There’s been much media coverage in recent days commemorating Emily Wilding Davison’s death following her collision with the King’s horse at Epsom in 1913. The centenary of that event has prompted comment about the suffragettes, their role in gaining votes for women and what contemporary campaigners might learn from them.
Like most feminists, I am in awe of the suffragettes and what they were prepared to do for my sake, and the sake of all women in the UK who are now able to exercise their democratic right to vote. However, I am perturbed and concerned that the enormous contribution of moderate suffrage campaigners, such as Millicent Fawcett, has largely been left out of current discourse. It seems to me that this might be an example of how some of us have a tendency to romanticise protest and direct action, and to marginalise or ignore the role of moderate campaigners who prefer to use constitutional methods in pursuit of social change. Alongside paying homage to the suffragettes, I also want to celebrate the considerable achievements of Millicent Fawcett, the woman who led the parliamentary campaign for women’s suffrage and was instrumental in gaining votes for women.