PETER FROST remembers a woman who gave her life for the cause of women’s suffrage a century ago.   

In the quiet churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin, Morpeth in Northumberland there is a white gravestone with an inspiring message.

“Deeds not words” it says. This is the final resting place of working class hero, and martyr, the suffragette Emily Wilding Davidson.

A century ago in June 1913 she leapt in front of the King’s horse running in the Derby. That protest, demanding votes for women, cost Emily her life.

The Morpeth tomb is not the only memorial to this remarkable women.

On April 2, 1911, the night of the 1911 census, Davison hid in a cupboard in the Palace of Westminster. That way she could legitimately give her place of residence on census night as the House of Commons.

1911 census documents record that Emily Wilding Davison was found hiding in the crypt in the Houses of Parliament.

In 1999 Tony Benn, against much opposition, placed a plaque to commemorate the event in a Westminster broom cupboard.

Emily Davison was born in Blackheath, London. Both parents were from Northumberland.

She attended Kensington High School and won a bursary to Royal Holloway College in 1891 to study literature. Just a year into her studies her father died and her recently widowed mother could not afford the £20 a term fees.

Emily found a job, first as a private governessthen as a teacher. She saved enough to study Biology, Chemistry, English Language and Literature at St Hugh’s College, Oxford where she obtained first-class honours degree.

She went on to obtain another first class honours degree from London University.

In 1906 she joined the <a title="Women's Social and Political Union" Formed in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst, the WSPU brought together those who felt strongly that only militant, direct action would win women the vote.

In 1908, Davison left her teaching post to dedicate herself full-time to the suffragette movement.

She became a militant and effective campaigner disrupting meetings throwing stones and even trying her hand at arson.

On nine occasions she was arrested and imprisoned for various offences. In prison she went on hunger strikeand was force-fed.

In June 1912, near the end of a six-month sentence in Holloway Prison for arson, she protested at fellow Suffragettes being force-fed by throwing herself down a thirty foot iron staircase.

As a result she suffered severe head and spinal damage, causing pain for the rest of her life.

On Derby day, June 4, 1913 she carried out her most famous and sadly fatal protest.

There is some evidence that she didn’t mean it to kill herself. She had bought a return ticket and sent postcards to friends arranging future meetings.

It may be she was trying to attach a suffragette flag to Anmer, the King’s horse, so that when the horse crossed the finishing line, it would be flying the WSPU flag. Two such flags were found on her body.

Pathé News captured the incident on film. The film, which can be seen on the internet to this day, shows Davison stepping out onto the racecourse just as the leading horses sweep by.

The film is unclear but it is possible she had taken the banner of the WSPU out from where it was concealed in her clothing.

The horse knocked her to the ground unconscious. She died in hospital four days later.

Herbert Jones, the jockey who was riding the horse, suffered a mild concussion in the incident. In 1928, at the funeral of Emmeline Pankhurst the jockey Jones laid a wreath "to do honour to the memory of Mrs Pankhurst and Miss Emily Davison".

Next time you meet someone who tells you they haven’t bothered to use their vote give them a message from me.

Tell them “People died for you to have the vote. And one of them was the very brave Emily Wilding Davidson.”

This article appeared in the Morning Star to mark the centenary of Emily’s death.


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