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Emily Davison

Emily Wilding Davison (11 October 1872 – 8 June 1913) was an activist for women's suffrage in the United Kingdom. She died four days after she was struck by King George V's horse Anmer at the Epsom Derby on the 4 June 1913.

Suffragette, Emily Wilding Davison memorial issue of the newspaper edited by Christabel Pankhurst

Davison was born in Blackheath, London. She was the daughter of Charles Davison (of Morpeth, Northumberland) and Margaret Davison (of Longhorsley, Northumberland), with two sisters and a brother, and many half-siblings (from her father's first marriage) including a half-brother, retired naval captain Henry Jocelyn Davison, who gave evidence at her inquest.[1] She was a good performer at school and had a university education, having studied first at Royal Holloway College in London. Unfortunately, she was forced to drop out because her recently-widowed mother could not afford the fees of £20 a term. She then became a school teacher in Edgbaston and Worthing,[2] raising enough money to study English Language and Literature at St Hugh's College, Oxford, and obtained first-class honours in her final exams, though women were not at that time admitted to degrees at Oxford. She then obtained a post teaching the children of a family in Berkshire and then joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906, and immediately involved herself in their more militant activities. She was arrested and imprisoned for various offences, including a violent attack on a man she mistook for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George. She went on hunger strike in Strangeways Prison and was force-fed. In Holloway prison, she threw herself down an iron staircase as a protest. She landed on wire netting 30 feet (10 m) below, which saved her; however, she suffered some severe spinal damage.

On 2 April, the night of the 1911 census, Davison hid in a cupboard in the Palace of Westminster overnight so that on the census form she could legitimately give her place of residence that night as the "House of Commons".[3] Tony Benn MP once unofficially placed a plaque there to commemorate the event.[4] In 1913, she planted a bomb at David Lloyd George's newly built house in Surrey, damaging it severely.[5]


Death at the Epsom Derby, 1913

Davison falling to the ground unconscious after being struck by Anmer.

Davison's purpose in attending the Derby of 4 June 1913 is unclear. Much has been made of the fact that she purchased a return rail ticket and also a ticket to a Suffragette dance later that day, suggesting that suicide was not, on this occasion, her initial intention.[6]

A possibility of her reason for entering the race track was that she was trying to attach a flag to the King's horse, so when the horse crossed the finishing line it would quite literally be flying the suffragette flag. Evidence for this was that she had supposedly been seen in the weeks before stopping horses in the lane outside her house. However, this is only one of many theories.

Film of the incident shows her stepping out in front of the horse, Anmer, as it rounded Tattenham Corner, with Davison carrying the banner of the WSPU. But instead of stopping, Anmer knocked her to the ground unconscious. Eyewitnesses at the time were divided as to her motivation, with many believing that she had simply intended to cross the track, believing that all horses had passed; while others reported that she had attempted to pull down the King's horse. She died four days later in Epsom Cottage Hospital, due to a fractured skull and internal injuries caused by the incident. Herbert Jones, the jockey who was riding the horse, suffered a mild concussion in the incident, but was 'haunted by that woman's face' much longer. Eleven years later, at Emmeline Pankhurst's funeral Jones laid a wreath 'to do honour to the memory of Mrs Pankhurst and Miss Emily Davison', and in 1951, he was found dead by his son in a gas filled kitchen. [7] Anmer made a full recovery and made a return to racing.[8]


Emily Davison's Funeral

Davison is buried in the church yard of St Mary the Virgin, Morpeth in a family plot, her father having predeceased her in 1893. Morpeth is not far from the village of Longhorsley, Northumberland where she lived with her mother. The funeral attracted a large crowd. Her gravestone bears the WSPU slogan, "Deeds not words". A funeral was held in London on 14 June 1913 and her coffin was brought by train to Morpeth for burial on 15 June 1913.

She is the subject of a song by American rock singer Greg Kihn, whose elegy "Emily Davison" is included on his first album, 1976's Greg Kihn.


  1. ^ The Times, Wednesday, Jun 11, 1913; pg. 15; Issue 40235; col F
  2. ^
  3. ^ Women in Parliament
  4. ^ "Benn's secret tribute to suffragette martyr". BBC News. 1999-03-17. Retrieved 2008-08-07. 
  5. ^ British depth study 1906-1918 by Colin Shephard and Rosemary Rees
  6. ^ Diane Atkinson Deeds not words New Statesman 6 June 2005
  7. ^ Diane Atkinson Deeds not words New Statesman 6 June 2005
  8. ^ profile of Anmer, National Horseracing Museum

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