A Feminist a Day: Emily Wilding Davison

Who is she?

emily davison portraitEmily was a militant UK suffragette, who famously stepped in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913, and died. She was jailed nine times and force-fed 49 times while campaigning for the women’s vote.

She studied at Oxford and passed her exams, though women were not admitted to degrees at that time. Emily joined the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), founded by Emmeline Pankhurst, and was known for her disruptive protests, including stone throwing and arson.

On the night of the 1911 census, she hid in a cupboard in the Chapel of the Palace of Westminster, so that she could state that her place of residence was “the House of Commons”.

At the end of a six month sentence (along with dozens of suffragettes, who were being force-fed), she threw herself down a staircase in a bid to end the suffering of those around her.

There are many theories about what Emily was trying to do when she ran onto the racetrack, but the most common is that she was attempting to throw a “Votes for Women” sash around the horse’s neck. She died four days later from her injuries after being trampled by the horse. Her gravestone bears the WPSU motto “deeds not words”.

Emily DavisonWhy should we thank her?

Emily’s act gathered male support for the suffragette movement at the time and led to the formation of the Northern Men’s Federation for Women’s Suffrage. Emily and her counterparts’ motto of “deeds not words” was important in raising awareness of the plight for women’s suffrage – and ultimately, they won their fight.

Best quote

“The idea in my mind was that one big tragedy may save many others” (she said of her prison fall).

Fun fact

Emily will be played by Natalie Press in the movie Suffragette, which opens in Australia on Boxing Day.



A Feminist a Day: Emily Wilding Davison

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