Emily Davison was an incredibly brave woman who died trying to gain women the right to vote. And exactly 104 years to the day, on the 8th June 1913, she was crushed by the King’s horse while campaigning for women’s equality, becoming the first woman to die for the cause.
Emily Davison: A Lifetime Fighting for Women’s Emancipation
Emily Davison was born in South-East London and had several siblings. She was bright, intelligent and eventually won a place to study at Oxford. She passed all of her exams at St Hugh’s College with flying colours and obtained first-class honours in her studies. However, as women were not allowed to actually graduate, she was never awarded her degree.
It was shortly after her time studying at the prestigious university that she joined the Women’s Suffrage Movement. The WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) was founded in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst. The organization fought for the emancipation of women and Emily Davison joined in 1906.
By 1908, Davison had left her teaching post in order to dedicate herself fully to the movement. She believed that women in the UK should have just as many rights to vote as men. Although the WSPU was a generally peaceful campaign, Davison gained a reputation for being a violent campaigner. She committed arson, threw rocks on a few occasions and was arrested countless times.
Police report: Emily Wilding Davison breaking a window in the Crown Office, 1910
Emily Wilding Davison is force fed on a number of occasions, reportedly 49, while on hunger strike in prison.
Whilst in jail, she was force fed and tried to divert the attention of her prison officers, in an attempt to alleviate the suffering of her fellow jailed suffragettes. In 1911, she hid in a cupboard in a chapel at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster so she could list her address as ‘parliament’ on the census.
On the 4th June, 1913, Emily Wilding Davison attended the Epsom Derby. It was a famous event, where countless horses took part in racing and many famous people attended. Even the King had a horse competing in the event.
During the race, she threw herself onto the track in the way of the King’s Horse. She thought that it would give the cause more publicity and it’s thought that she intended to tie a suffragette flag to the horse. However, she was badly injured and trampled by the King’s horse.
Emily Davison sadly died of her wounds a few days later, on the 8th of June. She was just forty years of age. Sadly, she never saw the emancipation of women. Women gained the right to vote through laws passed in 1918, and then another in 1928. Her funeral was held on the 18th June 1913, with tens of thousands lining the streets of London to pay their respects.
Emily Wilding Davison Memorial leaflet, 1913, Courtesy Parliament.uk Archives
General Election, 2017
I’ve just returned from the polling station. I walked down to my local polling booth, put a little ‘X’ in the box for my preferred candidate and left. I’ve voted and exercised my democratic right as a UK citizen. But as little as a hundred years ago, women in the UK weren’t allowed to vote… Something that most of us consider a fundamental human right.
Emily Davison died so that myself and other women all around Great Britain would be able to exercise our democratic right. I feel so fortunate to live in a country where I can make my voice heard, and it’s all thanks to incredible women like Emily Davison.
WSPU leaders Annie Kenney (left) and Christabel Pankhurst