The Legacy of Margaret Thatcher: The Iron Lady

In the wake of her recent passing, spend some time acquainting your class with the life of a woman who was highly influential in politics.

By Cathy Neushul

British flag and Big Ben

Margaret Thatcher was a leader who stirred up strong emotions. While many people loved her, many also intensely disliked her. However, even her strongest detractors agree that she changed England’s economic and political scene with her bold policies when she served as Prime Minister from 1979-1990.

Students learning about Margaret Thatcher’s legacy can delve into the history of the time period of her first term, the economic situation in England in the 1970s to 1980s, and the Cold War. This is also a great opportunity to talk about the unique position and challenges faced by female leaders. Margaret Thatcher was the first female prime minister of England. 


Margaret Thatcher’s Early Life

While your class might think of potential leaders as people very different than themselves, they should be disabused of this idea. Even though there are leaders that are born into privilege and wealth, there are many, like Margaret Thatcher, who came from humble beginnings and made their way in the world using their intelligence, skills, and talents.

As part of a look at Thatcher’s life, have your students research where and how she grew up, and follow her rise in England’s political scene. The BBC has information on Thatcher’s life, and a series of videos featuring the prime minister discussing a variety of issues, such as the Falklands War.

There are also a number of newspaper articles that have been written recently about Thatcher’s life and time in office, including these two in the New York Times, called “Margaret Thatcher, ‘The Iron Lady’, Who Set Britain on a New Course, Dies at 87” and “Thatcher’s Policies Are Still a Tough Sell for Europe”.

Some of the things discussed in these stories include: 

  • Thatcher’s early life as the daughter of a grocer.
  • Her marriage to Denis Thatcher in 1953.
  • Her 1950 campaign for Parliament.
  • Her efforts to privatize and deregulate England’s economy.
  • Thatcher’s desire to create a nuclear arsenal to protect England from the Soviet Union.

It’s All About the Economy

Although Margaret Thatcher was involved in many important world events while she was in office, one of the main things she is known for is her influence on the course of England’s economy. As part of a discussion of Thatcher’s accomplishments, direct your pupils to discuss different economic systems, such as capitalism, socialism, and communism. In particular, have them research England’s economic policies before and after Thatcher’s time as prime minister.

This exploration could also be tied to a discussion of the economic problems facing countries in the European Union. Thatcher was opposed to England’s inclusion in the EU based on her opinion that a single currency, the Euro, would lead to economic difficulties. To help your class get a better understanding of this issue, have them read a blog post like this one from the Telegraph, entitled “Margaret Thatcher Knew the Single Currency would Devastate Europe.” Then, have learners look for information on the countries in the European Union, such as Greece, that are having serious economic problems. Here is a recent article about the single-currency issue on the Reuters website: “EU Raises Flag Over France, Italian, and Spanish Economies.”

A Study of Margaret Thatcher Can Be Fruitful - More Lessons:

Because of Thatcher’s involvement in so many important issues, a study of her life and accomplishments can lead to discussions and scholarly investigations into economic policies, the Cold War, and the European Union.

Follow the Leaders

Use this resource to provide a way to discuss Margaret Thatcher in a wider context of world leaders. Learners discuss what leadership means, and talk about Thatcher’s contributions as prime minister. They also study the biographies of other world leaders and produce a leaders hall of fame.

Women Monarchs and Heads of State

Here is a creative way to delve into an exploration of female heads of state. Pupils hold a panel discussion with legendary leaders, both alive and dead, such as Margaret Thatcher. This is a great way to discuss a variety of issues, including women in leadership.

Leading Ladies

Delve into the legacy of female political leaders, such as Sirimavo Bandaranaike, former Sri Lankan Premier. Your class can have some interesting discussion regarding the challenges faced by these leaders. They can also make a list of these leaders' accomplishments.

Ladies First

Have your class learn about some of the female political leaders in our country. Here, pupils learn about Elizabeth Dole and Hillary Clinton. The lesson could easily be used as a way to incorporate a study of female leaders from countries throughout the world.