In the year we commemorate seventy five years since the creation of the modern welfare state, it is important to remember all those who played a role in this totemic social change, not just Beverage. When we read the pages of the Family Guide to the National Insurance Scheme that was sent to every household in 1948, setting out details of the contributions and benefits, we can feel the contribution of Beatrice Rathbone, Cornwall’s first female MP.

Beatrice Rathbone’s arrival in Parliament in 1941, followed the death of her husband in the Battle of Britain. As a highly effective constituency organiser, Beatrice had played an important role in the electoral success of her husband, John Rathbone, elected for the Cornish constituency of Bodmin as a Conservative in the 1935 General Election, defeating the incumbent Liberal Member of Parliament.

A career in politics was not something she had ever planned and it is to her great credit that she was asked by all political parties to take her husband’s seat in Parliament and was subsequently elected unopposed. She was the second American born woman to enter Parliament and as a result of swearing allegiance to the monarch, gave up her American citizenship.

She did not seek re-election at the General Election in 1945 but during her four years she was an active and effective MP, increasing the acceptance of women in politics.

Eleanor did not take her time on the back benches to learn the political ropes. She defied convention even in her maiden speech. Her maiden speech made an immediate impact – that “breath of fresh air” was well reported in Cornwall, where The Cornish Times stated that, in spite of “the greatness of the occasion-for it was one of those full dress debates that occur only occasionally in each Session, [it] did not overawe her and those who were her listeners will not leave the House when she catches the Speakers eye on future occasions.”

She went on to make seventy speeches in her four years in Parliament, many more than her husband over a longer period. Working with her neighbouring MP, Nancy Astor and husband’s aunt Eleanor Rathbone she was an active participant in Parliament, speaking on a range of issues, from the war effort to women’s rights and improving welfare provision.

She was a useful transatlantic envoy, visiting the USA, making speeches and giving broadcast interviews to promote the cause of America joining the war. Despite the fact that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour while she was there, she was able to visit her two children who had been evacuated to her family in Boston as well as having tea with the President’s wife Eleanor Roosevelt.

In 1942 she married Paul Wright a British diplomat and the following year she gave birth to Faith Wright, the first child born to a Member of Parliament. Faith was brought into the Houses of Parliament to vote just two weeks after her birth and left in the care of a Policeman. Fortunately, today we have a nursery and members carrying their babies through the voting lobbies is not unusual.

Her life of public service continued throughout her retirement, most notably as Vice President of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and as founder of Hearing Dogs for the Deaf. The teaching centre for the charity’s dogs is named in memory of her contribution. She was awarded an MBE in 1996.

Eleanor’s passion for politics was imparted to her son Tim Rathbone who represented Lewes from 1974 til 1997. Described as a ‘zealous reformer’ and sometimes as a ‘wet’, Tim Rathbone was a relation of, and godfather to, the former Prime Minister David Cameron.