Emily Wilding Davison is one of the most famous of the Suffragettes. It was Emily Wilding Davison who threw herself under the king’s horse at the Derby of 1913 thus making her mark in history.
Emily Wilding Davison was born on October 11th 1872. She died on June 8th 1913. As a young lady she had defied the odds a male-dominated society imposed on women, by graduating with a BA at London University and after this she gained a first class honours degree at Oxford University.
She was appalled at the lack of real opportunities women had in late Victorian society but she was especially angered by the stigma attached to all women by being denied the right to vote. A very wealthy female land owner could not vote at the end of the nineteenth century but many of her male staff could – the most obvious example being Queen Victoria who believed that women should not involve themselves in politics. The logic of this, according to the Suffragettes, was that this denial of the right to vote made them second class citizens. This particular aspect of discrimination greatly angered Emily Wilding Davison.
Emily Davison became a natural follower of the Suffragettes. She took part in attacks on property. She became a leading member of the Suffragettes and was imprisoned and force-fed. On one occasion she barricaded herself in a prison cell to escape force-feeding. Her cell was flooded with ice cold water which drenched her while workmen broke down the cell door. Such treatment only made her even more determined.
On another occasion while in prison, she threw herself off of a prison upper gallery floor. She was badly injured but realised that a Suffragette dying in prison would look bad for the authorities – who were to respond to this real threat by the introduction of the Cat and Mouse Act.
Emily Davison joined the WSPU in 1906 and her prison record was as follows:
|March 30th 1909||One month in prison for obstruction|
|July 30th 1909||Two months in prison for obstruction|
|September 4th 1909||Two months for stone throwing at White City, Manchester|
|October 20th 1909||One month for stone throwing at Radcliffe near Manchester|
|November 19th 1910||One month for breaking windows in the House of Commons|
|January 10th 1912||Six months for setting fire to postal boxes at Holloway, London|
|November 30th 1912||Ten days for assaulting a vicar who she mistook to be David Lloyd George|
Emmeline Pankhurst believed that it was her experiences in prison that brought Emily Davison to the conclusion that only the ultimate sacrifice would bring any success to the Suffragettes. Emmeline wrote in “My Own Story” that Emily decided that only the loss of life
“would put an end to the intolerable torture of women.”
Emily Davison died from the injuries she sustained at the 1913 Derby.
Ironically, her self-sacrifice may well have made the position of women worse in Britain. Though there had been some movement in the Houses of Parliament with regards to women’s rights, some historians argue that Emily’s act at the Derby so horrified those in charge that they were even more against the right to vote for women. They argued that Emily was a highly educated person. If a highly educated woman was willing to do what she did, what could society expect of less educated women? An extension of the vote to women would plunge British society into bedlam – so they argued.
What is true is that the monarchy was revered in Britain and any attack on the monarchy was more than just frowned on. However, at the time of her death, even some Suffragettes were concerned at the extreme ideas and plans of Emily Davison. Some felt that she was becoming too extreme in her actions and bringing the movement into disrepute.
Emily was buried in Morpeth Church in Northumberland. Her headstone has inscribed on it:
“Deeds not Words”