The courage of Emily Davison

June 4, 2013 at 5:33 pm (civil rights, democracy, Feminism, history, Human rights, Jackie Mcdonough, protest, tragedy, truth, women)

Exactly 100 years ago, Emily Davison was trampled by King George V’s horse Anmer when she burst onto the track at the Epsom Derby. She died four days later from a fractured skull and internal injuries caused by the incident.

She was a courageous campaigner for women’s suffrage, who had already shown herself willing to put her life on the line in the course of the struggle for women’s votes. She’d been imprisoned no less than nine times, force-fed, her cell flooded by the authorities, and flung herself down a staircase in Holloway prison.

On the night of the 1911 census, Davison hid in a cupboard in the Palace of Westminster overnight so that on the census form her place of residence that night would be recorded as “The House of Commons.”  In 1999 a plaque to commemorate that event was set in place by Tony Benn.

But her very courage has allowed detractors over the years to brand her as a suicidal obsessive, not the principled and courageous campaigner that she was.

Now, a detailed analysis of the film from the three newsreel cameras that recorded the incident, has shown that Davison did not deliberately martyr herself, but was almost certainly trying to attach a ‘votes for women’ sash to the bridle of the King’s horse.

The film of that day still has the power to shock, 100 years on:

The fatal incident occurs at about 6.08, but it’s well worth watching the entire film.

PS: We should also remember the jockey, Herbert Jones. He suffered mild concussion in the incident, but was “haunted by that poor woman’s face” for the rest of his life. In 1928, at the funeral of Emmeline Pankhurst, Jones laid a wreath “to do honour to the memory of Mrs Pankhurst and Miss Emily Davison”. In 1951, Jones committed suicide in a gas-filled kitchen.


  1. SteveH said,

    [Deleted – this idiot is banned from here.]

  2. Rosie said,

    I’m interested to hear that it was a stunt protest that went wrong instead of a martyrdom action. I always feel intensely proud of the Suffragettes and their courage and audacity, and when I vote, I think of them. I have missed out voting about once, when I was on holiday, and I thought I was letting them down. They really were saints and martyrs.

  3. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    Although I do find the focus on her alone politically significant given that there were multiple suffragettes who died from injuries received from police truncheons and from hunger strikes and general maltreatment amounting to torture in prison

    Who recalls the three who died and perhaps hundreds of others who were physically and sexually assaulted by the police at the 1910 Black Friday demonstration alone

    And while many of us can remember the names of Emmeline, Christabel, Sylvia and even Adela Pankhurst (the one who founded both the Australian Communist Party and the would be Quisling Australia First Movement) who recalls that of Emmeline’s own sister (Mary Jane Clarke) who died from injuries received on Black Friday and in prison afterwards from force feeding,

    The one suffragette martyr who died with no brutal policeman or prison warder obeying a tophatted government minister (and remember both Lloyd George and Churchill were in Asquith’s government) being involved is clearly the only one they’d like us to remember.

  4. Rosie said,

    Actually I was thinking of those who were force fed and had their health broken and their lives shortened as a result rather than Emily Davison. There was quite a good dramatisation years ago Shoulder to Shoulder which didn’t just focus on the Pankhursts but on the rest like Annie Kenney, the only working-class woman who had a senior position in the WSPU.

    I’ve just listened to a play on BBC4 Extra about Emily Davison by Rose Tremain:-

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