Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Today -100: June 5, 1913: A Day at the Races

Emily Wilding Davison, a suffragette of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) with a long history of activism, including 8 imprisonments, 7 hunger strikes and 49 forcible feedings, attempted to disrupt the Derby by grabbing the reins of a horse (the king’s horse Anmer as it happened), or possibly she thought all the horses were past and intended to unfurl a women’s suffrage banner, which she had wrapped around her body under her coat, or attach it to the horse. Her intentions have been debated up to the present – there was a documentary on British tv examining the question just last week (and a note to that program’s presenter Clare Balding, who kept referring to the “hidden history” of the suffrage movement: not to be a snitch, but I can tell you exactly where it’s hiding: in the many books on the subject you never bothered to read) – but it was widely assumed at the time that she’d deliberately killed herself. The horse is fine (finished the race sans jockey, second to last), the jockey Herbert Jones is injured but not too seriously, Emily is rather badly trampled, and will die in a few days.

You can find newsreel footage of the incident on YouTube, if you’re into that sort of thing. They certainly were into that sort of thing in England: by the end of day the film had already been shown at the Palace Theatre.

There is a problem when real news happens at sporting events: the news gets written by sports reporters. The sports reporter from the London Times notes that the Derby was marked by two events, 1) the intrusion of a suffragette onto the track, and 2) the (unrelated) disqualification of the favorite, for deliberately bumping other horses, so that the winner was a horse whose odds had been 100:1. And it’s pretty clear which of those events the reporter considered more important. But the Timeseditorial
isn’t much better: “The desperate act of a woman who rushed from the rails on to the course as the horses swept round Tattenham Corner, apparently from some mad notion that she could spoil the race, will impress the general public even more, perhaps, than the disqualification of the winner.” Perhaps! Perhaps!! It continues: “She did not interfere with the race, but she nearly killed a jockey as well as herself, and she brought down a valuable horse.” The Evening Standard wrote: “It is highly characteristic of suffragette militancy that an attempt should be made to introduce a note of tragedy into a day of festival.”

The queen sent a telegram to the jockey in hospital: “Queen Alexandra was very sorry indeed to read of your sad accident caused through the abominable conduct of a brutal lunatic woman.” Jones will ride the winning horse in the Derby in 1919.

The WSPU will elevate Davison to martyrdom, which implies that her death was intentional (and not just the WSPU; the Free Church Suffrage Times proclaimed that never before Emily Wilding Davison had anyone died for the freedom of women: “Something new is with us, the love of women for women, and of this new passion, Miss Davison’s death is the supreme expression, and perhaps, the price.”). Whether her intentions really included the ultimate self-sacrifice or not, there was an ecological niche open in the movement for a martyr, and she filled it nicely. A quicky biography of Davison by Gertrude Colmore repeatedly compares her to Joan of Arc (the suffragettes loved them some Joan of Arc). The June 13th issue of The Suffragette says that Davison’s death “has fired the imagination and touched the heart of the people” and Christabel Pankhurst calls the death “A wonderful act of faith!” adding, “It is only men and women of superhuman generosity and courage who can die for those unseen, unheard, unknown.”

The National American Woman’s Suffrage Association announces that it will begin electoral work in support of pro-suffrage candidates in every Congressional district. This is a (somewhat controversial) move away from the old state-by-state suffrage strategy and towards a federal constitutional amendment. The work will be done by the NAWSA’s Congressional Union, under the leadership of Alice Paul, which will soon split off from the more conservative NAWSA.

The controller of the Treasury tells Treasury Secretary William Gibbs McAdoo that he can’t have a government-paid-for automobile.

There’s a fight in the Hungarian Parliament after Prime Minister von Lukacs is declared guilty of misappropriating government funds for party purposes. “During the uproar that followed an opposition Deputy ex-Premier Count Khuen-Héderváry von Hédervár, was knocked down with two blows of his sword by the Captain of the guard, who afterward asserted his right as an officer to knock down any one who insulted him, as the Count had done, by shouting ‘Fie!’ at him three times.”

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