Emily Davison and votes for women


Woman at the ballot box, late 1920s (Copyright: Scanpix) Woman at the ballot box, late 1920s (Copyright: Scanpix)

In 1903 a group of British women known as suffragettes decided they could wait no longer for the right to vote.  So they founded the Women’s Social and Political Union in order to show the country that women and men should have the same rights. They did not only march in demonstrations: they broke windows, destroyed letter boxes, cut telephone wires, burned empty buildings, and threw stones at politicians. This, in the early years of the twentieth century, was a scandal! Many of the women were put in prison, where they went on hunger strike. And one of them gave her life for the movement.

Her name was Emily Davison and she was a teacher who had been to Oxford, Britain’s most famous university. She was a very active suffragette – “suffrage” means the right to vote – and was sent to jail several times. She almost died in prison when she went on hunger strike, but she did not give up.

On 4 June 1913 she tried to draw attention to the question of women’s rights by throwing herself in front of the king’s horse during the Epsom Derby, the most famous horse race in Britain. Lots of the most powerful people in Britain saw this happen, and Emily died four days later. The women of Britain were given the right to vote in 1928 – fifteen years later!


Complete these sentences by choosing one word or phrase in each pair in brackets.

  1. The suffragettes (had / wanted) the right to vote.
  2. The Women’s Social and Political Union was (established / ended) in 1903.
  3. They (knocked down / set fire to) empty buildings.
  4. When in prison, the suffragettes (refused to eat / ate too much).
  5. Oxford is Britain’s (best known / newest) university.
  6. Emily Davison (really / nearly) died of hunger.
  7. The Epsom Derby is (well known / little known).
  8. Women were given the right to vote (immediately / a long time) after Emily Davison’s death.