Emily Davison Suicide Or Accident Essay

Emily Wilding Davison's Death for The Suffragette Cause

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Emily Wilding Davison's Death for The Suffragette Cause

Emily Wilding Davison is one of the most famous of the suffragettes.
It was Emily Wilding Davison who threw herself under the king's horse
at the derby of 1913 marking a mark in the annals of not only history,
but how women's plights of not being able to vote, were so
dramatically thrown into the public spot light. How ever even till
today, the reason for her to do this is still quite unknown. Many
questions still exist. Was she meant to perform an act that nowadays
only looks like suicide, or was she just a martyr for the suffragette

Emily Wilding Davison was appalled at the state if affairs concerning
women in a late Victorian society; she was especially angered by how
women were denied the right to vote. For example a very wealthy female
land owner could not vote however her male staff could. Emily Davison
became a follower of the suffragettes, and believed there policy of
women were being treated as second class citizens. That statement
angered Emily Wilding Davison, but was it enough to make her take her
own life at the derby in 1913?

The derby was held on the June 4th 1913, Emily Wilding Davison
achieved her place in history as she lost her life in a race at the
derby. The horses came out of Tattenham corner, the kings horse
(Anmer) was third from last, Emily Wilding Davison got underneath the
barrier and was hit by Anmer. Why would an intelligent woman perform a
tragic act of this nature? Or was she a martyr for the suffragette

Source 1 is a still from one of the set cameras on the route of the
derby; the still shows Miss Emily Wilding Davison under the king's
horse Anmer. This source is a piece of primary evidence, some of the
footage can be found in a variety of mediums today, which include
video and the internet to name a few. Filming the event was a new
concept to the 1913 derby, with it being state of the art technology.

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This source is good to an historian as it does not show biast view,
however it may of slightly changed with today's technology with the
use of changing the events. In the derby the cameras were in fixed
positions around the course. For the suffragettes to get the most
attention it would seem quite possible that the incident happened in
front of these cameras to get the biggest audience of not only the
people of Epson derby but also of people who would watch it again at a
later date. In a source I discovered myself, (appendix A) Mary
Richardson, describes how she believed Emily Wilding Davison was
planning to erect a banner with "votes for women" believing that this
would cause the race to be stopped, however she "suddenly slipped
under the rail and ran out" This would be support the view that Emily
Wilding Davison committed an act that would give the movement maximum
publicity, taking her own life to promote the cause "Votes For Women".

Source 2 is a piece of secondary evidence however this was written a
few years later, and could have had the benefit of hind sight, making
it probably biast. The source was written by D.C. Brooks in 1970. This
source portrays Emily Wilding Davidson act as "foolish and
unnecessary" it might be some use to historians as it gives a view of
how Emily Wilding Davison act was perceived by the public, how ever
this source was written some 57 years after the event, it may contain
the benefit of hind sight, as it goes on to say that "it had little
effect on the votes for women movement." This source conflicts with
some other sources by saying "Quite by chance, she fell in front of
the hoofs of the kings horse" many other sources suggest that Emily
Wilding Davison was hit to the ground by chance by the kings horse.

Source 3 - this source is a piece of primary evidence from the times
newspaper published the day after the event. The article angle on the
events of the Epson derby is that she committed a stupid act. The
newspaper is on the government's side, calling Emily a desperate
woman. The times newspaper reports Emily as trying to cross the track
rather than trying to stop the race. There are a few sources that seem
to support this; however this can not be proven. This source was
published the day after, however biast views can not be discounted,
this source is valuable because as it gives an account by a newspaper
reporter, so things could of changed to make newspapers sell.

Source 4 - this source is a piece of primary evidence written by
Emmeline Pankhurst in her biography "My Own Story". From the outset
this source is very biast towards the suffragette cause, it contains
language that milks the situation of Emily's death. The source was
written a year later after Emily's death and they still haven't got
the vote, this is Emmeline's response to the death of Emily in her
biography. She portrays Emily as a martyr for the suffragette
cause"gave up her life for the women's cause by throwing herself in
the path of the next thing to property". Emmeline in this source has
the benefit of Hein sight; this source is very valuable to historians
even though it is biast; however it shows the response of one of the
leaders of the suffragette movements. This source is littered with
evidence suggesting that Emily had attempted previous suicides "At one
time in prison she tried to kill herself by the throwing herself head
long from one of the upper galleries." From a source I have found
Appendix B it is a statement from Emily issued by WSPU explaining her
actions in prison.

"I climbed on to the railing and threw myself out to the wire -
netting" Emily described her actions in her mind was "one big tragedy
may save many others"

Source 5 - this is a primary source it is a photograph from Emily's
funeral procession through London. In this photograph, the members of
the suffragette movement are carrying a banner "Fight on & God Will
Give Us the Victory" this I feel is a show to the public and
politicians that the suffragettes will carry on fighting for the vote.
Photographs are dangerous to historians as they can be changed and
modified to suit certain people. This is an important source as it
shows that Emily didn't die in vein, she had the support of the
suffragettes, who turned out in mass to send this lady who tried
disparately to get women the right to vote. Her methods were some what
unorthodox and her convictions to the cause ran so deep, she paid the
ultimate price in her beliefs with her triadic death at the 1913 derby
at Epson race course. As she once said "one big tragedy may save many

Appendix C - this is a source I found, it was written by Sylvia
Pankhurst, it states that if Emily was going to purposely going to die
at Epson race course, she wouldn't of have with out writing a farewell
message to her mother, there was no message found to her mother. This
source is important as it changes the view slightly of the previous
sources as they say she was a martyr for the cause.


