Waldorf Astor (1879-1952) had already distinguished himself as an scholar before he began his advanced studies at New College at the turn of the twentieth century. He had spent the previous years at Eton College where he won the Prince Consort's first French prize in 1897. In addition, he was one of the editors of the Eton College Chronicle and captain of the boats. His success continued at New College where Astor once again assumed leadership roles in school activities such as the university's polo, steeple chasing, and sabres clubs. Astor left Oxford in 1902, after taking only a fourth-class degree in modern history. Also around this time, to his great sadness, he was diagnosed with a week heart and forbidden from ever participating as an equestrian again.
In 1905 he met American divorcee Mrs. Nancy Langhorne (Witcher) Shaw; the two were married in 1906. The senior Astor gave as his wedding present his Thames-side country house, Cliveden, Taplow. The young Astors also purchased a London house at 4 St James's Square and, eventually, another on the hoe in Plymouth. With their marriage, the two established a partnership in all things which lasted until the end of their political careers. Both happy with the idea of a large family, they were to have four sons and a daughter. Nancy strengthened Astor's commitment to social reform and encouraged his inherent puritanism (they were teetotallers throughout their marriage) and, among other things, brought him in 1924 to Christian Science, to which she had become an enthusiastic convert ten years earlier.
In 1911, Astor won a seat in the British Parliament as a Unionist member for Plymouth. During the following years he was successively appointed parliamentary private secretary to Lloyd George, parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Food, and to the Ministry of Health. The death of his father, William Waldorf Astor, in 1919 left him with the title of Viscount and forced him to resign from the House of Commons, after which his wife stood in his stead for the Sutton division of Plymouth. She was subsequently elected and became the first woman to take her seat in the British Parliament, thus making her one of the most recognized public figures in Britain. Her remarkable career often overshadowed that of Astor, but he continued to be active in politics and was a British delegate to the League of Nations Assembly in 1931. He also remained the proprietor of the Observer, a newspaper his father had purchased from Lord Northcliffe, until the time of his death. As a result, his estate, Cliveden, served as a weekend hub for politicians and journalists alike.
Although he no longer represented Plymouth in the House of Commons, Astor remained attentive to its needs throughout the course of his life. He built a housing estate and founding Virginia House as a social center for women and girls. When Plymouth was severely damaged by bombing in World War II, Astor played a lead part in its reconstruction. He was rewarded for his efforts when he was made an honorary freeman of the city and lord mayor in 1939-1944. Aside from his other activities, Astor also took the time to pursue his personal interests, namely his racing stable and agriculture, on which he co-authored several books. He was considered a great authority on agriculture and became chairman of the joint committee of agricultural, economic, and health experts appointed by the League of Nations in 1936. After leading a long and fruitful life, Astor died at Cliveden on September 30, 1952 and was succeeded by his eldest son, William Waldorf.
Source: Dictionary of National Biography, 1951-1960 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), and R. J. Q. Adams, ‘Astor, Waldorf, second Viscount Astor (1879–1952)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/30490, accessed 11 Dec 2014]