Trade unionist and MP, born on 17 March 1873 at Furnham, near Chard, Somerset, the tenth of eleven children of William Bondfield, foreman laceworker of yeoman stock, who was left in straightened circumstances when his firm folded. Her mother was the daughter of a WM minister, the Rev. George Taylor.
After limited schooling she taught for a year in a boys’ school, then at 14 was apprenticed in a Brighton shop for five years. Moving to London, the work conditions for shop assistants made her a keen member of the newly formed National Union of Shop Assistants. Two years’ involvement in a survey for the Women’s Industrial Council cost her her own job. She became acquainted with such leading figures as G.B. Shaw and the Webbs and shared platforms with Keir Hardie, George Lansbury and Ramsey Macdonald. In 1899, as assistant secretary of her Union, she was the sole woman delegate to the TUC. She was involved in the long struggle for a Shop Hours Act. As a close friend of Mary Macarthur, she helped to found the National Federation of Women Workers in 1906, becoming its secretary in 1915 and on its amalgamation in 1921 with the National Union of General and Municipal Workers its chief woman officer.
In 1918 she was elected to the Parliamentary Committee of the TUC and became its first woman chairman in 1923. In that year she was elected MP for Northampton, after twice being unsuccessful, She became Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour in 1924. Re-elected for Wallsend in 1926, she became the first woman to enter the Cabinet and piloted an unemployment insurance bill through Parliament. She lost her seat in the general elections of 1931 and 1935 and in 1938 retired from her trade union work. From 1939 on she was Vice-President of the National Council of Social Service and Chairman of the Women’s Group on Public Welfare.
Despite failing health her interest in public affairs continued, sustained by her strong faith. She received an Honorary LLD fron Bristol University in 1929 and the Freedom of Chard in 1930, and was appointed Companion of Honour in 1948. She died at Sanderstead, Surrey, on 16 June 1953.