Emily Wilding Davison (11 October 1872 – 8 June 1913) was a suffragette who fought for votes for women in the United Kingdom in the early twentieth century. A member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and a militant fighter for her cause, she was arrested on ten occasions, went on hunger strike seven times and was force fed on forty-nine occasions. She died after being hit by King George V‘s horse Anmer at the 1913 Derby when she walked onto the track during the race.
Davison grew up in a middle-class family, and studied at Royal Holloway College, London, and St Hugh’s College, Oxford, before taking jobs as a teacher and governess. She joined the WSPU in November 1906 and became an officer of the organisation and a chief steward during marches. She soon became known in the organisation for her daring militant action; her tactics included breaking windows, throwing stones, setting fire to postboxes and, on three occasions, hiding overnight in the Palace of Westminster—including on the night of the 1911 census. Her funeral on 14 June 1913 was organised by the WSPU. A procession of 5,000 suffragettes and their supporters accompanied her coffin and 50,000 people lined the route through London; her coffin was then taken by train to the family plot in Morpeth, Northumberland.
Davison was a staunch feminist and passionate Christian, and considered that socialism was a moral and political force for good. Much of her life has been interpreted through the manner of her death. She gave no prior explanation for what she planned to do at the Derby and the uncertainty of her motives and intentions has affected how she has been judged by history. Several theories have been put forward, including accident, suicide, or an attempt to pin a suffragette banner to the king’s horse.