Posted by: Louise Bowen
There are wonderful works of Art in the House of Lords collection but the one that means most to me is the portrait of Viscountess Rhondda.
Hers is a story of a woman who had a very privileged upbringing, who became a business woman at a time when it was unusual for women to do so. She believed in women’s right to vote, and became a suffragette, as well as a campaigner for women’s rights. She founded the magazine Time and Tide.
She was an only child, and unusually inherited her title from her father the Viscount Rhondda of Llanwern. He was also a business man, and a coal owner in the Rhondda.
When she inherited the title she began a campaign to take her seat in the House of Lords. Unfortunately the Committee of Privileges who originally seemed to have accepted her case later rejected her request. I often imagine if she had been able to take her seat what a difference it would have made, and would have opened the doors for other women.
Although women were allowed to sit in the House of Commons from 1918 it wasn’t until 1958 with the passing of the Act of Parliament that allowed Life Peers to be appointed. With that Act women were allowed to sit in the Lords for the first time. Previously only males who inherited a title were allowed. It took until 1963 before women who inherited a title were allowed. All too late for Lady Rhondda who died in 1958.
To get back to the portrait. Some time ago Jessica Morden MP Newport East contacted me as she knew someone who wanted to sell his portrait of Lady Rhondda. As I was a member of the Work of Arts committee I suggested this might be a portrait worth having with its connections to the House of Lords. The committee agreed to purchase the portrait and it now hangs in the Peers and Guests Dining Room, on view for all to see.
I am proud to have played a small part in having Lady Rhondda's portrait in the Lords She was not allowed sit in the House of Lords during her lifetime, but her portrait there now for all to admire.
Her father was a Rhondda coal owner; my father was a Rhondda coal miner, and worked in a colliery her father owned.
Viscountess Rhondda, daughter of a Rhondda coal owner wanted to contribute to public life by taking her seat in the House of Lords but was not allowed to do so. In 1999 as Baroness Gale of Blaenrhondda, and daughter of a Rhondda coal miner I was allowed to sit in the House of Lords.
I believe that Lady Rhondda, because of her campaigning for women, and especially her battle to sit in the Lords allowed women like me to take my seat in the Lords. She certainly broke down barriers for women. She campaigned for many of the issues that I and others still campaign for, like equal rights for women, and getting more women in political and public life. Her work goes on!
That is why Viscountess Rhondda’s portrait, now hanging in its rightful place in the House of Lords means so much to me.
Baroness Anita Gale