The Death of A Suffragette

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At the Epsom Derby on 4th June 1913, the strengthening suffragettist movement finally obtained a martyr; it wasn’t clear whether her death was accidental or immolatory, but the whole derby and the British establishment were shocked to their cores when Emily Davison died under a horse owned by King George V.

At the derby’s final corner, Davison entered the race track, possibly to attach a suffragette flag to the King’s horse, and stepped out in front of Anmer, the king’s horse. Instead of stopping, Anmer trampled her, knocking her unconscious. She died in a hospital few days later. The horse and jockey both were seriously injured too; Anmer made a full recovery and made a return to racing. Herbet Jones, the jockey however was so ‘haunted by that woman’s face’ that he eventually committed suicide in 1951.

Her act was captured in motion reels, and perfectly by Arthur Barrett in the first photo; he had positioned himself outside of the sharp bend at Tattenham Corner, where the horses would have to slow and an action shot would be easier to capture.

A colorful suffragette, Emily Wilding Davison graduated with a First in English from Oxford (although being a woman, she was not granted a degree). She went on hunger strike in one prison, threw herself down an iron staircase at another and during the 1911 census, hid in a cupboard in the Palace of Westminster overnight so that she could give her place of residence as the “House of Commons”.  and in 1913, she planted a bomb at David Lloyd George’s newly home in Surrey.

No matter what her intentions were, her death marked the end of the radical phase in woman liberation movement. Her funeral was the last occasion for the suffragettes to display the pomp and splendour that they had so memorably demonstrated in earlier rallies. War would soon overshadow their domestic discontent, and for all their anti-establishment fervor, suffragettes channelled their energies into war effort. Leading suffragettes toured the country, this time to give patriotic speeches for the Great War, which was to be a great catalyst for their movement by sending women into factories, mines and government jobs; throughout the war, they practically demonstrated abilities and competencies that were denied to them in theory. The universal suffrage would be just around the corner.

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See a reel of the event here.