A martyr to the cause – but how far have women’s rights come in the century since Emily Wilding Davison’s death? - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 4 June 2013

On this day 100 years ago, Emily Wilding Davison stepped out in front of King George V’s horse during the Epsom Derby, one of England’s most celebrated horse races, and became a martyr for the cause of women’s rights.


A martyr to the cause – but how far have women’s rights come in the century since Emily Wilding Davison’s death?

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 4 June 2013


On this day 100 years ago, Emily Wilding Davison stepped out in front of King George V’s horse during the Epsom Derby, one of England’s most celebrated horse races, and became a martyr for the cause of women’s rights.

Davison was part of the suffragette movement, which was the UK end of a global campaign to extend the right to vote to women. In walking on to the racecourse, she is believed to have been attempting to pin a “votes for women” sash on the horse, Anmer, to garner publicity for the struggle. Instead, she was trampled and died four days later of a fractured skull and internal injuries.

The anniversary has been marked around the world by women’s rights groups. On Twitter the #ifiwereasuffragettetoday hashtag has seen hundreds of contributions from users discussing what women should be campaigning for today.

At the time, Davison’s death provoked revulsion as well as shock: some newspapers called her a lunatic and people sent hate mail even as she lay in a coma.

And her legacy is controversial: it is not clear how far her actions contributed to the partial suffrage that was granted five years later in 1918, when 8.4 million women aged over 30 were given the right to vote.

In between came the First World War, when the suffrage campaign in Britain was suspended and attitudes towards women were forced to change, as the country relied on their labour while so many men were fighting abroad.

Davison had joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1906 at the age of 34 and earned a reputation as a militant campaigner, being imprisoned nine times for sometimes violent protests, ranging from throwing stones to arson. While in prison, she repeatedly went on hunger strike.

A century after her dramatic death, equality campaigners said the rate of progress would not have impressed Davison. There are still many countries where a female leader is deeply unlikely and even one where women still don’t have the vote. Since Finland became the first independent nation to introduce universal suffrage in 1906, most other countries have granted women the vote. The one exception is Saudi Arabia, a key western ally in the Middle East, which still doesn’t allow for women’s suffrage, although plans have been made to introduce it in 2015.

Even in some countries where women’s suffrage has been in place for many decades, there is still a big gap between the number of men and the number of women who are elected to political positions. Today, only 147 of the UK parliament’s 650 MPs and only four of its 22 cabinet members are female. Elsewhere in the world, the US is yet to elect a female president and female leaders are rare in other countries. Australia’s prime minister Julia Gillard is the first woman to hold the role in that country.

Ceri Goddard, chief executive of London’s feminist thinktank the Fawcett Society, said: “Emily Davison and her fellow campaigners – including our own Millicent Fawcett – would, I think, be staggered at this snail-like pace of change.”

Women’s suffrage is recognised as a right under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, adopted by the United Nations in 1979.



Questions for discussion or further research:

  • What is suffrage and why does it matter?
  • The right to vote is something that many people take forgranted today. Why do you think this is?
  • Make a list of the first countries to allow universal suffrage. Are there countries in the world today where some groups of people do not have the right to vote?
  • If Emily Davison were alive today, what do you imagine she would have to say about the position of women in our society?

Resources for you


Emily Davison

  • A lesson on Emily Davison, the votes for women movement and the debate around violence in public protests.

The Suffragettes

  • A detailed PowerPoint guide to the suffragettes to help students understand who they were and what they fought for.

Make a Suffragettes timeline

  • Get students to read about the Suffragettes and complete this timeline activity.

Action on Women’s Rights

  • Find out how you can support the rights of women around the world with a lesson from TES partner Discover Human Rights.


Further news resources


First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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