Emily Davison was a woman with incredible courage, who repeatedly risked her own safety, in her pursuit for gender equality. She campaigned tirelessly for the right for women’s votes. She was a leading militant in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), founded in 1903. In her death, she has become a legend of the suffragette movement. Who were the suffragettes?
“Suffragettes were women who were members of women’s suffrage (right to vote) movements in the late 19th and 20th century,The term “suffragette” is particularly associated with the actions of the women’s suffrage movement Britain in the early 20th century, which included chaining themselves to railings and setting fire to mailbox contents.Many suffragettes were imprisoned in prison in London, and were force-fed after going on hunger strike.”
Suffragettes demonstrating in London.
Photo Credit: Daily Mail
Today is the 100th anniversary of when Davison, infamously, ran on to the racecourse at Epsom Downs, on the 4th June 1913, under the watchful eyes of King George V and Queen Mary, who were watching from the Royal Box.
She ran out at the ‘Tattenham corner’ part of the course, and was knocked to the ground by King George V’s colt, Anmer. Sadly, Davison died four days later, after sustaining fatal injuries from the collision with the horse. Some opponents have tried to diminish her courage, by branding her a ‘suicidal obsessive’.
Photo Credit: Daily Mail
However, as we now live in a digital age, we can fully scrutinize the footage of the derby, and when the footage is looked at frame-by-frame, it reveals Davison’s real motivation to go out onto that race course. The evidence proves Davison was certainly not suicidal!
Many people consider Emily Davison as the suffragette who, ‘threw herself under the King’s horse‘. We now know, she did nothing of the sort! It has been revealed that she was reaching up towards the horse’s bridle, and not hurling herself beneath its hooves.
It appears as though Davison was trying to attach the scarf, she had on her person, that bore the suffragette movement’s colours. Her aim is believed to have been, to have the King’s horse cross the finish line emblazoned with a suffragette symbol! The debate at the time was that many people said it would have been impossible for her to spot a specific horse, from her position, and then manage to get to it. Therefore, they said that she chose the horse at random, the fact that it was the King’s horse was ‘insignificant’, thus proving she was just trying to commit suicide. Analysis of newsreel has indicated that her position before she stepped out onto the track would have given her a clear view of the oncoming race, and the ability to identify the position of the King’s horse, further countering the belief that she ran out to kill herself.
Photo Credit: Hulton Archive
At the time the King made immediate enquiries after his jockey, Herbert Jones, who was twenty eight at the time. Jones hadn’t sustained any broken bones or any serious injury. While recuperating at home, Jones received a telegram sent on behalf of Queen Alexandra, the Queen Mother. It read;
‘Queen Alexandra was very sorry indeed to hear of your sad accident caused through the abominable conduct of a brutal lunatic woman. I telegraph now by Her Majesty’s command to enquire how you are getting on and to express Her Majesty’s sincere hope that you may soon be all right.’
The ‘lunatic woman’, as described by Queen Alexandra, was regarded as a hero by most, and her funeral was a testament to that. The Daily Mail described her funeral;
“Four black horses pulled the funeral carriage; six suffragettes, including Sylvia Pankhurst, marched alongside. The procession included 50 hunger strikers, some on release because of ill health, and hundreds of women ex-prisoners. At St George’s Church, Bloomsbury, an estimated 6,000 women took part in the service. More than 50,000 people turned out on the streets to watch the funeral pass by. “
‘The Suffragette Magazine’ June 1913 Emily Davison’s Funeral Procession.
There had to be an inquest into Davison’s death, at the time suicide brought shame on the living family of the deceased, and any persons who had recovered from a failed-attempt at suicide, were treated as if they had committed a criminal offence. However, a jury decided that this was not a planned death, because Davison had made arrangements for a family holiday and had a return ticket in her pocket, clear signs that she wasn’t expecting not to return home, that day. The jury decided there wasn’t enough evidence to say it was a suicide. Although the police and media chose to believe otherwise.
Val McDermid from The Guardian, has very eloquently described Davidson in her article, ‘My hero: Emily Wilding Davidson’ . I found the following passage, very inspiring;
“Emily’s life should be defined not by her death, but by her tenacity and passion. At a time when it was almost impossible for women to take a degree, she earned first class honours from London University via St Hugh’s College, Oxford. She hid overnight in parliament so she could claim it as her address on census night, an exploit now marked with a plaque. She endured force-feeding 49 times in prison and wrote fervent and sometimes apocalyptic articles.” The Guardian Friday 31st May 2013.
Horse racing presenter Clare Balding presented a television show called, Secrets of a Suffragette, on Sunday (May 26), which explored the life of Emily Davison. Balding said Davison was;
“a radicalised woman with nothing to lose, championing a cause with everything to gain”.
There is now a plaque on ‘Tattenham Corner’ to honour Emily Davison’s bravery, and lest we forget her sacrifice was not in vain, in 1928 women were eventually granted the vote on an equal basis with men.
All-in-all I hope that today we will all honour Davison, and think about the massive impact of her bravery, in the progression of our society.
Personally, I am just in complete awe of her, and I hope my article has done her justice!
Emily Davison 1872-1913
Here is a suffragette procession in 1910 with Emily Davison, left, Sylvia Pankhurst, second-left, Christabel Pankhurst, second-right, and Mrs Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, right.