Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Emily Wilding Davison

One hundered years ago on June 4, a woman ran across the racecourse at Epsom while the horses were racing around the track, waving a banner for votes for women. She collided with the king's horse and died four days later in hospital.

She was Emily Wilding Davison, a militant suffragette who was passionate about her cause. Careful examination of the film that has captured her protest shows her reaching towards the horse's bridle and this dispels myths that she was trying to commit suicide, as does the return train ticket that was found on her. What she was trying to do was pin a suffragette banner on the king's horse.

At a time when it was very difficult for women to get a degree, she was awarded a first-class degree. On census night she hid overnight in parliament so that she could claim it as her address. She was arrested nine times: for arson, for public nuisance and for throwing stones at the prime minister's carriage. She was force-fed 49 times in prison, a process that was extremely painful and degrading. In protest she threw herself down an iron staircase. In relatiation for her refusal to co-operate, the guards put a hosepipe into her cell and slowly filled it with water until she almost drowned.

Women fought and died for the right to vote. They were imprisoned and subjected to horrendous treatment.  It is thanks to them that women have the vote today, that we have some control over our lives, that we are recognised in law. We are a long way from having achieved equality however: misogyny is rife; violence against women is endemic; we are still too scared to walk alone at night; we still don't have equal pay or equal access to jobs; we still don't have full rights over our own bodies, as exemplied by the constant attempts to curb our right to choose. There is a lot we could learn from the suffragettes.

Davison is a legend and her bravery and commitment should be an example to us all.




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