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A suffragette’s legacy

One of the most famous moments of protest in British history turns 100

Kassia St Clair | May/June 2013

One hundred years ago, a suffragette was trampled under the King's horse at the Derby at Epsom, and, four days later, she died. While history has favoured her cause, Emily Wilding Davison's legacy is ambivalent. In the short term her death probably did the women's suffrage movement more harm than good. It is still unclear if she meant to martyr herself, or whether she was just hoping to disrupt the race and grab a little publicity, much like Trenton Oldfield at the Oxford-Cambridge boat race last year.

In 1913 the public's response was as unfavourable as it was with Oldfield. Crowds thronged the roads to jeer as Davison was taken to hospital. The Times ran a disapproving headline—"The Suffragist Scene: His Majesty's Jockey Injured"—and King George V himself was principally concerned with his horse's bruised shins.

While the Epsom racecourse saw the need to commemorate the centenary, they have struggled to, as they put it, "provide an appropriate response". At a ceremony in April, they unveiled a softly-softly worded plaque, fixed to the rail where Davison slipped onto the course. Pressure to have a minute's silence on race day has been resisted, although there will be a two-page feature in the race card. ~ Kassia St Clair

The Investec Derby Epsom, June 1st. "Clare Balding's Secrets of a Suffragette" is on Channel 4 on Sunday May 26th at 8pm

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