Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

JUNE 4th  

On this day in history in 1913, Emily Davison threw herself under the king’s horse in the Derby.

Davison was a suffragette, a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) whose life’s work was the cause of women’s suffrage.  

Davison was born in Blackheath, London, educated at Royal Holloway College, London and later at St Hugh’s College Oxford where she took first-class honours in English Literature. Oxford awarded her, not a degree, but the title of ‘Lady Licentiate in Arts’ as, at that time, Oxford and Cambridge did not award degrees to women.   

Davison joined Emeline Pankhurst’s WSPU in 1906, and at once became involved in aggressive action. She was arrested on several occasions, once for attacking a man she thought was Lloyd George. She went on hunger strike in prison and was force fed.  On the night of the 1911 census, she crept into the Hose of Commons and spent the night in a cupboard, so that she could legally write down ‘Palace of Westminster’ as her address. Mr Tony Benn relates that he has placed a commemorative plaque in this cupboard.  

What took place on the afternoon of 4th June 1913 is unclear. Some say that Davison heroically committed suicide for the cause. Others say that she intended to stop the king’s racehorse ‘Amner’ and place the ribbon of the WSPU on the beast. Cine film of the incident shows Davison stepping onto the course as the field were rounding Tattenham Park Corner. Some eyewitnesses stated that Davison attempted to pull down the king’s horse. The fact that she had purchased a return railway ticket, however, points away from the suicide theory. What is certain is that Davison fell under the hooves of the racehorse, had her skull fractured and died four days later.

Davison is buried in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin, Morpeth, Northumberland NE61 2QT. Her tombstone bears the apposite WSPU slogan ‘Deeds Not Words’.

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