This whole-school assembly looks at equality with reference to the suffrage movement, specifically the part played by Emily Davison atthe 1913 Epsom Derby suicide

Resources

  • You will need six readers.
  • Reader 1 should be a girl, if possible draped with sashes of purple, white and green ribbons. This is Emily Wilding Davison.
  • You also need a male reader to read the words of the King, Reader 5, and a female reader to read the words of the Queen, Reader 6.

You can also download the original film

Engagement

Reader 1: It’s 4 June, 1913, and I’m off to the races − to the Derby, the most important flat race of the season. I’ve been planning what I’m going to do for several weeks now, and, although I’m really scared, what else is left? I’ve been in prison, on hunger strike, and they put a tube down my throat, pinned me down and force-fed me.

I barricaded myself in the cell, but they used water cannon to get me out. We’ve marched, thrown so-called bombs at the politicians, we’ve even set fire to pillar boxes, but they won’t give us women the vote. So, today, I’m going to up the ante one more notch. Even the King shall see today how strongly we feel − deeds, not words!

Reader 2: Today, I’m riding the King’s horse in the Derby. It’s a tough race, and everyone waits at Tattenham Corner, part way through the race, as the horses slow down, at the top the slope there, before they swing round for the finish. Anmer, the King’s horse, is my ride. He’s OK, but I don’t think the King will be in the winners’ enclosure this afternoon.

Reader 3: (‘Posh’ accent) I love Derby day! I’ve had my flutter-bet on Anmer − the King’s horse − got to be patriotic, don’t you know. Got in the champagne, and I’m meeting my chums down at Epsom. Should be a spiffing afternoon’s sport!

[Show the film clip, leader summarises what happened…]

Reader 4: From the Daily Mirror, 5 June, 1913:
The horse struck the woman with its chest, knocking her down among the flying hoofs… and she was desperately injured… blood rushed from her mouth and nose. Anmer turned a complete somersault and fell upon his jockey, who was seriously injured.’

The horse ran off, unharmed.

Emily Davison and the jockey, Herbert Jones, were rushed to Epsom cottage hospital.

Reader 5: King George V wrote in his diary that ‘poor Herbert Jones and Anmer had been sent flying on a “most disappointing day”.’

Reader 6: Queen Mary sent a telegram to Jones, the unfortunate jockey, who had been riding the King’s horse, wishing him well after his ‘sad accident caused through the abominable conduct of a brutal lunatic woman’.

Leader: Emily Davison didn’t regain consciousness and died in hospital four days later. Herbert Jones had a cracked rib and injured arm. He never really recovered from the shock of the accident, and, when the suffragette leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, died fifteen years later, he attended her funeral, with a wreath inscribed: ‘To do honour to the memory of Mrs Pankhurst and Miss Emily Davison.’

Reflection

This incident took place eighty-five years ago. It was a major event in the struggle for women to be able to vote − women’s suffrage. It was 1928 before all women got the vote, and the impact of Emily Davison’s death, followed by the work that women found themselves doing during the First World War, changed the mood of parliament and the population at large in favour of women having the vote.

The reasons against women having the vote were many and varied but, as all the members of parliament were men, and only men had the vote, you may quickly have some ideas as to what was going on. Bear in mind that women had no rights, as such, at all, in law before this period, and you may be able to understand the pressure MPs of the time were under, most of whom were against extending this right to women.

But, during the war, women proved how much they could do in the areas which had always been regarded as ‘men’s work’, and attitudes began to change. But it took ten years before universal suffrage was voted into place.

Response

We don’t know when the next national election will take place, but, when it does, some of you here today will be old enough to vote. The sacrifice of many people down through the years has given you that right. Now you are recognised as an adult at eighteen. Have you ever considered the long, convoluted, story of how universal suffrage came to be in this country? And how much it cost the brave women and men who headed up the movement?

Emily’s actions caused enormous hurt to her family. Suicide was illegal in those days, and, if she had lived, she would have been charged with ‘attempt to cause grievous bodily harm’.

Emily knew how awful her death would be. Everyone in those days was familiar with how easy it was to be fatally injured in the path of a moving horse. She also knew that she would cause great shame for her family, but she was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for what she believed to be right.

Think about her actions − and then about how we take for granted the right to vote for the people who govern us − the people who lead the country and make our laws.

Consider how many countries still don’t have universal suffrage, and those that do, but then ignore election results.

Listen to the following words − you might like to use them as a prayer:

Reader 1: Even the King shall see today how strongly we feel − deeds, not words!

Reader 4: The horse struck the woman with its chest, knocking her down among the flying hoofs… and she was desperately injured… blood rushed from her mouth and nose…

So, we thank God for all the people who, down through the centuries, have fought for democracy, for us. The people who gave us the right to vote, be we male or female.

And we think of the countries where democracy is held in contempt; where the rule is by the gun or the sword, where results are ignored

where those in power hold it close to themselves.

And we pray that men and women of integrity would become politicians and lead us all towards the democracy that is fair and just. Amen.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2008

About the author: Ronni Lamont

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