Emily Wilding Davison

Emily Wilding Davison

Emily Wilding Davison is best remembered for her dedication to the suffragette movement. Her commitment to campaigning for women’s right to vote led to her death in 1913, when she threw herself in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby.

Born on 11 October 1872, Emily Wilding Davison grew up in London, where she attended Kensington High School. She won a bursary to study at Royal Holloway College but was forced to drop out in 1892 following the death of her father. After working as a governess, Davison was able to save enough money to study Biology, Chemistry, English Language and Literature at St Hugh’s College, Oxford.

Davison was of very few women to study at university. However, even though she gained first-class honours in her exams, she was not able to graduate - it was not until 1920 that Oxford allowed women to graduate and receive a degree.

Davison was angry that women were not afforded the right to vote. She, along with other Suffragettes, argued that being stripped of the right to vote made women second class citizens.

In 1906, Davison joined the Women’s Social and Political Union. Along with the organisation’s other members, Davison took a militant approach. She joined attacks on property and was force-fed in prison. On one occasion her prison cell was flooded with ice cold water when workmen broke down the cell door to force-feed Davison. However, this treatment served to make her even more determined.

She once threw herself off a gallery floor in the prison in the hope that her injuries would raise awareness of her cause. The government responded to this threat with the Cat and Mouse Act.

Emily Davison gained a long prison record for her militancy. Her first period in prison was on 30 March 1909, when she was admitted for obstruction. A few months later, on 30 July 1909, she was arrested again for the same offence. Other offences included stone throwing in Manchester, breaking windows in the House of Commons and a six month term for setting fire to postal boxes at Holloway.

On 4 June 1913, Davison stepped out in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby. The purpose of her actions remain unclear - some argue that she intentionally killed herself to draw attention to her cause, while others argue that she intended to tie a WSPU scarf around the horse’s reins.

Davison died in hospital on 8 June 1918 from the injuries she sustained in the accident.

She was buried in Morpeth Church in Northumberland. Her headstone was inscribed with the motto of the WSPU: “Deeds not words”.

See also: Suffragettes 

MLA Citation/Reference

"Emily Wilding Davison". HistoryLearning.com. 2024. Web.

Key facts

Name: Emily Wilding Davison
Birth Date: 11 October 1872, London
Death: 8 June 1912, Epsom, Surrey
Occupation: Teacher and Suffragette
Remembered for: Political activism and death at the Epsom Derby