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Mary Davison: Did she mean to Die?


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In June, 1913, Emily Davison attended the most important race of the year, the Derby, with Mary Richardson: "A minute before the race started she raised a paper on her own or some kind of card before her eyes. I was watching her hand. It did not shake. Even when I heard the pounding of the horses' hoofs moving closer I saw she was still smiling. And suddenly she slipped under the rail and ran out into the middle of the racecourse. It was all over so quickly." Davison ran out on the course and attempted to grab the bridle of Anmer, a horse owned by King George V. The horse hit Emily and the impact fractured her skull and she died on 8th June without regaining consciousness.

Among the articles found in her possession were two WSPU flags, a racecard, and a return train ticket to Victoria Station. This has resulted in some historians arguing that she did not intend to kill herself. Sylvia Pankhurst has argued: "Emily Davison and a fellow-militant in whose flat she lived, she had concerted a Derby protest without tragedy - a mere waving of the purple-white-and-green at Tattenham Corner, which, by its suddenness, it was hoped would stop the race. Whether from the first her purpose was more serious, or whether a final impulse altered her resolve, I know not. Her friend declares she would not thus have died without writing a farewell message to her mother." However, Emmeline Pankhurst has suggested: "Emily Davison clung to her conviction that one great tragedy, the deliberate throwing into the breach of a human life, would put an end to the intolerable torture of women. And so she threw herself at the King's horse, in full view of the King and Queen and a great multitude of their Majesties' subjects."

You can see a film of her death here:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Wdavison.htm

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In 1931, Sylvia Pankhurst published an account of the evidence concerning Emily Davison's death:

On the eve of the Derby she (Emily Davison) went with two friends to a W.S.P.U. bazaar in the Empress Rooms, Kensington, where, amid the trivial artificiality of a bazaar-fitter's ornamental garden, and the chatter of buying and selling at the stalls, she had joined in laying a wreath on the plaster statue of Joan of Arc, whom Christabel had called "the patron saint of Suffragettes". With a fellow-militant in whose flat she lived, she had concerted a Derby protest without tragedy - a mere waving of the purple-white-and-green at Tattenham Corner, which, by its suddenness, it was hoped would stop the race. Whether from the first her purpose was more serious, or whether a final impulse altered her resolve, I know not. Her friend declares she would not thus have died without writing a farewell message to her mother. Yet she had sewed the W.S.P.U. colours inside her coat as though to ensure that no mistake could be made as to her motive when her dead body should be examined. So she set forth alone, the hope of a great achievement surging through her mind. With sure resolve she ran out onto the course and deliberately flung herself-upon the King's horse, Anmer, that her deed might be the more pointed. Her skull was fractured. Incurably injured, she was removed to the Epsom Cottage Hospital, and there died on June 8 without regaining consciousness. As life lingered in her for two days, Mansell-Moullin performed an operation, which, in surgeon's parlance, "gave great temporary relief," but the injured brain did not inend.

A solemn funeral procession was organised to do her honour. To the militants who had prepared so many processions, this was the natural manifestation The call to women to come garbed in black carrying purple irises, in purple with crimson peonies, in white bearing laurel wreaths, received a response from thousands who gathered from all parts of the country. Graduates and clergy marched in their robes, suffrage societies, trade unionists from the East End, unattached people. The streets were densely lined by silent, respectful crowds. The great public responded to the appeal of a life deliberately given for an impersonal end. The police had issued a notice which was virtually a prohibition of the procession, but at the same time constables were enjoined to reverent conduct.

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