Margaret Thatcher, the iconic, polarizing former British prime minister, has died at age 87. She was loved and hated, but no one denies she was a towering, historic political figure.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. She Died in Her Sleep of a Stroke
Thatcher’s health had been deteriorating for several years, and she suffered several strokes since 2002. She made a rare public appearance in 2004 at the funeral of Ronald Reagan.
2. Nicknamed the Iron Lady, She Was Britain’s Only Female Prime Minister
Thatcher earned the “Iron Lady” nickname from the Russians for her unwavering stance as she railed against the dangers of communism. The nickname was often played upon satirically by comedians who referred to her as “Iron Knickers.”
3. She Served as Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990
Thatcher maintained power longer than any British prime minister in the 20th Century. When Thatcher arrived at Downing Street in May 1979 to assume her role as Prime Minister she quoted this prayer by St. Francis of Assisi:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
4. The Falklands War Helped to Define Her Career
In 1982, the Argentine military invaded the Falkland Islands, just off the coast of Argentina. The islands were under the command of Britain, something that was ignored by the Argentine junta. Thatcher declared war on Argentina and a full military operation was undertaken. It resulted in the the deaths of around 235 British soldiers, but the Argentine resistance was brushed aside with ease.
5. Her Conservative Policies Have Their Own Name — “Thatcherism”
Thatcher was a hardcore conservative. Much like Reagan’s Reaganomics, Thatcher’s economic policies live on with their own name, “Thatcherism” — with libertarian ideals of free markets, tax cuts and tight controls on spending. She railed against unions and big government and reversed decades of socialism.
6. She Oversaw the End of the Cold War
Thatcher was Britain’s last Cold War PM, helping to end the stalemate alongside her partner Ronald Reagan.
7. The 1980s Miners’ Strike Nearly Ended her Reign
During the early 1980s, Thatcher began a policy of shutting down many mines and factories in the north of England that were deemed uneconomical. This led to mass-strikes, particularly in the Yorkshire area around the coal mines. Between 1984 and 1985 a bloody strike ensued. The miners, led by Arthur Skargill, went on strike and prevented “scabs” from operating the mines. In 1974, a similar miners’ strike brought down the government, but Thatcher and her government stayed strong and eventually the miners relented in their industrial action.
8. She Grew Up Humbly
Thatcher grew up in the town of Grantham, Lincolnshire, where her father owned two grocery stores in the town. The family were raised as strict Methodists. Her father, Alfred, was involved in local politics, serving two terms as mayor of the town. Oddly, he was a liberal and ran on an independent ticket for mayor.
9. She Was Played by Meryl Streep
In 2008 Meryl Streep played Thatcher in The Iron Lady and won her third Academy Award for the performance.
10. She Declared “No Surrender” to the IRA
Thatcher was hated by the IRA and survived a bloody assassination attempt in 1984. Three years earlier, she had dug in her heels during the Hunger Strikes that killed Bobby Sands and nine other prisoners in Northern Ireland. Danny Morrison of Sinn Fein called her “the biggest bastard we have ever known.”