1913 Derby Day Stunt

Written by Kelci Woolley

A suffragette was a member of an activist women’s organisation throughout the early 20th century who, under the banner “Votes for Women”, fought for the right to vote in public elections. The term “suffragette” refers to members of the British Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), a woman only movement founded in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst, which involved many women taking radical actions to get their point across to the community. 

How did the suffragettes get their message across?

There were so many ways the women got their beliefs out. One tactic was that they would starve themselves and go on a hunger strike. It got so out of control that people force-fed these women, which sounds very distressing. Another way they got their point across was by smashing up churches and shops, and they would also take it as far as attacking the MPs which resulted them being arrested and locked up in jail. A method which I find entertaining is that the women posted themselves to 10 Downing Street to try and get appointments with the Prime Minister which was known as “Human Letters”.

1913 Epsom Derby. 

All these methods to try to get the right to vote are all remarkably interesting but the one way that really caught my attention was the notorious 1913 Epsom Derby also known as “The Suffragette Derby”.

This was the event where Emily Davison ran in front of a horse and got knocked over to make her point with 500,000 people including the King and Queen witnessing this event. How do you think this went down?

Davison positioned herself at Tattenham Corner, the bend before the home straight. At this moment in the race, with some of the horses having passed her, she dodged under the guard rail and ran onto the course, she reached up to the reins of Anmer (King George VI’s horse, ridden by Herbert Jones) and was smacked by the horse. Emily was beaten to the ground. Sadly, she died four days after the unpleasant incident.

The event was caught on three news cameras. Davison’s plans in attending the Derby and walking onto the course was doubtful, but there have been numerous assumptions on why she did it.    


Her organisation group were quick to portray her as a martyr, part of a campaign to identify her as such. The suffragette’s newspaper marked Davison’s death by releasing a copy displaying a female angel with raised arms standing in front of the guard rail of a racecourse. 

How did this death change Britain?

Davison’s mortality made a turning point of the militant suffragette campaign. WWI broke out the following year and the government freed all women who were on hunger strike and proclaimed an amnesty. The WSPU was stopped by Emmeline Pankhurst and assisted the government; these women suspended their protesting and instead did their bit for the war and got to work.

By 1918 women had done their task and the act was lifted and known as “Representation of the Peoples Act 1918”. This allowed women by the age of 30 to vote in public elections and then the age for voting reduced to 21 for both male and female in 1928: showing how the martyr of Emily Davison, jumping in front of a horse, changed Great Britain forever.  

Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. No changes have been made to this image.



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