In 2012, I first presented my ideas in Northumberland County Council committee room for a creative writing project to commemorate 100 years since the death of Emily Wilding Davison in June 2013; this was to complement the tour of actor / writer Kate Willoughby’s brilliant play To Freedom’s Cause. Little did I know that day the influence that Emily would have on my life, long after my involvement with the Emily Inspires! project was over.
At that point, I barely knew anything about Emily, had a hazy recollection of her connection to the Pankhursts who were suffragettes, and wasn’t there something about a horse? Since then I’ve come to realise that it is nothing short of a national disgrace that so little is known about this woman & what she did.
Let me fill you in with a few details:
Emily Wilding Davison was born in Greenwich in 1872, shortly after her parents moved there from their native Morpeth, Northumberland. She studied English Literature at Royal Holloway College but was forced to abandon her studies when her father died & her impoverished Mother returned to her native Longhorsely in Northumberland.
Working as a governess allowed Emily to save enough to study at Oxford but she was not allowed to graduate because she was a woman. Emily became a teacher and having joined the Women’s Social & Political Union in 1906 she left teaching in 1908 to devote herself to the Suffrage movement & ‘Votes for Women’.
After a series of misdemeanours which today might be termed ‘antisocial behaviour’ Emily was jailed many times, and went on hunger-strike which resulted in her being force-fed 49 times. This had an incredible impact on her health she often returned to her mother’s home in Longhorsley to recuperate. It was from there that she set off to the fateful Epsom Derby of 4th June 2013, where studies of the archive footage using today’s technology tells us that she was trying to pin the Suffragette colours of purple, white and green upon the bridle of the King’s horse, Amner, dispelling the myth that she had thrown herself under the creature.
Heroine or terrorist?
Emily Wilding Davison challenges us on many levels. Was she a heroine or a terrorist? Her outrageous antics for the cause certainly tells us that she was no saint. Even her death did not directly bring about ‘Votes for Women’ as that didn’t happen for women over 21 years until 1928.
However, I am a champion for Emily and all that she stood for 100 years ago: a woman with courage and determination to rock the status quo. Her vision to give a voice to the unheard is still as relevant today as it has ever been.
The delivery of the Emily Inspires! project brought its own challenges, and throughout Emily was a beacon that lit my path and that continues to guide me. I continue to be inspired by Kate Willoughby who, against all odds, took her play To Freedom’s Cause to the Houses of Parliament where it was performed as part of the Emily Davison Statue in Parliament Campaign and organised a debate to follow. I felt tremendously privileged to be part of that.
Being part of Emily Wilding Davison means that I will never look at life in quite the same way.