Emily Wilding Davison

LSE Library

"The true militant suffragette is an epitome of the determination of women to possess their own souls" – from the 'Price of Liberty' by Emily Wilding Davison

Emily Wilding Davison was born in 1872 at Blackheath, Kent, where her family had travelled from Morpeth, Northumberland, shortly before.

She studied at Holloway College for the Oxford Honours School in English Literature but did not complete the course, having to leave to support her family when her father died.

Emily worked as a governess, later completing her studies at St Hugh's Hall, Oxford. She gained a First Class degree in English in 1893, although Oxford did not allow women to graduate until 1920.

After completing her studies, Emily took up employment, first becoming a schoolteacher and then working as a governess again.

She joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906. Here she is in on the left, in the WSPU offices at Clement's Inn.

Emily was a risk-taker who, during 1910 and 1911, managed to evade the security staff at the House of Commons and hide there on three separate occasions, once in the hot-air shaft and twice in the crypt.

One of these occasions was on the evening of 2 April 1911, census night when suffragettes were encouraged to boycott the census and not fill in their forms.

In December 1911, Emily initiated a new form of protest, and was arrested for setting fire to a post box.

At her trial she stated that she was working on her own.

This page describes her first incendiary route down the Strand to the Fleet Street Post Office.

Overall, Emily was imprisoned eight times, went on hunger strike seven times, and was forcibly fed forty-nine times.

This is her personal account of being force-fed and then barricading herself into her cell in June 1912.

Suffragettes were often greeted at the gates of Holloway when they were released.

From 1909 they were sent a ‘Holloway’ brooch, designed by Sylvia Pankhurst.

Suffragettes who had gone on hunger-strike were also sent a medal in a presentation case.

Emily was imprisoned for the cause eight times.

This letter would not have been the only one she received, recalling her medal so that another bar could be added, to record her most recent hunger strike.

Emily's race card from the Epsom Derby on 4 June 1913 shows she had marked up some of the runners in the first race at 1:30pm.

The King's horse Anmer is at the top of the list on the card for the Derby race itself at 3pm.

Emily rushed onto the racecourse and attempted to hold the bridle of Anmer, the King’s Horse.

She was seriously injured, and taken to Epsom Cottage Hospital, where she never regained consciousness.

She died on 8 June 1913.

Emily had bought a return ticket - quite an expensive ticket – for her travel to Epsom. The return portion was found in her purse.

The coroner returned a verdict of ‘accidental death’.

This is Emily’s purse, retrieved as part of her personal possessions, which were listed by the Metropolitan Police, Epsom, on 10 June 1913.

It contained at the time: a few coins, the half return ticket to Victoria, a railway insurance ticket, two post office counterfoils, and eight halfpenny stamps.

On 3 June 1913, the day before the Derby, Emily went to the WSPU offices in Kingsway and asked for two flags, without giving any particular reason.

She pinned the flags inside her coat.


Emily's friend, Mary Leigh, visited Emily's grave in Morpeth every year after her death, and took with her one of the flags.

This letter is from Emily’s mother, Margaret, written the day after the Derby.

Emily would not have been able to read it, as she never regained consciousness, but it is highly likely that a friend read it to her.

Margaret cannot understand Emily’s actions.

It ends: "I need not tell you my heart is full of grief & agony & the thought you are so far away is giving me much misery and pain. I know you would not willfully give me any unhappiness. Although it must have been some sudden impulse and excitement...

With oceans of love from your sorrowful Mother."

Emily also received hate mail when she was in hospital.

This letter from "An Englishman" describes Emily as "unworthy of existence", hopes she may "live in torture", and wonders why she is not in an Asylum.

On 14 June 1913, Emily was given a martyr’s funeral.

Five thousand women from all over Britain, most in white dresses with black armbands and carrying white Madonna lilies, marched in the funeral procession in London – the last of the great suffragette spectacles.

Rev Baumgarten and Rev Claude Hinscliff, members of the Church League for Women's Suffrage, conducted the service at St George's Church, Bloomsbury.

From there, the procession took Emily's body to King's Cross station and then by train to Northumberland for burial in Morpeth, her family home, where her Mother was living.

This lily was carried by Agnes Kelly at the funeral.

Grace Roe's account of organising the funeral is one of more than 200 suffrage oral histories carried out by Brian Harrison and held in the Women's Library collection at LSE.

Grace Roe describes organising Emily Wilding Davison's funeral procession

Mary Leigh set up the Emily Wilding Davison Club at 144 High Holborn as a memorial to her.

Emily’s Clapham landlady, Alice Green, was its secretary.

Personal papers in Emily’s archive show that she was intellectually and morally committed to the fight for votes for women.

This document is effectively her suffragette manifesto setting out her thoughts, feelings and commitments to the women's cause.

"The Price of Liberty" was published posthumously in 1914 in The Suffragette, with some changes from Emily's manuscript.

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