A HUMBLE BEGINNING
Margaret Roberts is born to parents Alfred and Beatrice of Grantham, England, on Oct. 13, 1925. The second of two girls, she lives in a flat over her parents’ grocery store, attending local schools and later, Oxford, where she studies chemistry at Somerville College. But her father’s involvement in politics – he was a local councillor in her hometown – have an impact on Margaret.
At just 25, Margaret runs for the House of Commons as a Conservative candidate representing the constituency of Dartford. Though she doesn’t win in either 1950 or 1951, she gains notoriety as the youngest female candidate in England.
In 1951, Margaret marries wealthy businessman Denis Thatcher (who died in 2003). Two years later, the couple welcomes twins Mark and Carol. But home life doesn’t slow Margaret down: She studies law and is elected to Parliament in 1959 as a representative of north London constituency Finchley.
Thatcher is soon promoted to the cabinet position of Education Secretary, taking the post in 1970 at a time of student radicalism. Though the press gives her a hard time, and her speeches are often met with protests, according to her official website, she is “toughened” by the rocky experience.
A STEP UP
As prime minister and Conservative leader Edward Heath begins to fall out of favor, Thatcher’s star is rising, and in a 1975 election she’s named head of the Conservative party – the first woman to lead a Western political party and serve as Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons.
Thatcher becomes aligned with U.S. President Ronald Reagan during the Cold War, the two bonding over their distrust of Communism. Though they face ups and downs and disagreements during their overlapping time in office, they stay close; Thatcher even delivers the eulogy at his 2004 funeral via video.
Thatcher becomes the first female prime minister of Great Britain on May 4, 1979. Sharing a message of hope during her first day on the job, she faces a tough first term bogged down by unemployment, tax hikes and the Falklands War. Thatcher’s handling of the latter, reclaiming the islands in just two months’ time, earns her serious respect.
Re-elected for 1983-1987, Thatcher faces adversity again, this time through a miners’ strike – and an assassination plot, spearheaded by the IRA, which kills five others. She’s also criticized when her defence minister resigns over the handling of British helicopter manufacturer Westland. But when the economy starts to look up toward the end of her term, she finds herself in favor again.
Introducing controversial measures on education, a poll tax and the National Health Service in her third term, Thatcher faces opposition – and clashes with opponents and allies on ideas about European integration. Though she is viewed favorably as the Cold War comes to an end, fellow politicians begin to question her leadership style.
Challenged to the position of Conservative leader by Parliament member Michael Heseltine, Thatcher is shaken but vows to fight on. However, after an initial vote shows them in close contention – close enough to warrant a second vote – Thatcher ultimately resigns tearfully after a speech at her 10 Downing residence.
THE LATER YEARS
Thatcher doesn’t rest on her laurels; instead she pens several books, including The Downing Street Years (1993) and The Path to Power (1995), and tours to promote both. However, in March 2002, she announces an end to her public speaking engagements following several small strokes.
In 2008, Thatcher receives the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Great Britons honors in London, accepting the statuette from then-Conservative leader (and current prime minister) David Cameron. “I am proud to have played my part in helping to transform the British economy and in restoring Great Britain’s standing on the world’s stage,” Thatcher says in a speech. “I am delighted to have been honoured with such a prestigious award.”
The former prime minister sees her life play out on the big screen in 2011’s Iron Lady, starring Meryl Streep. Streep wins an Oscar for her performance, and upon learning of Thatcher’s passing on April 8, 2013, says, “To me she was a figure of awe for her personal strength and grit. To have come up, legitimately, through the ranks of the British political system, class bound and gender phobic as it was, in the time that she did and the way that she did, was a formidable achievement.”