Dying for the Cause: Emily Davidson
Militant suffragette Emily Wilding Davison fought to gain equal voting rights for British women before dying at the Epsom Derby in 1913. Born in London, England, on October 11, 1872, Emily Wilding Davison joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1906, then quit her teaching job to work full-time for equal voting rights. A militant member of the British suffragette movement, Davison was jailed several times for protest-related offenses and attempted to starve herself while serving time in Manchester’s Strangeways Prison. In 1912, Davison spent six months at Holloway Prison. Suffragists were treated brutally in prison, and those who went on hunger strikes became subject to being force-fed. Davison thought she could end the abuse of her fellow suffragists by jumping off a prison balcony. She later explained her idea, stating, “The idea in my mind was that one big tragedy may save many others,” according to Social Research. This action showed just how far Davison would go for her peers and her cause. It is unclear what exactly Davison had in mind on June 4, 1913. She attended the Epsom Derby with the intent of advancing the cause of women’s suffrage, bringing with her two suffragette flags. After the race began, Davison ducked under the railing and strode onto the track. She put her hands up in front of her as Anmer, a horse belonging to King George V, made its way toward her. King George V and Queen Mary were watching this spectacle unfold from their royal box. The horse crashed into Davison and struck her in the head. The jockey riding Anmer was also injured, but the horse was unhurt. Davison was taken from the track and brought to a nearby hospital. Never regaining consciousness, she died four days later on June 8, 1913. Press reports criticized her actions as the act of a madwoman, but suffragist newspapers hailed Davison as a martyr for the cause. Whether she intended to commit suicide at the derby has been debated for years. Some think it was accidental as Davison had bought a round-trip train ticket to go home after the event. In any case, supporters of the Votes for Women campaign turned out by the thousands for Davison’s funeral procession. Her body was laid to rest in Morpeth, Northumberland. Her gravestone reads “Deeds not Words,” a popular suffragist motto. Roughly 15 years after her death, Davison’s dream was finally realized. Britain gave women the right to vote in 1928.