I had meant to write this yesterday as it was the anniversary, but family plans made it impossible time-wise to fit it in, so I apologise if anyone was waiting for my post !!
Emily Davison started life quite sedately as the child of a northern couple who were living in Kent. She won a place at college to study languages but could not complete the course due to her parents not being able to afford the fees. Moving into life as a governess to a well to do family and then as a teacher, she saved money to put herself through study at an Oxford university. At that time, women could not gain degrees, though she passed all of her exams with high grades.
Shortly after this, she joined the WSPU, one of the original groups set up by the now famous Emmeline Pankhurst, in order to gain women’s suffrage. This group’s motto was Deeds not Words and they were known for their activism.
A few years after joining, Emily gave up her job to devote her life to the WSPU.
Famously on the 2nd April 1911, she hid in the Houses of Parliament so that she could legally state on her census form for that year that her residence on the day of the census was there. It had to be accepted and she is shown as thus on the complete 1911 census.
She was arrested on many occasions and jailed. While in jail, she was often on hunger strike, which at the time was dealt with through force-feeding. This was a very unpleasant experience by all accounts, having a tube forced down the throat into the stomach and having food poured down the tube. I do hope no-one is eating as they read this !!
On one occasion in jail she threw herself down a flight of metal stairs after one of these force-feeding sessions and suffered a serious back injury that would plague her for the rest of her short life.
At the Derby racecourse on the 4th June 1913, she attended the main race and was seen to step onto the course ahead of the King’s horse. It has been debated whether she was attempting suicide or not. She is seen in newsreel footage to be carrying something in her hand, thought to be a WSPU banner or flag, and reaching for the KIng’s horse, possibly to hang the banner onto the horse. Instead, she is knocked to the ground by the horse and the rider is thrown.
The rider recovers quickly and is seen to stand and move again, and the horse appears uninjured. Emily, though, is unconcious on the ground. Help arrived quickly and she was taken to hospital but she never regained conciousness and died four days later.
Her body was taken back to Northumberland where she was placed in the family grave alongside her father. The gravestone bears the motto of the WSPU.
I think sometimes the women of today take their rights for granted. It is only a little over a hundred years since the women fought and died for these rights, and I feel it is a great shame that we do not remember how different things were only a century ago.
I always vote for instance, I feel it is my duty to those women. I appreciate that I have the freedom to sit here and say whatever I want to say without the risk of punishment from my husband or others for stating my views.
I am eternally grateful to those women like Emily who lived and died to give me the life I have today.