Suffragettes through the eyes of the press

While reflecting on the previous blogs I have written, I realised I have spent much time looking into the suffragettes and their violent tactics. There is no denying that my interest in this history lies more in the social and cultural characteristics of suffragettes than legal and slow progression attempted by the suffragists in the mid-19th century. I am not entirely sure of the reasoning behind it, perhaps I am more absorbed in the lives and experiences of the people rather than affairs of the state. As the result, for this final blog project regarding suffragette violence, I wanted to analyse the opinion of those observing from the shadows – those who used the power of words. The press.

In the United Kingdom, radio was not used for broadcasting news up until the 1920s[1]; television was not introduced until 1936[2], and the idea of the internet would be laughed at. Thus, it is not a surprise that people relied heavily on the local and national newspapers for the gossip and news of the day. For suffragettes, publicity was a crucial element of their campaign and naturally, newspapers were the main source for spreading their message across the country[3].

Of course, discussing the press and the suffrage movement would require more blogs and time; both of which I do not have. So to be more specific, I decided to look into the press reaction regarding two events that (questionably) involved one very controversial and interesting figure – Emily Davison.

I am sure most of you have heard of her already, she is indeed one of the key figures of the movement. Some see her as inspiration, others, as a lunatic. In this blog, I am not trying to portray her (or her fellow suffragettes) in any specific way, that will be up to you to decide. What I will do, though, is looking into how Davison and the suffragette famous violence was portrayed by the press at the time. I will start by examining the growth of suffragette violence, specifically the bombing of Lloyd George (future) house; in which Davison has suspected to have played a part. Then I will look into the death of Emily Davison herself and how that was both: a breakthrough to the movement and an example of how ‘insane’ women can be.

I have chosen these two events because they are different, yet share many similarities at the same time. For instance, both events revolve around violence, occurred in the same year and both were committed for the same cause. I also find it ironic that the bombing of the house was an actual illegal (some even call it terrorist[4]) attack but has been forgotten in the suffrage history. In comparison, Emily Davison’s actions not only led to her fatality but also drove the jockey to commit suicide[5] – yet she is portrayed as a martyr.


The birth of violence

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 12.33.03
Postcard: Suffragists attacking a policeman. [Circa 1905-1910]

By the late 19th century, civil and political tactics used by the Suffragists were becoming ineffective. Emmeline Pankhurst along with her daughters felt that if they wanted to gain any sort of improvement they had to change their strategies[6]. In 1903, they founded Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) along with adopting a new motto – ‘Deeds, not words’ – which symbolised a new era of the movement.[7]  Though, it is important to note that the violence that we usually associate suffragettes with, such as bombing, window breaking and property damaging did not start taking place up until 1910[8].

During the first decade of the 20th century, the actions by suffragettes were relatively peaceful. The reason for the growth in their committed ferocity can be identified as a response to legal changes happening around them. For instance, Campbell-Bannerman was replaced by Herbert Asquith as a Prime Minister in 1908 and unsurprisingly, suffragettes were not thrilled[9]. Their violent behaviour increased again in 1912 after Herbert Asquith’s proposition of plural voting was rejected[10].

Emmeline Pankhurst claimed that the militancy was “a guerrilla warfare against the Government”[11] and to win: “We had to make English law a failure and the courts farce comedy theatres; we had to discredit the Government and Parliament in the eyes of the world; we had to spoil English sports, hurt business, destroy valuable property, demoralise the world of society, shame the churches, upset the whole orderly conduct of life”[12].

She was born to be a leader, and it is no surprise that her speeches have inspired many people – women and men alike.


The bombing of Lloyd George’s house


I have chosen this example to represent suffragette violence because, in my opinion, it symbolises the peak in their ferocity. These are the known facts that were published by The Times newspaper on the 20th February 1913[13]:

  • The bombing of Lloyd George weekend cottage took place in the early morning hours of 19th February 1913.
  • Around 6 o’clock in the morning, an explosion of 300-yard radius, confused and scared neighbouring residents.
  • There were two bombs found at the scene, but one of them failed to explode.
  • The house was badly (but not irreparably) damaged with 5 rooms destroyed in the servant wing.
  • There were no witnesses and culprits were never caught.
  • The only evidence was hatpins and hairpins.
  • The Times did not report it at the time, but the estimated damage was around 600 pounds[14].

When researching, I simply could not comprehend the idea that they put someone’s life in danger. Bombs are unpredictable and could have hurt or even killed someone. So I found myself asking what drove them to such extreme actions? It was not hard to find such information, in fact, there was a number of the newspaper articles concerning this event. On 26th February Daily Herald wrote an article called ‘Hobhouse Incites to Violence’[15]. It has stated that Mr Hobhouse has challenged women by arguing that ‘women had shown no real demand for the vote the same as men had’[16]. This is also supported by Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Review which on 1st October 1912 stated that “Mr Hobhouse’s taunt that the Suffragists had not yet resorted to violence, is a direct incentive to violence”[17]. Naturally, suffragettes were inclined to prove these accusations wrong by showing exactly how far they are willing to go.

