When I was nine years old or perhaps older, I went on a school trip. We did not go very far in those days for a day trip just meant a few hours out of the classroom.
I am assuming it was to the Bourne Hall museum in Ewell, for I do not recall another museum in the area. And I do remember waving to black cab drivers who waved back and tooted, so I was in the vicinity of my home town of Epsom of that I was sure.
Once in the museum, the teacher, a young Scottish woman gave us a list of Do’s and Don’ts.
I ignored them, we had never connected as pupil and teacher and so I saw absolute no reason to listen to her now in the confines of the museum.
My eye was drawn to some old black and white photos, enlarged and framed on a wall, just before the entrance to the main exhibit, the subject of which escapes me. I marched with purpose to the photos. One in particular caught my attention. As a precocious reader I could immediately make sense of the words below the bottom of the frame, typed in black on a white card, “Derby Day 1913”.
The photo was clearly a snap shot of race day on Epsom Downs, yet something was decidedly wrong about this event. Or the event of that particular race day. The black and white photo captured something that only happened once in the history of the race.
The body of a horse lay on the ground and two crumpled bodies of what looked like people sprawled alongside the animal. One, if you peered really closely was in a white dress. Male or female was not apparent but horses were racing past their bodies, perhaps trying to avoid trampling them or just so fired up by the race they did not know what was laid in front of them like some un holy sacrifice.
Of course now Derby Day 1913 is well-known, for this was the day Emily Davison sacrificed herself to the Suffragette movement. A hundred and five years on and Emily Davison is big news.
Eventually my teacher dragged me away from the photo, muttering about, “Why do you always have to make things difficult. Why don’t you listen to me? I am your teacher.”
I am safely assured I did not reply with, “Because you don’t like me. And I don’t like you. And you always try to make Caroline the star of the classroom.” But I did think it, I know of that.
The photo stuck in my head throughout the rest of the day trip, three hours out of the classroom. If you are wondering what the exhibit was that we had come to visit, I am sorry I will have to disappoint you for I do not remember. I can only say I know it was not King Henry VIII and Nonesuch Park. For that day trip we had a whole day out of the classroom and went to the park. And I know everything about King Henry and Nonesuch and indeed Elizabeth his daughter.
Back to the suffragettes. You would have thought being born and bred in Epsom that as a child we would have heard more about the tragedy of Derby Day 1913. But we didn’t. Emily Davison, was it appeared written out of the history books both locally and politically.
Once my father had recovered from the news that I had tried to drown Caroline – one of my classroom, not friends, in the Bourne Hall springs, he did answer my question about Derby Day 2013.
“A young woman ran in front of the Kings horse he was called Anmer and, Emily, she died.”
“Because the horse trampled on her.”
“No, why did she run out in front of a horse?”
“She was a member of a group of women, who were demanding the vote for women.”
It was here that I realised something. As a nine-old, or thereabouts, in 1973 women had the vote.
But back in 1913 women had felt they needed to kill themselves to obtain their right to vote.
I did not think about this for many years. Then whilst studying in 6th form college I began to learn about social revolutions. The French Revolution and the Russian Revolution. Oh boy did I love social revolutions.
And one girl who I had formed a friendship of sorts said to me. “That woman who threw herself under the Kings horse at the Epsom Derby, she was part of a social revolution.”
Here was someone else who had heard of that woman. Spoke of her in a historical context, as part of a movement that changed the social world of women, not just here but globally.
But the Suffragette movement saw still not really talked about and very few history books in my school or college had any mention of the women who ultimately changed the rights of women and their standing in society.
It is only now in 2018 at the age of 54, that I have seriously thought about Emily Davison.
For many years the few historical sources have described her death as a suicide. Suggesting that she was not of sound mind. Perhaps this was true, no one will ever really know. But her actions revealed the strength of feeling by many women at not being treated fairly or equal by the male counterparts.
If today someone was to ask, “If you were born in the 1900’s, what would you have become?”
I know without much thought the answer, “I would have been a part of the Suffragette movement.”
Before those who don’t know me start rolling their eyes round and round in disbelief, and saying “Oh please, seriously.”
Those that do know me are almost shouting, “Yes and if she had been part of that movement, women would have had the vote way before the end of WWI.”
Would I have tied myself to the railings of Parliament? Fight with the local constabulary? Thrown bricks through the posh houses in town? Tried to blow up houses where local MP’s lived? Hell yeah, why not?
Would I have starved myself whilst in prison? To be force-fed gruel? I may have baulked at the tube being forced down my throat, but to be fair I was force fed porridge as a child once, so I am sure I would have survived.
Interestingly enough other women aided the force-feeding of the suffragist women. One poster of the movement shows three women holding down a struggling woman so a tube could be pushed down her throat.
But as to stepping in front of a horse running full pelt across the Epsom downs, (owned by the King is actually for me irrelevant,) they run flipping fast! I have to say we all have our limits. I have a great love and respect for horses so I would have to say no, no chance of me running in front of one whilst it’s running in the Epsom Derby. Or to be fair any race of any description that involved horses.
I would have hoped that once I had fought for the vote for women excluding the race at Epsom, that the fighting spirit in me would have carried me into war. I would have become the 1st woman to fly a spitfire in battle.
But, it is here that my imagination runs away with me, it happens when I put an ink pen across paper. I am not a product of that era, I was born in 1963, the time of free love and the sexual revolution.
So fast forward over 100 years to the world we women live in today. One of the things that seems to be written about the suffragists just recently is the request to have them pardoned.
What are we having them pardoned for? Their fighting spirit? Why are we pardoning them for this? Do you think those ladies, some who lost their children to adoption for that fight, want to be excused? Hell NO! It is a cop-out. So do we then pretend they were not beaten, imprisoned and denigrated by society?
These women are the reason why all women today can vote. And for that, I am grateful.
My first vote was when Margaret Thatcher came into power. My father and my mother did not question me or persuade me who and which party to vote for and I did not tell them who I voted for. But I voted! My right as a woman.
I thank the Suffragette ladies that their suffering means I can vote. I do get annoyed when young women say they didn’t vote.
But the ones I get really annoyed with are the women who say, in a really simpering voice, “I don’t vote, my husband votes for both us.”
Seriously what was the point?
A woman died under the Kings horse and you come up with that crap!
I thank the ladies of the Suffragette movement. I vote every time I get the option. Because of them I can be whatever I want to be. Perhaps in another time and another place fighter pilot may have been a reality, perhaps intrepid explorer may have been an option.
Stories are now coming out about the brave lives many of the women of the suffragette movement went on to live. In fact I am sure one of them went on to fight in WW2 – not in a spitfire but she fought none the less. Hardly surprising for they were brave and had a fighting spirit that today many young women, do not have.
But in the 21st Century celebrations – don’t pardon the Women of the Suffragette movement, congratulate them, respect them and salute them! They I am sure would be right pissed off if you told them, “You are pardoned.”
In 2018 my thoughts will be of my father who as a London cabbie, “worked” the derby.
Derby Day is always a day for me to remember him driving up and down Ashley Road in that black snake of cabs.
I will perhaps, as I drive across the downs think of those that have gone and remember a woman nearly written out of history that is now back on the front page!
I will always vote and will always encourage young women to vote. Please do not say, “Oh they (the political parties) are all the same, for it is in your power to change the course of your political and social history.”
Women died for you, they starved for you, they tied themselves to railings for you and they fought for you.
Please don’t say, “Oh I can’t be bothered.” Even if you turn up and vote by spoiling your paper, you should.