Horse racing was in the news this past weekend, when Palace Malice, who finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby, beat out favorites and won the Belmont Stakes. Almost exactly a century ago, suffragist Emily Wilding Davison attended Epsom Derby, the most prestigious race in Great Britain. Toward the end of the race, she stepped in front of the horse owned by King George V. In an instant, she was trampled by the horse and died of her injuries four days later on June 8, 1913.
What was Emily Davison doing? A member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), she was an ardent support of a woman’s right to vote. She had been imprisoned several time for violent protests. At Epsom Derby, she appears to have tried to put a suffrage banner on the bridle of the moving horse. Some say Davison had intended to sacrifice her life. Others say she had meant only to disrupt the race and then visit her sister in France. No one knows for sure.
Davison’s funeral included a procession through London streets accompanied by a sea of suffragists dressed in white. Her gravestone includes the WSPU’s motto: “Deeds not words.” Five years later, relatively wealthy women over age 30 got the right to vote. In 1928, voting was granted to all female citizens over 21.