From Analysis of many different sources primary and secondary it is
hard to determine what were the action and intentions of Emily Wilding
Davidson. Many questions still remain today, however they will remain
unanswered as the answer may only come from Emily herself. The answers
may of came from testimonies however she never left any, Emily's
intentions that day differ from source to source some say she ran out
to stop the race, other suggest she was merely crossing the track, and
she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It has been a debate of
many years. I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to say
weather it was a freak accident or not, there is to much conflicting
evidence to prove one or the other right or wrong. Though in my
thoughts is that although many suffragettes endangered their lives by
hunger strikes, Emily Davison was the only one who deliberately risked
death. However, her actions did not have the desired impact on the
general public. One common thread through most sources I have come
across are that they appear to be more concerned with the health of
the horse and the jockey and Davidson was condemned as a mentally ill

Did suffragette who died under the King's horse mean to kill herself? Historian believes return ticket shows she just wanted to make a stand

  • Researcher Maureen Howes believes Emily Davison has been unfairly labelled as a 'suicidal fanatic'
  • Trawl through old mementoes suggests death was tragic accident
  • Hundredth anniversary Derby coming up next weekend

By Eleanor Harding for the Daily Mail

Published: 12:21 GMT, 25 May 2013 | Updated: 13:25 GMT, 25 May 2013

Emily Davison (1872 - 1913), a few days before her fatal attempt to stop the King's horse 'Amner' on Derby Day to draw attention to the Women's Suffragette movement

She is remembered as the suffragette who died under the King’s horse.

But it has always been unclear as to whether Emily Davison really did intend to kill herself at the Epsom Derby in 1913 – or whether she simply wanted to make a public stand.

Now new evidence has emerged to suggest the latter, after local historian Maureen Howes spent ten years working with the activist’s family to discover the truth.

Both she and Davison’s surviving relatives are convinced that it was nothing more than a tragic accident, and are determined to set the record straight.

Davison died in hospital four days after being knocked down by George V’s horse, Anmer, at Tattenham Corner.

It is a common theory that rather than seeking martyrdom, she had merely attempted to tie the Suffragette’s colours to the horse.

Mrs Howes’ research suggests that it was only by coincidence that Davison had decided to do this – as earlier, safer, protest plans had been scuppered.

Her conclusions have been drawn after trawling through previously unseen mementoes, photographs and documents from family members, and listening to anecdotes.

She said: ‘At the time of Emily’s death, the family found all the publicity too much. It was very unpleasant. They were reluctant to speak out.

‘The story is so well-known but no-one has found out the truth. I’m happy with what I have written but I know it will upset a few apple carts.

The suffragette throws herself under the horse in the 1913 Derby

Davison slipped under the rails and walked straight into the colt's path

The militant suffragette and martyr to the cause of the political advancement of women, had a favourite quotation: 'Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God.'

‘People want to declare Emily as a suicidal fanatic but I have a very different version of the Epsom Derby.

‘She doesn’t deserve the legacy which has been given to her.’

According to Mrs Howes, Davison resorted to running onto the track as a ‘plan B’ after an attempt to pin the colours to a horse in the paddock failed.

Maurren Howes has produced a new book on the subject

She said ‘plan A’, the safer option, was scuppered when Davison was recognised and barred from entering the pen.

She said: ‘She didn’t commit suicide. There’s no chance of it. It was just a tragic accident.

‘She put herself in a risky position, but it was a plan B.

‘She was meant to pin her colours to the horse in the paddock but they didn’t let her in.

‘It was then decided to go for went for plan B - she probably thought, if we can’t do it in the paddock, let’s do it at Tattenham Corner where the news reel is.’

Mrs Howes said it was well-known within the family, based in Morpeth, Northumberland, that Davison had practised pinning colours on horses in local fields before the event.

In addition, it was only by chance that she was the person given the job of pinning the suffragette colours to the King’s horse on the fateful day.

Mrs Howes said the Morpeth Suffragettes drew straws during practice on Morpeth Common to decide who would pin the suffragette colours to the King’s horse, and Davison drew the short straw.

Davison had also let it be known that she was intending to travel to Paris after the Epsom protest to help her sister, Letitia, care for her three-month-old baby son Josse.

Sylvia Pankhurst, campaigner in the suffragette movement is pictured second left in a suffragette procession in 1910 with Davison, left, Christabel Pankhurst, second right, and Mrs Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, right

A suffragette is arrested in the early 1900s

And it is already well-known that she had bought a return ticket to the Epsom Derby – with the stub still in her bag when she died.

A suffragette is force fed through a nasal tube

Mrs Howes, 74, a grandmother and widow, is publishing her first book on the subject this week, titled Emily Wilding Davison: A Suffragette’s Family Album.

It has been published to help mark the 100th anniversary of Davison’s death in June 1913.

She tracked down family members by using her genealogy skills and posting adverts in the local paper.

She said: ‘The family took me in as one of their own. They wanted to get their stories out before they get too old.

‘They wouldn’t trust anyone before they met me. I’m not political or academic, I just want to get the truth out.’

After Davison’s death, the coroner recorded death by misadventure rather than suicide – but it was widely thought that she had acted intentionally.

Many openly criticised her in the media, with Queen Mary calling her a ‘brutal lunatic woman’, while the Suffragettes proclaimed her a martyr to their cause.

The funeral of Emily Davidson in 1913 at Victoria Station

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