on the local town council as an independent, which essentially meant conservative. He served in this position for twenty-five years, and later became the chair of its finance committee. "In the 1940's, he was selected for the largely honorary but still prestigious post of Mayor of Grantham." (Mayer, 1979) When asked about the part her father had played in her life Margaret replied that "of course, I just owe almost everything to my . . . father, and the things which I learned in a small town, in a very modest home. . . ." (Mayer, 1979)
At the age of fifteen, Margaret had to start thinking seriously about what she wanted to do with her life. The British education system required young people at that age to choose between two totally separate curriculums which they would follow for the remainder of their secondary school career. One was an arts and humanities course, and the other was science. Margaret had little trouble making up her mind. Though she had always been interested in politics, the idea of a political career seemed out of the question. At the time Members of Parliament were paid only 600 Pounds a year and were given no allowances for secretarial or office expenses. That deliberately limited professional politics mainly to successful businessmen, lawyers, and the rich. At the same time, science seemed to be the coming thing; research was booming, and a science degree appeared to provide a passport to assured employment. Margaret chose science specifically, chemistry.
At the age of seventeen, a year younger than most candidates, she took the examinations one had to pass to gain admittance to Oxford's Sommerville College. She did well and scored high marks in all categories, she tied for first in the competitive exam. This exam was given to candidates to decide which would win the one scholarship the college had to offer. But Somerville officials decided to give the scholarship to the other top-scoring candidate, an older girl who had been waiting a year longer than Margaret to get into Oxford....
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