Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979-1990, died last Monday, from a stroke. She was 87 years old. Her detractors are ecstatic – making “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” from the Wizard of Oz near the top of the charts and holding celebratory “Death Parties.” They hold her responsible for current welfare cuts, as well as those occurring during Thatcher’s years as P.M. and even when she was the Minister of Education charged with removing milk from school lunches as a cost cutting measure. At the time, she was known as “Thatcher-the-Milk-Snatcher.” I’m not sure a male minister would have received the same vitriol.
Over time, the “Milk-Snatcher” took on a more ominous title: Iron Lady. The term was first used by the Soviet Army newspaper and was not meant as a compliment, but Thatcher embraced it, calling herself the “Iron Lady of the western world” and a “cold war Warrior.”* We still call Thatcher the Iron Lady, the woman who would not deviate in her determination to remake Britain into a nation of prominence on the world stage. To do this, Thatcher went after anyone and anything that threatened “her” Britain, notably breaking the coal miner’s strike in 1985. She went to war with Argentina in defense of the Falkland Islands in 1982, and won. Thatcher supported a nuclear presence in Europe, but she also led the way to improve relations with the Soviet Union led by Mikhail Gorbachev. She left Britain a different place than she found it.
Margaret Thatcher was not the first woman to lead a nation in the Twentieth Century, but she was the first female head of state on the global stage. She believed in hard work and duty; individualism and private enterprise. And she did not compromise her convictions.
The ceremonial funeral will be on Wednesday at St. Paul’s Cathedral. It will be the biggest official funeral since the Queen Mother Elizabeth’s in 2002, with approximately 2300 invited to attend.
Margaret Thatcher touched innumerable lives and demonstrated what women can achieve. Regardless of whether we agree with her policies, no one can deny Thatcher’s accomplishments.
*For more thoughts on Margaret Thatcher’s career, see my article “Common Denominators in Successful Female Statecraft: The Political Legacies of Queen Elizabeth I, Indira Gandhi, and Margaret Thatcher” Forum on Public Policy, Vol. 2012, No. http://forumonpublicpolicy.com/vol2012.no1/archive/wagner.wright.pdf
Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.
Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.