May 31st 2013 is Ladies’ Day at Epsom. It is the day before the Derby, that most prestigious of flat races. There will be hats, and plenty of them. There will also be experts casting their eyes over a plethora of fashion successes and failures. Yes, the people who want to tell us what we should and should not be wearing will be sharpening those knives as I’m writing this, preparing to denigrate some poor woman’s choice of colour, material, style or all three.
Often it will be a member of the royal family who grabs the unwelcome headlines. Two years ago at the wedding (you know, THE wedding) it was the princesses of York, Beatrice and Eugenie, who came under the scrutiny of the fashion police. Now, I am no royalist, quite the contrary, but is that all there is that really matters about them, how they look? Is that what the members of the WSPU envisaged as being where their activism would lead?
The WSPU? Surely you haven’t forgotten? It has not been that long, really! What if I were to mention the name Pankhurst? Now, that IS a name that is remembered.
The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU for short) was founded in 1903 by the well-known Emmeline Pankhurst and others in Manchester. This year, there is an associated centenary, not related directly to Pankhurst, but most definitely connected with Epsom.
June 4th 1913 is not a date that immediately calls a specific event to the mind of the average person, male or female. The incident that occurred that day, however, is well-known. It was Derby day. The King had a horse running. Remember now? Of course you do – a woman, a member of the WSPU, a ‘suffragette’, ran out in front of the King’s horse and was hit by it. She died a few days later. I’ll give you a few moments to see if you know her name.
On the day of the 1911 census she hid in the Houses of Parliament so that when asked, for the purposes of the census, she could give Parliament as her address! She had previously been sent to prison for the crime of throwing rocks at the carriage of Lloyd George. She was sentenced to 1 month’s hard labour. The organisation itself was very active, concentrating on ‘deeds, not words’ to get their points across. This included arson and bombings. Today, they would be called ‘terrorists’.
Will Epsom be marking this event in any way? If so, will it be a spectacular celebration of a determined, principled woman who gave her life for a just cause? Will there be a fanfare? A parade? Will we see jockeys in green, white and violet silks? I doubt it. Perhaps you should write and ask, or write to the BBC or contact Clare Balding?
You should remember her name. She was Emily Wilding Davison.