Margaret Hilda Roberts was the younger of the two daughters of Alfred and Beatrice Roberts. The family lived in a nondescript apartment above one of two grocery stores owned by Alfred. The business sense he derived from such a livelihood made him a conservative, and he shared that leaning with his daughters, especially with Margaret.
The future British leader studied chemistry at Oxford’s Somerville College where she became a leader of the university’s Conservative Association. Introduced to the value of political and economic freedom through the works of Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman, she nevertheless began a career in the chemical industry and later obtained a law degree. Married to the well-to-do Denis Thatcher in 1951, she became the mother of twins, Mark and Carol, in 1953.
Soon seeking a political base, she won a seat in Parliament in 1959. From then on, she was given ever higher posts in the Conservative government and later, when the Conservatives lost power, she became the party’s leader in the field of education. In 1966, she was one of few members of parliament to support measures calling for decriminalizing male homosexuality and legalizing abortion. When the Conservatives again triumphed 1970 and Edward Heath became prime minister, she served in his cabinet as secretary for education and science. In that post, she cut the budgets of the state education system, including a reduction in subsidies for a student milk program that earned her nationwide criticism. She later said that the milk issue taught her a valuable lesson: “I had incurred the maximum of political odium for the minimum of political benefit.” The lesson would guide much of her future decision-making.
In 1967, the U.S. Embassy in London selected her to take part in the U.S.-created Foreign Leader Program. This honor included a six-week visit to various U.S. cities, enabled her to meet with numerous American political figures, and helped her become familiar American-based institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.
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Photo of Margaret Thatcher: AP Images