Emily Wilding Davison
Women’s Suffrage in Britain
Witty Hoots is honoured to be writing the final post for the Women in World History Series. This is a post about a woman who was pivotal in changing the world as we know it today. A woman who believed in a cause, who suffered for it and who eventually died because of it. She is buried in a small graveyard in Morpeth, Northumberland in England. This is her story….
Emily Wilding Davison was born on 11th October 1872 in London, although her mother and father came from Northumberland. She won a bursary in 1881 to study Literature and Modern Foreign Languages. Unfortunately she had to leave Royal Holloway College in 1882 after her father died and the family could no longer afford the college fees. Ever determined, Emily became a private governess and raised enough money for her to return to studying at St Hugh’s College in Oxford. Despite achieving first class honours in her final exams Emily was not awarded a degree because at the time women were not allowed to hold degrees at Oxford.
She became a political activist in 1906, joining the Women’s Social and Political Union which was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst a few years before. The WSPU was campaigning for Women’s votes. It was essential for women to gain a political voice in order for laws to be made that supported women’s rights. Despite the movement initially being focused on peaceful protests, Emily Wilding Davison soon found herself becoming more militant in her behaviour. She was arrested and imprisoned on nine occasions for stone throwing, arson and for attacking a man who she had mistaken for a politician.
Emily continued her protest in jail and often embarked on a hunger strike only to be force fed 49 times. In the 1911 census that required everyone to state where they had spent the night of 2nd April, Emily Davison hid in a cupboard in St Mary Undercroft. This meant that she legally could state ‘The House Of Commons’ as the crypt is in the Houses of Parliament!
Her most famous act though was stepping out in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby horse race in June 1913. It is believed that she intended to pin a ‘Votes for Women’ scarf to the horse’s bridal. Unfortunately the horse collided with her, fatally injuring her, as well as injuring the jockey too. Four days later Emily Wilding Davison passed away and was laid to rest in the family plot in Morpeth.
We will never know the full impact that her actions would have had on the political scene in Great Britain due to start of World War I on 28th July 1914. This was to change British society in all areas especially the social, economic and political standing of women.
In February 1918 British women over the age of 30 were granted the vote if they either owned property or held a University degree. In November 1918 women were allowed to be voted into Parliament. Finally in 1928 women in the UK were granted the vote at 21 finally on equal terms with men.
It was due to the political struggle of these women over a century ago that I will have the right to vote in the general election in May 2015. Since the age of 18 (the age that you can vote in the UK) I have not missed one election. If I didn’t vote then I would feel that I would have no right to criticise or support my local and national governments. I would feel that I have no political voice. I will continue to use it and encourage my children to use their vote when they turn 18 as well.
Women in World History Month
This is part of a wider celebration of women in history with bloggers from around the world. For more information or to read more about these amazing stories.