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Emily Wilding Davison – A remarkable life

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Liz Chapman

From The Women’s Library at the London School of Economics

Liz Chapman, of The Women’s Library at the London School of Economics, explains how their online exhibition on suffragist Emily Wilding Davison documents not only an infamous death, but a remarkable life

100 years ago this weekend, suffragist Emily Wilding Davison died from the injuries she had sustained 4 days earlier, stepping in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby on 4 June 1913, in what became her final act of protest.

More than just her death

London School of Economics (LSE) Library’s Emily Wilding Davison Online Exhibition to mark this centenary reflects our belief that Davison’s life should not be solely defined by her death. The materials chosen in the online exhibition provide a record of a remarkable life – her achievements, relationships and her dedication to the suffragette cause.
Emily Wilding Davison rail ticketOur exhibition documents Davison’s famous overnight stay in a cupboard in the Houses of Parliament in 1911, in order to have Westminster as her address on census night. We feature her letter, a Unesco listed document, describing the brutality of being force-fed in Holloway prison during her hunger strikes – one of the 49 recorded occasions of force-feeding Davison endured during her several spells of imprisonment. We include the manuscripts of her speeches setting out the case for full equality with fervour and candour.
The items found on Davison’s body after she was struck by the King’s horse in her fatal protest are also displayed – her tiny purse, race card and the return ticket from London Victoria to Epsom.

Technologies of the modern age

It is fitting that the modern technologies of digitisation and the internet have enabled LSE Library to bring Davison’s life to new audiences. Her iconic status is in part due to the fact that her death was captured by the then new technology of motion pictures. It is also apt that the Davison collection has a new home at the London School of Economics, one of the world’s leading universities. Davison was a pioneer of higher education and was dedicated to her studies against considerable odds. At a time when it was nearly impossible for women to take a degree, she earned first class honours from London University Holloway College via St Hugh’s, Oxford.

Women’s Library digital projects

The Davison Online Exhibition has allowed LSE Library to both build on our digitisation credentials, and points to our plans for the future. Last year our successful PhoneBooth project created an interactive website and smartphone app of Charles Booth’s socio-economic maps of London.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller with dancers from the suffragettes sequence in the London 2012 Olympics ceremony

Later in 2013 we’ll be launching The Women’s Library Timeline, our most ambitious digitisation project to date- – the digitisation, referencing and chronological presentation of over 300 materials from The Women’s Library @ LSE collection. We’re also partnering with Arts Council England to start work on Women’s Walks, a smartphone app that will allow users to engage with archive materials from women’s history as they walk through the streets of London. The app will be publicly available in early 2014.
This range of projects stays true to the commitment we made when we took over from London Metropolitan University the custodianship of The Women’s Library Collection in January 2013. We pledged to protect the collection, enhance its profile by reaching a larger audience and utilise the full range of resources at LSE’s disposal. Our Emily Wilding Davison Online Exhibition embodies this commitment, and it is right that our commemoration of this great woman has marked the start of this exciting new era.
Liz Chapman is Library Director London School of Economics, which includes The Women’s Library.

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