Papers of Emily Wilding Davison

Scope and Content

Personal papers (1909-1913), including employment papers (1913), personal correspondence (1909-1913), writings (1911-1913), papers related to membership of Women's Social and Political Union (1912-1913) and to her death (1913-15); papers of Rose and Tom Lamartine Yates related to the Davison inquest; Women's Social and Political Union papers (1905-1914), and of other suffrage organisations (1910-1914); papers of the Suffragette Fellowship and the Women's Record Room (1936-1940); photographs (1908-1914), miscellaneous items including 'Justice Tea' teabags, revolving picture of 'elusive Christabel', newspapers and cuttings (1910-1988); posters and illustrations (1908-1914); papers related to the Cat and Mouse Act (1913); artefacts; additional papers (1980s).

Administrative / Biographical History

Emily Wilding Davison was born in Blackheath in 1872. She attended Kensington High School and then Holloway College. However, two years into her course her father died and she was forced to leave to become a governess. She was subsequently able to pay for a course a St Hugh's College at Oxford. She sat her final examinations in 1893 when she took a first-class degree. She was subsequently employed by the Church of England School for Girls in Edgbaston from 1895-6 before moving to Seabury School in West Worthing. She then move again to Berkshire where she again became a governess until 1906, the year in which she joined the Women's Social and Political Union.

She was employed by the Women's Social and Political Union as chief steward at the Hyde Park procession in June 1908 and was one of the nine arrested in March 1909 when a deputation marching from the Caxton Hall to the Houses of parliament was prevented from seeing the Prime Minister. She was arrested a second time in July when after interrupting a meeting in Limehouse addressed by Lloyd George. This time the sentence was doubled to two months and Davison went on hunger strike. She was released after five days, beginning the long series of arrests, imprisonments and releases after force-feeding that would make up much of the rest of her life. In September she was arrested with Dora Marsden for throwing balls labelled 'bomb' through the window of a meeting in Manchester, received a two month sentence and was released after two and a half days having gone on hunger strike. Unable to find work, she became a paid organiser of the WSPU from April 1910. She managed to enter and hide in the House of Commons three times between 1910 and 1911, and was the first to embark on a campaign of setting fire to pillar-boxes. During her imprisonment in Holloway in 1912, she threw herself over landing railings on two separate occasions, incurring injuries which would continue to afflict her. On the 4th June 1913, she tried to seize the bridle of Anmer, the King's horse running at the Derby. She received head injuries and never recovered consciousness, dying on the 8th June. Her funeral was preceded by a large funeral cortege that became one of the iconic events of the campaign for Women's Suffrage. The service took place at St George's Church, then the coffin was taken by train to the family grave in Morpeth in Northumberland. After her death, she became an almost mythic figure in popular culture and her memory was perpetuated both within the movement and beyond.

Access Information

This collection is open for consultation. Intending readers are advise to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

Acquisition Information

The Emily Wilding Davison collection was deposited with the Library in December 1985 and January 1986 by the family which had collected individual items together, originally for the Suffragette Fellowship's Record Room.

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Custodial History

The items were originally collected together by the depositing family for the Women's Record Room of the Suffragette Fellowship, and held initially at the Minerva Club in Brunswick Square, London. Then, in May 1939, the Reading Room was transferred to 6 Great Smith Street before closing in September due to the outbreak of the Second World War. The records were then distributed to places of safety. The papers seem to have remained with the family until their deposit in the Fawcett (subsequently the Women's) Library in 1985/6.