Emily Wilding Davison - 11 October 1872 – 8 June 1913

Emily Davison was a militant activist who fought for woman’s suffrage in Britain.

She is best known for stepping in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby on 4 June 1913, sustaining injuries that resulted in her death four days later.

The reason for her doing this has long remained a mystery, many claimed she was just attempting to disturb the horse race to draw attention to her cause, whilst others suggest she was commiting suicide.

In 2013 an analysis of a newsreel supported the idea that Davison was reaching up to attach a scarf to the bridle of the King’s horse. Analysis of newsreel also indicated that her position before she stepped out onto the track would have given her a clear view of the oncoming race, further countering the belief that she ran out in a haphazard way to kill herself.

A return train ticket, found upon her person indicated that she intended to travel back, although it later became clear it was the only type of rail ticket that was available for purchase, it is noted that Davison carefully kept the return half in her purse.

[Items on display at an Emily Davison exhibition at the Women’s Library in London]

if you live in the united kingdom:

  • people have died so you could have the right to vote. people have sacrificed everything they have so you could have the right to vote. people have died to preserve a country in which free elections could continue. people have died willingly for this. 
  • emily wilding davison jumped in front of the king’s horse so you could have the right to vote. suffragettes chained themselves to buildings, went on hunger strike, committed arson, threw stones at government ministers and bombed their houses, and were violently and horrifically punished by the government, so you could have the right to vote. 
  • chartists were hung, were shot, were convicted of high treason, were sentenced to hard labour, and led the last armed rebellion against the state in this country, so you could have the right to vote. they died at the battle of peterloo, in the newport uprising, were killed for the cato street conspiracy, so you could have the right to vote. 
  • the british died fighting fascism in europe so your elections would be free. before even we were involved in the second world war proper, there were british volunteers in the international brigades which fought for the second spanish republic, to try and preserve a europe liberated from the threat of fascism. there are people still living today whose loved ones died for this. 

do your duty as a citizen, respect the sacrifices of those who came before you, and register to vote before the 20th april deadline

Emily Davison
  • Emily Davison
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

“As the horses rounded Tattenham Corner she ducked under the railing and ran out onto the course in front of the king’s horse, Anmer, which struck her with its chest and knocked her down. Among the articles found in her possession were two WSPU flags, a racecard, and a return train ticket to Victoria.”

Suffragette Emily Davison is primarily remembered for her last protest on 4 June 1913 at Epsom Derby. She died on 8 June 1913 at Epsom Cottage Hospital as a result of a fracture to the base of the skull. 

Learn more about this pioneer, her struggle, and her lasting legacy on the British women’s suffrage movement in the podcast above or read her entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

There are over 180 episodes of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography podcast, you can subscribe to their Life of the Day, and follow them on Twitter @ODNB.

Image credit: Portrait of Emily Davison. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

I missed the 100th anniversary of the death of Emily Davison, to my regret, but did catch up on a recent doco that analysed footage of the event that killed her and suggests what she was attempting to achieve in running out onto the track - not trying to bring down the horse or throw herself under it, nor was she mistaken in thinking the horses had passed, but rather she may have been trying to attach a banner to the horse’s tack.

One thing I didn’t know, and found very touching in this article, is that the jockey of the horse that day (who later said he was ‘haunted by that poor woman’s face’) laid a wreath at the funeral of Emmeline Pankhurst in 1928 “to do honour to the memory of Mrs Pankhurst and Miss Emily Davison”.

A far cry from those toxic people who sent her letters as Emily lay fatally injured in a coma saying that they hoped she died.

I once heard a young woman say she wanted to live in the Edwardian era because the clothes and manners were so nice. When I pointed out that in most countries of the world she wouldn’t even have the right to vote, she dismissed that objection by saying “oh, who wants to vote anyway? All politicians are alike!”

People around the world fought - and still fight - to achieve universal sufferage, and even in countries like the US where it is supposedly protected, voter suppression is still a threat.

In 1913, Emily Davison, a suffragette, runs out in front of King George V's horse, Anmer, at the Epsom Derby.

Davison was born in Blackheath, London, 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.

She was a good performer at school and had a university education, having studied first at Royal Holloway College in London. Subsequently 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, 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 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 1911, 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”. Tony Benn MP placed a plaque there to commemorate the event. The 1911 census documents that were uncovered state that Emily Wilding Davison was found ‘hiding in the crypt’ in the Houses of Parliament.

In 1913, she planted a bomb at Lloyd George’s newly built house in Surrey, damaging it severely.

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 martyrdom wasn’t her intention.

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 park near her house. However, this is only one of many theories.

Pathe News captured the incident on film, showing 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.

Quite chuffed with the Limerick I just made up about Emily Davison, the suffragette who famously threw herself under the King’s horse in 1913.

There once was a woman named Emily
Who campaigned for female equality
PM wouldn’t sway -
The King’s horse said, “Neigh”
She died but achieved immortality.

In 1913 on this day, Emily Davison the suffragette ran out in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby and died a few days after. Because of this, the Quote of the Day is from a fellow suffragette Anna Quindlen: “Look back, to slavery, to suffrage, to integration and one thing is clear. Fashions in bigotry come and go. The right thing lasts”.

Suffragette Emily Davision trampled by a horse at the Derby.

Emily Wilding Davison was an activist who fought for women’s suffrage in Britain. On 4th June 1913 she attended the Epsom Derby. As the race was underway, she ran out on to the track in front of Anmer, a horse owned by King George V. The horse collided with her and she fell to the ground, where she was trampled. 

The jockey, Herbert Jones, was thrown from the horse during the collision but his foot remained caught in the stirrup. Anmer fell and rolled but managed to get up and continued trying to run the race, dragging the unconscious Jones before his foot came loose. Bystanders ran on to the track to help but were unable to revive either Davison and Jones before they were taken away in ambulances.

Davison died four days later in Hospital due to a fractured skull and internal injuries caused by the incident. Jones suffered a mild concussion, but survived. Davison’s funeral was attended by thousands of suffragettes and tens of thousands of people lined the streets of London.

Davison’s purpose in attending the Derby is not clear. Many believe she did not intend to die for her cause. She had retained her return rail ticket and a ticket to a suffragette dance later that day. Modern historians agree that Davison was trying to disturb the Derby in order to draw attention to her cause, rather than running out to commit suicide. It is widely believed that she was attempting to attach a banner to the bridle of the King’s horse so that when the horse crossed the finishing line, it would be flying the WSPU flag.

The jockey Herbert Jones allegedly was "haunted by that poor woman’s face" for many years. It is disputed whether the incident contributed to his suicide in 1951.

Whether intentional or not Emily Davison became a martyr and her actions that day drew worldwide attention to the suffragettes' cause. Five years later, women were allowed their first votes in the UK and by 1928 women finally achieved the same voting rights as men.

Effect on Media

So back in 1913 Emily Davison was caught on camera being knocked down by the King’s horse so that it would make a big statement to get women’s some rights. As so it has helped the media side by the way that women are able to work and keep there own objects as back then no women had the rights to do much things. But now women are aloud to have a high paying job as well they are aloud to work in the media filming side, as back in the 1900’s it was a mans job to be doing the filming and editing of sound film as it was very technological, but they were aloud to edit non sound films as it was more like sewing and this was not a mans job. So this has helped women to be able to work in what ever they wish to do and that men do not over rule women no more.