Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Emily Wilding Davison (11/10/1872 - 8/6/1913) Militant Suffragette Remembered.

Today is the anniversary of the death of the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison whose bravery helped achieve Votes for Women which  would not have been won in 1918 without the struggles and sacrifices of hundreds of brave Suffragettes.like her.  
Emily Wildling Davison was born in Blackheath in southeast London, on 11th Otober, 1872.In November 1906 the Women's Social and Political Union enrolled Emily Davison. She was thirty-four years old and employed as governess to the four children of Sir Francis Layland-Barratt, the Liberal MP for Torquay and High Sheriff for Cornwall. While her involvement with the WSPU remained low-key she continued working for the family until, eighteen months later, her urge to 'come out' as a militant would lead her to resign and join the campaign. 
Emily was soon involved in Suffragette militant demonstrations.
In the afternoon of 30 March 1909, Dora Marsden, carrying a tricolour flag, led a deputation of twenty-nine women, Emily among them, to see Herbert Asquith at the House of Commons, although he had refused to meet them. Accompanied by a brass band and singing 'The Marseillaise', the women reached St Stephen's Entrance, but Dora Marsden, less than five feet tall, became tangled up with three police horses and the staff of her umbrella was broken. One Suffragette hit a constable on the head with her umbrella, other policemen had their helmets knocked off.
Ten women were charged with obstruction and assaulting the police, and sentenced to between one and three months. For Emily Davison, this was her first time in gaol; it would not be her last.
On 2 August, Emily Davison, whose prison file describes her as 'bad', wrote to Herbert Gladstone, the Home Secretary, from Holloway describing her treatment. Emily said she was 'forced' into a cell and broke seventeen panes of glass to let in some air. She was transferred to a cell where the glass was thicker but still managed to break seven panes, also cutting her hand. They stripped her and put her into a prison chemise; when the doctor tried to 'sound' her heart she resisted and was taken to a punishment cell.
'Ours is a bloodless revolution but a determined one' she wrote to Gladstone. Emily said that she and others were 'ready to suffer, to die if need be, but we demand justice!'
 Emily Davison joined the dozens of Suffragette prisoners who were officially on hunger strike. In a manuscript prepared for the WSPU she provided a vivid account of the protest made by Suffragettes who were being kept in solitary confinement and force-fed in their cells. On 22 June 1912, near the end of a new six-month sentence in Holloway, she threw herself over the handrail and wire netting outside her second-floor cell and landed at the bottom of the steps of the floor below.
 Earlier in the day she and others had barricaded themselves into their cells, 'a regular siege took place... on all sides we heard crowbars, blocks, wedges being used, joiners battering on doors with all their might. The barricading was followed by sounds of human struggle, the chair of torture [used for force-feeding] being pushed about, suppressed cries of the victims, groans and other horrible sounds.' She decided that she had to make a 'desperate protest' to end the 'hideous torture'.
Ten days before the end of her six-month sentence, on 28 June 1912, Emily Davison was released in a run-down state, two stone lighter, with two scalp wounds. She had been force-fed forty-nine times. 
Emily continued her campaign of militancy by breaking windows, setting fire to postboxes, and attempting to assault Lloyd George. Despite her constant support for the Suffragette cause, she was never employed as a paid Organiser by the Women's Social and Political Union, and not all the articles that she submitted were published in suffrage newspapers.
At a time when it was almost impossible for women to take a degree, she  still managed to earn a First Class honours, from London University via St Hughs College, Oxford.On another occasion she hid overnight in Parliament so she could claim it as her address on census night, an exploit marked with a plaque by Tony Benn in 1999.
The Daily Sketch published Emily’s last article on 28 May 1913. The language of ‘The Price of Liberty’ is apocalyptic. ‘The perfect Amazon is she who will sacrifice all … to win the Pearl of Freedom [the vote] for her sex. Some of the bounteous pearls that women sell to obtain freedom… are the pearls of friendship, love and even life itself.’ Emily refers to the ‘terrible suffering’ she has endured, the loss of ‘old friends, recently- made friends, and they all go one by one into the Limbo of the burning fiery furnace, a grim holocaust to liberty’. She argues in favour of making ‘the ultimate sacrifice’, happy to pay the ‘highest price for liberty’. 
