On this day in 1913, Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison* died, four days after she stepped in front of King George V’s horse** at the Epsom Derby.
Davison joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906. Members believed that militant, confrontational tactics were needed to achieve their ultimate goal of women’s suffrage. She was arrested nine times, protested by means of hunger strikes and was force-fed 49 times. On her own initiative, she went from disrupting meetings to throwing stones and even arson.
Davison’s actions, including those leading to her death, were criticised by some and lauded by others. There’s no doubt, however, that this lady literally fought and died for women’s suffrage:
Although she didn’t live to see it, her actions (and those of her fellow Suffragettes) ultimately led to partial enfranchisement for women in 1918 and equal enfranchisement a decade later.
I think this would be Emily’s to-do list on Election Days had she lived to see one in which she could vote:
2. Encourage everyone I know to VOTE
3. Encourage as many people as possible whom I don’t know to VOTE”
My favourite story about Davison is that, on Sunday 2nd April 1911, the night of the 1911 census, Davison hid in a cupboard in the chapel of the Palace of Westminster. She stayed in the cupboard during the census so that she could list her place of residence as the “House of Commons”. Census documents from 1911 state that Emily Wilding Davison was found “hiding in the crypt” in the Houses of Parliament.
A lovely follow-up to this story is that, 80 years later in 1991, the late great Tony Benn placed a plaque on the side of the same cupboard to commemorate the event:
Rock the Vote, Don’t Mock the Vote, Baby
This is a long way of saying that I implore all of you entitled to vote to exercise your right to do so today. Voting is a freedom and right not enjoyed by many, many millions of people around the world. I would also encourage you to judge your local candidates (and the leaders of the parties) by their “Deeds not words”, which was the WSPU’s slogan and is engraved on Davison’s gravestone.
I might disagree strongly with your choice but I hope that you will join me in voting and celebrating our democracy if not the result (I fully expect to be in despair over the result!). However, as Churchill said:
“[m]any forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…”.
I voted earlier today wearing purple, green and white to remember the suffragettes’ fight for my right to enter the voting booth. Graham took Leo into the booth while I took Jennifer. I don’t know whether she’ll remember the occasion but we explained to Jennifer beforehand what we were doing and why it’s important.
PS All is pretty stable (but I wouldn’t go so far as to describe things as strong) at this end on the health and houses front. There are no big dramas to report (yet). I start my fifth round of chemo next Wednesday (all being well with my blood tests). Full report to follow when I have enough to report!
*Shout out to the North East: Davison’s parents were both from Northumberland (Longhorsley and Morpeth); she lived for a time in Longhorsley with her mother and family; and, she is buried in Morpeth.
**The horse was called Anmer, which might be useful to know for a pub quiz one day!