The Robinson Library

The Robinson Library >> England >> 20th Century
Margaret Thatcher

Prime Minister, 1979-1990

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Hilda Roberts was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire, England, on October 13, 1925. She was educated at the University of Oxford, where she earned degrees in chemistry, and worked as a research chemist from 1947 to 1951. She later studied for the bar, and in 1953 became a tax lawyer.

Joining the Conservative Party, Thatcher was elected to the House of Commons in 1959. She held a variety of junior posts before becoming Secretary of Education and Science in 1970, under Prime Minister Edward Heath; she held this position until 1974.

Following the Conservative defeat of 1974, Thatcher challenged Heath for leadership of the party and won the post in 1975. In 1979, she led the Conservatives to victory in the general election and succeeded James Callaghan as Prime Minister. Taking office at a time of high unemployment and weak economy, Thatcher's first two years in office were not easy ones. Her government followed a radical program of privatization and deregulation, reform of the trade unions, tax cuts, and introduction of market mechanisms into health and education. Many of her policies were unpopular at first, but the economy gradually showed improvement and the unemployment rate declined. She bolstered her popularity by leading the country to war against Argentina in the Falkland Islands in 1982. She also became a familiar figure internationally, striking up a friendship with U.S. President Ronald Reagan and gaining the respect of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Thatcher again 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, Thatcher became the first British Prime Minister in the 20th century to serve three consecutive terms.

One great difficulty during Thatcher's time in office was the issue of Europe. Her reluctance to commit Great Britain to full economic integration with Europe inspired a strong challenge to her leadership. Her long-serving Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, resigned in protest over the issue in November 1990, setting off a chain of events that would led to Thatcher's downfall. Michael Heseltine challenged Thatcher for the leadership, and while he failed to win, he gained 152 votes -- enough to make it evident that a large minority favored a change. Thatcher chose to resign rather than force a second vote, and was replaced by her Chancellor of the Exchequer, John Major. She left the House of Commons in 1992 to sit in the House of Lords as Baroness Thatcher.

Margaret Thatcher died of a stroke on April 8, 2013.

Books by Margaret Thatcher

The Path to Power (1995)
The Downing Street Years (1995)
The Collected Speeches of Margaret Thatcher (1998)
Statecraft: Strategies for Changing the World (2002)

Site of Interest

Margaret Thatcher Foundation

See Also

Conservative Party
President Ronald Reagan
Mikhail Gorbachev

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> England >> 20th Century

This page was last updated on February 10, 2019.