 Emily had agreed to be a helper at the Suffragette Fair and Festival at the Empress Rooms, Kensington, on Derby Day, but she decided to visit the fair the night before, and discussed with Kitty Marion and others ‘the possibility of making a protest on the race course, without apparently coming to any decision’. As the women strolled into the festival, they were faced by a statue of Joan of Arc, bare- headed and holding her sword pointing to heaven. On the plinth were emblazoned Joan’s reputed last words: ‘Fight On and God Will Give the Victory.’
The weather on Wednesday 4 June 1913 was forecast to be sultry with thunderstorms. That morning Emily left Alice Green’s home at 133 Clapham Road, Lambeth, and walked to Oval to catch a tram to Victoria station, where she bought a return ticket for Epsom Downs. Before she left she told Alice what she was going to do. She pinned a purple, white and green flag inside her jacket and took her latch key, a small leather purse containing three shillings and eight pence and three farthings, eight halfpenny stamps and a notebook. Another suffragette flag was tucked up her sleeve. Emily walked to the racecourse and bought a Dorling’s List of Epsom Races.
Emily made her way to Tattenham Corner, a tricky place for horse and rider in the gruelling mile and a half race. This was the biggest day out in Edwardian England. Here at three o’clock, the apex of the social pyramid met its base. The King and Queen and their entourage added glamour to an occasion that welcomed both the establishment and the working class at play.
Emily squeezed close to the rails. As the race started the sixteen horses and riders ran straight for three furlongs before the course climbed to a gradient of one in fifteen. The King's horse, Anmer, made a good start. At seven furlongs the field took the left turn downhill for five furlongs and this is where Anmer fell away to the group at the back. The leading horses pounded towards the spot where Emily was waiting. Tons of horseflesh and men flashed past, spittle, sweat, huge eyes rolling with the effort, the noise of the crowd was bewildering. Everyone was screaming the names of their horses for that brief moment, and jumping up and urging them on. The trailing bunch, including Anmer, approached. Emily fiddled with the sleeve of her jacket, bobbed under the white railings, and made history. She stepped out in front of King George V’s racehorse, Anmer, Thrown violently to the ground upon impact, she never regained consciousness and died four days later on this day, 8/6/1913.
Sacrificing herself to the suffragette slogan, “Deeds not words” in protest against Parliament’s refusal to grant voting rights to women, Davison remains a feminist icon, viewed by many as a martyr for women’s rights.
Davison is often remembered for her final protest running onto the course of the Epsom Derby in 1912 in an attempt to  pin the sufragette colors to the Kings horse.  A final act that would cost Davison her life and acqure her the status of 'Sufragette Martyr'. Let us remember her bravery, tenacity and passion, who used deeds as well as words to get her message out. She who  made the ultimate sacrifice for one of life's causes. 
On Saturday 14 June 1913, a special guard of honour of Emily’s closest friends brought her body from Epsom to Victoria railway station. Six thousand women marched from Buckingham Palace Road to Emily Davison’s funeral service at St George’s Church, Bloomsbury. Ten brass bands marched behind each section playing funereal marches.
The coffin was escorted by Elsie Howey on a white horse dressed as Joan of Arc, and two contingents of hunger strikers walked behind the hearse which was laden with wreaths. Banners in purple silk included Joan of Arc’s last words: ‘Fight On and God Will Give the Victory’. Central London stopped.
She had succeeded in bringing global attention to the sufragettes cause, triggering a fierce wave of feminist resistance and activism to the feminist cause, with her place in history guaranteed in an almost mythic way. Lest we forget her legacy to women today, a reminder of the strength of feeling, of the acts these brave Edwardian women were prepared to carry out so women could be treated as full citizens economically and politically.

The late Tony Benn illegally put up several plaques around the House of Commons to unrecognised heroes of democracy. Here' one he screwed to the door of a broom cupboard aided by Jeremy Corbyn in commemoration of Emily Wilding Davison.
Here's a link to Tony Benn's  speech in parliament in 2011 when he admitted to his illegal activities. http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/2001/mar/22/election-of-a-speaker#S6CV0365P0_20010322_HOC_234.


  1. Enjoyed reading this. Very interesting Had not read much about Emily Davison before, apart from how she died. The Sufragette I admire the most is Sylvia Pankhurst. She went to the East End and worked with women and men there for the vote and to improve the conditions of women and their families. And a lot more besides!

  2. Thank you very much for appreciation, I have written about Sylvia's sister Emmeline previously you have prompted me to consider writing a post about Sylvia in the future, thanks. eifidancer-teifidancer.blogspot.com/2020/06/emmeline-pankhurst-1571858-1461928.html