Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison’s last great campaign

Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison’s last great campaign


Emily Wilding Davison was a suffragette who died almost a hundred years ago when she fell under King George V’s horse at the Derby. 8 June will mark the anniversary of her death. A programme of events during this Centennial year of her death has been developed by the Emily Wilding Davison working group, based in Northumberland.

Historians have debated Davison’s motivation for running out in front of a high profile horse race. My view is that she was a brilliant and brave public relations strategist and campaigner.

Davison paid her own way through education obtaining first class degrees at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, and London University, although women were not admitted to degrees at Oxford at the time.

In 1906 she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) founded by Emily Pankhurst three years earlier to campaign through direct action for women’s suffrage.

Davison was an incredible woman who campaigned throughout her life for voting equality using direct action as her means of engagement. She was arrested and imprisoned for various offences nine times.

On the night of the 1911 census Davison hid in a cupboard overnight in the Palace of Westminster so that she could claim her residence to be he House of Commons. A plaque to commemorate the event was unveiled by Tony Benn MP in 1999.

The 1913 Derby was televised by Pathé  News. You can watch the footage on YouTube. My view is that Davison calculated the opportunity to reach a mass audience for the suffrage cause via news reels shown up and down the UK.

I believe that she carefully calculated the location of her action to ensure she secured the attention of the camera. Watch the newsreel and judge for yourself (5min 50s).

It was almost certainly a fluke that she collided with King George V’s horse mid-race as opposed to any of the other horses, but the story of her campaign would have been reported regardless.

A memorial service for Emily took place in St George’s Church, Bloomsbury on 14 June 1912. 6,000 women marched through London following her cortege.

The following day her coffin was taken by train to St Mary’s Church, Morpeth. I visited the plot last week.

As you walk the short distance from the railway station at Morpeth to the rear of the churchyard where Davison is buried you cannot fail to be moved by her story.

The inscription on Davison’s gravestone reads ‘deeds not words’. Women received the vote on equal terms to men in 1928.

This post first appeared on my PRWeek blog - Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison’s last great campaign.

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