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Mystery of British protester killed by the king's horse

Women's voting activist stepped in front of race horse, later died from injuries


Emily Davison is a name not many Americans recognize because her shocking act of defiance, that ultimately resulted in her death, happened in the age before internet and 24-hour cable news.

On June 4, 1913, Davison, a militant activist for women's right to vote, stepped out from the crowd at the historic Epsom Derby horse race, her intent unclear, and was trampled by the horse of England's King George V.

Davison died four days later from her injuries.

According to the Guardian, Davison has been hailed by some as a brave martyr and attacked by others as an irresponsible anarchist. Thousands of suffragettes accompanied the coffin and tens of thousands of people lined the streets of London for her funeral. According to Wikipedia, after a service in Bloomsbury, her coffin was taken by train to the family grave in Morpeth, Northumberland.

A British television station recently analyzed the 100-year-old video and the Guardian reported "Despite the fact that film technology was in its early days, the incident was captured on three newsreel cameras and a new study of the images has shown that the 40-year-old campaigner was not, as assumed, attempting to pull down Anmer, the royal racehorse, but in fact reaching up to attach a scarf to its bridle."

Over the years many people have suggested that Davison wanted to commit suicide, pointing to her militant activism in the past. That contention can not be proved, and, indeed, the video analysis tends to show otherwise, but many still point to Davison as a pioneer in activism.

Diane Atkinson writes in The New Statesman: "Davison may not have shared the religious conviction of today's suicide bombers, but she had an equal disregard for her individual status within the struggle. She threw iron balls (labeled) "Bomb" through windows, regularly set fire to (mail boxes), barricaded herself in her prison cell and had to be flushed out by water cannon, and was a committed hunger striker.

Women above the age of 30 gained the right to vote in the United Kingdom in 1918 and were granted the same voting rights as men in 1928. In the United States, some states and territories allowed women to vote as far back as 1869, but the 19th Amendment guaranteeing a woman's right to vote didn't pass until 1920. 

"Deeds not words" - the suffragette battle cry - is inscribed on her gravestone.


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