04.06.1913: One hundred years ago the Epsom Derby was disrupted by perhaps the most famous protest at a sporting event in history.
Britain at the time was bitterly divided. The early Trade Unions and others striking against poverty wages and appalling working conditions. The cause for Ireland’s Freedom was attracting support on both sides of the Irish Sea. And from the Suffragettes a massive wave of non-violent direct action.
For these Suffragettes the Derby was absolutely a legitimate target for their protest. Horse-racing was the sport of the Establishment , Epsom a day out to celebrate tradition, one that denied women the vote. The King and Queen would be in attendance to watch the KIng’s horse race for glory.
When Emily Wilding Davison ran on to the racecourse a century ago she hoped to stop the race and ensure that women’s voices be heard. When the horse racing at full speed collided with her the chances of survival were virtually non-existent. she never regained consciousness and four days later she lost her battle to live.
Emily’s heroic, yet fatal, action formed part of a protest movement that involved many thousands more women. From smashing every shop window in London’s West End to blowing up post boxes, via disrupting Parliament’s proceedings and heckling MPs at public meetings this was a campaign few could ignore. So instead imprisonment, and when the demand by the women that they be treated as political prisoners was also ignored the Suffragettes responded by going on hunger strike. Again their punishment was more repression, brutalised by force-feeding these ferociously brave women still refused to abandon their cause.
The Suffragettes were not fighting for the vote alone, but for women’s liberation too. Most saw the vote as one step towards getting what they wanted. The Suffragette movement was large and strong, yet at the same time complex and multifaceted, combining those for whom hope lay in constitutional reform with others who believed in the vocabulary of revolution. Whatever their differing objectives the result of the campaign was the loosening of the ideological hold of men over women. Women gained a real sense of their equality, and began to establish a determination to put it into practice. By their actions and protests , as well as their ideas and arguments, the Suffragettes liberated themselves and all their sisters too.
In 1918 the Representation of the People Act finally awarded women the vote, but only for those over 30 years of age. In 1928, fifteen years after Emily gave her life for the cause women’s parity in the vote was finally recognised when the voting age for women was reduced to 21 years, the same as for men.
Philosophy Football have produced a set of commemorative designs featuring the colours purple, green and white. These were hugely symbolic for the Suffragette cause. Purple was for dignity, white for purity and green for hope. Militant, committed to direct acton, courageous and in the end victorious too. Deeds not Words and Dare to be Free were the twin ideals, worn as brooches, on sashes, carried as banners, that shaped the Suffragette movement. A century later we can wear them again as T-shirts. All designs available from http://www.philosophyfootball.comPhilosophy Football
The shirts are in support of the Emily Wilding Davison Centenary Campaign.