Sunday, 11 October 2015

On This Day - Emily Davison's Birthday

On this day in 1872, Emily Wilding Davison was born. She was born in Blackheath in Kent, although her parents were natives of Northumberland. 

Emily was an activist, fighting for women's suffrage, along with other famous names such as Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia

Emily Wilding Davison
1872 - 1913
Emily joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906, an organisation founded by Emmeline Pankhurst. Not long after, Emily made a choice to dedicate herself entirely to the suffragette movement. 

Emily was frequently arrested for her actions, which included public disturbances and the more serious, burning of post boxes. She spent some time in Strangeways Prison, where she refused to eat, becoming a well-known hunger striker. Emily was force-fed, which naturally she resisted. On one occasion, Emily barricaded herself into her prison cell. An angered prison guard forced a hose into the room, and then proceeded to fill it almost entirely with water. Eventually the door was broken down.

On the night of the 1911 census, Emily hid in the crypts of the House of Commons. By doing this, Emily could say that her residence at the time was Parliament itself, the centre of power in the UK. People thought she wished to evade the census, but Emily had something else to say for her actions:

"It is assumed by the authorities that I went into the crypt of the House of Commons to avoid the census, because I refused to give any particulars when I was discovered. That such was not my real object is proved by the fact that I had a separate census schedule sent to me, and returned it with the words written on it: "As I am a woman, and women do not count in the State, I refuse to be connected. Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God," and signed my name to this. Of course I was counted by head for this, and I expect in the House of Commons too. Will you allow me to point out that our object in resisting and evading the census was not one of animosity or spite, but simply to show in a practical way that people cannot be governed without their own consent...
Yours, etc.,

Two years later on 4 June 1913, Emily attended the Epsom Derby. As the race was underway, Emily ran onto the track and attempted to grab the bridle of Anmer, a horse owned by King George V. Anmer hit Emily at full speed. She fell to the ground and was trampled by the horse's hooves. Although medics attempted to revive her, Emily later died on 8 June. 

It is thought that Emily's purpose was to attach a WSPU flag to the King's horse. The fact that she had bought a return rail ticket, and was planning on attending a suffragette dance implied that suicide was never Emily's intention. However, now the suffragette cause had its martyr. 

A memorial service was held in London on 14 June, but she was to be buried at Morpeth, Northumberland. Her remains left King's Cross soon after, reaching Newcastle Central Station where they stayed for the remainder of the night. The brake van carrying her body was draped in crepe and the colours of the W.S.P.U. Six of Emily's friends were an all-night vigil for the entire journey, until the brake van reached Morpeth at noon on 15 June. They were attired in white, and wore black shoulder sashes and armlets as a sign of mourning. 

The railway station at Morpeth was crowded and people from all over lined the entire route to St Mary's Church. Hats were reverently raised as the coffin passed, and suffragists formed a guard of honour up to the church. 

After a simple service, Emily was laid to rest amongst the beauty of Morpeth churchyard. As the coffin was lowered, a banner was placed on it from her mother - "Welcome, Northumbrian hunger striker."

The Davison family grave.

"A Veritable Princess of Spirituality"

"Valiant in Courage and Faith"

"Greater Love Hath No Man Than This,
That a Man Lay Down His Life
For His Friends"

My Great Grandmother and her family were living in Morpeth at this time. I like to think that they were amongst that crowd, watching a great Northumbrian heroine pass by.

A new film, Suffragette, showing Emily's activism and sacrifice is being released tomorrow. 

Deeds not Words.


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