At the Epsom Derby on 4th June 1913, as the race was in full swing, 40-year-old suffragette Emily Wilding Davison ducked beneath a guard rail on the final bend and ventured onto the track just as the horses thundered past. Her exact motives remain unclear to this day, yet it is now believed that she intended to attach a purple, green and white scarf to the bridle of King George V’s horse in an act of protest. This act, however, led to a tragic collision, resulting in fatal injuries from which she would succumb four days later. On 14th June, her body was honoured by a procession of 5,000 suffragettes and supporters who escorted her coffin through the streets of London, while an estimated 50,000 people lined the route. Among those onlookers was Katharine ‘Kate’ Frye, an actress and suffragist working with the ‘New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage’ who later recalled the event in her diary.
The Diary Entry
Saturday June 14th 1913. [Kate is lodging in Baker Street, London] I had had a black coat and skirt sent there for Miss Davison’s funeral procession and the landlady had given me permission to change in her room. I tore into my black things then we tore off by tube to Piccadilly and had some lunch in Lyons. But the time was getting on – and the cortege was timed to start at 2 o’clock from Victoria.
We saw it splendidly at the start until we were driven away from our position and then could not see for the crowds and then we walked right down Buckingham Palace Rd and joined in the procession at the end. It was really most wonderful – the really organised part – groups of women in black with white lilies – in white and in purple – and lots of clergymen and special sort of pall bearers each side of the coffin.
She gave her life publicly to make known to the public the demand of Votes for Women – it was only fitting she should be honoured publicly by the comrades. It must have been most imposing.
The crowds were thinner in Piccadilly but the windows were filled but the people had all tramped north and later on the crowds were tremendous. The people who stood watching were mostly reverent and well behaved. We were with the rag tag and bobtail element but they were very earnest people. It was tiring. Sometimes we had long waits – sometimes the pace was tremendous. Most of the time we could hear a band playing the funeral march.
Just before Kings Cross we came across Miss Forsyth (a fellow worker for the New Constitutional Society) – some of the New Constitutional Society had been marching with the Tax Resisters. I had not seen them or should have joined in. I had a chat with her.
Near Kings Cross the procession lost all semblance of a procession – one crowded process – everyone was moving. We lost our banner – we all got separated and our idea was to get away from the huge crowd of unwashed unhealthy creatures pressing us on all sides. We went down the Tube way. But I did not feel like a Tube and went through to the other side finding ourselves in Kings Cross station.
Saying we wanted tea we went on the platform and there was the train – the special carriage for the coffin – and, finding a seat, sank down and we did not move until the train left. Lots of the processionists were in the train, which was taking the body to Northumberland for interrment – and another huge procession tomorrow. To think she had had to give her life because men will not listen to the claims of reason and of justice. . .
In 2013, Katharine ‘Kate’ Frye’s diary was published by Francis Boutle Publishers, titled Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary. Edited by historian Elizabeth Crawford, the diary covers Frye’s life from 1911 to 1915 and features dozens of archival images.
- Visit the History Workshop website to read an article by the book’s editor, Elizabeth Crawford, and to see some pictures of the original diary.
- The incident was captured on three cameras that day. Footage can be seen on the website of the BFI, should you be interested.
- Here are the two flags found on Emily Wilding Davison’s body after the collision.
- With regard to Frye’s motives, there is an interesting article on the Guardian website relating to some “hi-tech” analysis of the footage from that day.
Diary entry excerpted from Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary, edited by Elizabeth Crawford. Reprinted by kind permission of Francis Boutle Publishers.