Emily Wilding Davison on the centennial anniversary of her death was described as a ‘positive woman willing to risk her life- much like a soldier going to war.’
Visitors arrived in Morpeth on Saturday 15th June, to glorious sunshine, the buzz of the local townsfolk and the sound of the Wercas folk band, in full costume, singing their tribute to Emily and her fellow Suffragettes.
Admittedly, before listening to a talk by Barbara Gorna about how Emily had inspired her personally, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about feminism. I didn’t take an active interest in it on the grounds that, as a woman, I didn’t feel sexism was a big issue in modern life. Sure - it exists, but surely it exists on both sides, and not to the degree that our quality of life is affected? There was uproar in the media recently about a denim company replacing their label’s ironing instructions with the slogan, “Get your woman to do it,” I thought it was quite witty.
Nonetheless, I had been looking forward to hearing Barbara’s talk and it didn’t disappoint. I instantly liked Barbara- she welcomed visitors to view Emily’s scarf and even to handle other valuable artefacts. The trust she invested in the people who had come to listen to her talk made her instantly likeable, open and friendly and her audience more perceptive to her views. Prior to Barbara’s talk, I felt that women had already won something near enough to equal rights; being discriminated against for my gender did not affect my daily life in the way that it might have done 100 years ago. I even found something wildly romantic in the idea of men “owning their wives”- something which has troubled my mother a great deal over the years. Barbara made me realise that Emily’s fight is not over yet.
She talked of how she came to acquire the scarf which led to her interest in Emily’s life and how this, in turn, had had an impact on her own life and lead her into her current profession.
My favourite anecdote was this:
When Emily was fatally injured at the Derby one of the racecourse wardens, and husband of a fellow suffragette, ran onto the course and picked up the scarf for safe-keeping. He took it home and wrapped his infant daughter in it to attend Emily’s funeral at just two weeks old. Six years later, he gave his daughter the scarf and told her all about Emily, and the suffragette movement.
A stunning example of a father’s love, don’t you think? The gift he gave to his daughter wasn’t the scarf alone, rather the scarf was symbolic of Emily’s passion, and the affirmation that she deserved respect, comfort and love as much as anybody else.
I came away from the talk feeling a sense of great pride among the residents of Emily’s former home and a deeper respect for what she did. Everybody seemed to feel enthusiastic about participating in the procession which was to follow the path of Emily’s coffin from the railway station to St Mary’s church, where Emily was laid to rest.
I was just ahead of the ‘suffragettes’ in the procession, all of whom had made a real effort dressing up and carrying specially made banners. Instead of preaching that all men were out to thwart womankind, as I had feared, the women made Emily’s spirit relevant to modern women and men. Bearing flags with slogans such as “women bishops in our churches” and “equal rights worldwide”, men, women and children alike made their voices count.
Emily risked her life to improve the future of her fellow ‘sisters’. Though she may not have known it at the time, Emily’s final act was one which would be remembered by men and women in parliament and in society as a whole. It was an act of sacrifice, bravery and honour, as to risk one’s life is very different from giving up one’s life.
Although it can’t be forgotten Emily acted alone on this occasion, she was not, as we were previously led to believe, a ‘brutal lunatic woman’ whose ‘abominable conduct’ caused such distress to Queen Alexandria. Neither was she giving up her life on the racecourse that day.