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June 2013

Posted on 01/06/2013

Emily Wilding Davison Student Record 

RHCAR200.1 EWD student entry

RHC AR/200/1

Emily Wilding Davison is probably Royal Holloway’s best known alumna. Although the name may not be familiar to all, her dramatic death in front of the King’s horse is. This month's archive item commemorates the 100th anniversary of her protest and death in the name of women’s suffrage.

Emily was born in 1872 and was educated at home and then at Kensington High School for Girls before gaining a place at Royal Holloway College. As we can see from her entry in the student register, she joined the College in January 1892 and received a £30 a year bursary to help with the cost of her education. She studied for the Oxford Second Examination for Women in French, German and English Literature which she passed June 1892 with a distinction in English. She went on to study for the Oxford Final Studies Course in English but her time at the College was cut short when, after her father’s death, the family couldn’t afford the fees. Her £30 bursary was the equivalent of one term’s fees but without her father’s income it was impossible to cover the remainder.

We know students were encouraged to engage with political debates and women’s rights was a hotly debated topic. One of Emily’s contemporaries was Louisa Martindale whose mother (of the same name) was a women’s rights campaigner and who herself went on to become a suffragist. Emily didn’t join the Women’s Social and Political Union until 1906 but the seeds of her political views may well have been sown during her time at Royal Holloway.

Emily was clearly a very determined woman and instead of giving up her education after leaving Royal Holloway, she worked as a governess to save the money to finish her course. She attended St Hughes College Oxford for one term in 1895 and passed the Final Studies Course with a distinction.

It wasn’t possible for a woman to be awarded a degree from Oxford at this time but in 1908 she achieved a BA in Modern Foreign Languages from London University, entering as an external candidate.

In 1909 Emily gave up her teaching work to become a full time suffragette and her actions became progressively more militant. She was arrested and imprisoned several times for various offences including setting fire to post boxes and throwing rocks at David Lloyd George’s carriage. Whilst in prison she continued her protests, once throwing herself down a flight of stairs and going on hunger strike many times.

On the 4th of June 1913, Emily attended the Epsom Derby with another suffragette Mary Richardson. They took WSPU flags with the intention of protesting. There is no consensus on exactly what Emily’s intentions were that day but as the King’s horse approached she darted out onto the race track and was thrown to the ground, causing one of the most iconic protests of the 20th century. She was knocked unconscious and died four days later from the resulting head injuries. 

Annabel Gill, College Archvist

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