Two days ago, it was the 100th anniversary of the moment that the Suffragette stepped out onto Epsom Racetrack. She survived the injuries that she sustained on June 4th 1913, but only by four days. On June 8th 2013, memorials will be held in various locations nationwide to mark the centenary of her passing.
I've been busy writing about her on Wizzley. Two articles were produced for those who want to know more. The Choices of Emily Wilding Davison is a history; while Emily and Me: Empathy Across the Centenary focuses on more personal matters. It's Emily as a real woman, who lived, breathed, thought and felt, rather than her usual quasi-symbolic positioning, as Suffragette, martyr and Feminist icon.
The latter article led to a discussion in the Wizzley forum about open letters, as a writing genre. With the details of Emily's story so fresh in my head, I thought I'd give it a go. I hope it both honours Emily Wilding Davison, and explains why she's such a towering presence from British history.
I'm sorry that you were made to feel like your only worth was in brutal self-sacrifice. You were much more than that. Your understanding of human nature was sublime, and your political acumen was razor-sharp. There was no-one to equal your astounding intellect, amongst the Suffragettes OR the Suffragists in 1913. Your ability to spot the points of leverage was nothing short of uncanny.
You placed Asquith in check, do you realise that? Only the outbreak of World War One stopped that developing into check-mate. You didn't deliver votes for women; but you set an unstoppable chain of events in motion, which made female suffrage inevitable. It was by no means guaranteed until then. You gave Grace Roe and Millicent Fawcett something to run with. And look how they ran! Four years, that's all it took, from your martyrdom to the first British women receiving the vote.
They called you a maverick mad-woman at the time. Fear ran through every insult. From the Pankhursts to Parliament, you had the potential to topple those in power. Your incredible, insightful genius must have been plain for all to see. But you. Your one blind spot was in evaluating your own worth. For your sake, I hope that it was an accident; that you didn't travel to Epsom all alone with the self-belief that your value lay in dying.
Or did you know, but did it anyway? Judging that final action too important not to see to its conclusion. Trusting that Asquith would act to prevent a dangerous precedent set by your martyrdom; and that someone in the Women's Movement would have the intelligence to follow through. When you made your move, Emily, you changed the whole game. You left Asquith with only one sane direction to take, leading towards the legislate with votes for women. In just two more moves, played by Roe and Fawcett, it was game over.
When I eventually get my time machine, I'm going to take it to Derby Day, 1913. I'll seek you out at Tattenhall Corner and I'll tell you this: 'Ms Davison, you are my heroine. A little bit crazy, but so, so good. In fact, you're amazing."
I know that I should talk you out of martyrdom, pull you back and hold you safe. But I haven't got your courage; and I'm afraid that if you didn't fall beneath the hooves, then it would be me. One hundred years later, in precisely the same position, because Emily Wilding Davison never got to make her move.
But I half suspect that you would have struggled free and rushed out anyway onto Epsom racetrack. Fired up with the passionate conviction that this was important, and it had to happen. "One, big tragedy to move things along." Who else could you ask to do this thing? Which you'd judged was the right thing to do.
And it was. The horrific, awful, unpalatable, shuddering truth is that it was the right thing to do. At least if the objective was votes for women in Asquith's Britain, it was the right thing to do. So why, looking back with 21st century eyes blazing with respect and downcast with guilt, does it feel unbearably wrong? A senseless self-slaughter to bring sanity into a ludicrous society.
'Thank you very much, Ms Davison,' just doesn't seem adequate. Nothing but your ending ever was. Your life's disappointments tempered your steel, which - battered into shape by the pounding hooves of Anmer - became the hammer wielded by women to smash the first glass ceiling. We still invoke it. All those future generations of activists, armed and empowered; taking Emily Davison's legacy into every Women's Rights battle, until true equality is finally achieved.
Your tragedy, for shame, was your greatest gift to womankind. Thank you, Ms Davison; and I'm sorry. I really am.