The press was on the case instantly, mostly sticking to the factual information I have listed above. While there was no evidence on which individuals could have done it, due to the hat and hairpins found at the scene the blame by most newspapers was placed upon suffragettes. For instance, Western Daily Press wrote: “it is generally believed that the outrage was the work of the Suffragettes”[18]. At first, suffragettes denied any involvement, but soon, Emmeline Pankhurst proudly took responsibility for the action and some of the press has either included her statement along with the report or published it the following day. She stated that the aim of the bombing was directed at Lloyd George that they wanted to wake him up… wake his conscience[19].

So how did the press react? There were two types of articles I have found – it either justified their actions or had no sympathy in mind. The positive statements came from left-wing newspapers since they were more lenient with the actions taken for the greater cause regarding social equality. Daily Herald, for instance, ignored the danger that it was and stated that “the plans of the wreckers were well laid”[20] it also included a statement from Mrs Drummond who shared her opinion as follows:

“I think it’s grand… it was a fine affair successfully carried out and shows the determination of the women. When Mr Lloyd George learns that his house has been wrecked he will realise that things are getting worse”[21].

Furthermore, after the initial shock has diminished, Daily Herald not only justified the actions of suffragettes, but also began blaming the government and the public. It wrote:

“the Government are not the only ones to blame. The public has been apathetic towards the women’s cause, consequently women have been compelled to bring further pressure to bear not only on the government, but the public also.”[22]

Another type of reports (mostly from the conservative right-wing newspapers) did not share positivity as Daily Herald. In other newspapers, the suffragettes were often called terrorists with no regard to other life. For example, the Leicester Chronicle on 22nd February called them ‘criminals’ and had an underlining message that they these women were ‘unwise’[23].  The counter-attack that circulated in anti-suffrage press focused on the idea that the whole scene they made was for nothing. The Leicester Chronicle wrote: “the affair is not without its elements of humour, in that the Suffragettes – if they wanted to injure the Chancellor – had all their trouble for nothing”[24]. The Derby Daily Telegraph also made fun of suffragettes by stating that “the house did not affect Lloyd George in the legal and financial factors – if that was suffragette plan then they have failed”[25]. In addition, the statements were taken from both Lloyd George and Sir George Riddell (legal owner of the house) about their feelings regarding the incident, and both men were relatively un-phased[26]. Suffragettes aim was to ‘wake’ George up, but his reaction perhaps was a huge disappointment to them.

Simon Webb, in his book, The Suffragette Bombers stated that the bombing of Lloyd George house was a ‘serious escalation in political violence’[27]. So I asked myself, what outcome did it have to the suffrage movement? Was this ‘bad’ publicity worth it? From the information I have found, it appears that the growth of the violence backfired. For instance, Simon Webb pointed out that on the 17th of March, the peaceful gathering in Hide Park that suffragettes had planned turned into an intense riot[28]. The public reportedly called women ‘Incendiary!’,Shopbreakers!’ and clods of earth were dug up and thrown and women grabbed and manhandled”[29]. This is a clear evidence that while the press gave them publicity, the bad coverage regarding the growth of violence and terrorist attacks from suffragettes have lost them a great deal of supporters.


Emily Davison’s death


No one knew who the culprits of the bombing were, and with Emmeline Pankhurst’s confession, people stopped asking. However, Sylvia Pankhurst, later in her life, stated that she had high suspicions that Emily Davison was involved[30]. So who was Emily Davison?

From all the suffragettes to me personally, Davison has been the most interesting individual. I would not be surprised if she really was involved in the bombing of Lloyd’s house. She was, after all, a very determined woman. I am fascinated by her because there are so many unanswered questions surrounding her, such as: Did she commit suicide? Was it planned? Or was it simply a dreadful accident? But these are the questions for the future. For today, I want to look specifically into how the press responded to her death and if it helped or hindered the suffrage movement.

I am sure most of you are aware of the tragedy that followed, if not, this is a basic summary of the events that occurred on 4th June 1913.  There was a race taking place at Derby, the most important event of the month where King’s horse was participating. The Derby Daily Telegraph reported that a woman, who was identified as Emily Davison “rushed in front of the King’s horse, Anmer… with the result that she was knocked down and seriously injured, whilst the horse fell and its jockey, Jones, also injured. Wrapped around the woman’s waist. Under her jacket, as a suffragist flag.”[31] She was immediately taken to the hospital, where she died from her injuries four days later on 8th June 1913.

When the news about the incident broke out, it spread across the country within hours. It was something that did not occur in a long time and the most common word used to describe the incident was simply ‘sensational’. The Nottingham Evening Post headline was ‘All About the Derby Sensation’[32]; The Derby Daily Telegraph introduced it as ‘sensational incident’[33];  Aberdeen Press and Journal called it ‘the most remarkable scene ever witnessed’; and even The Daily Herald (pro-suffragettes paper) named it ‘The Derby Sensation’[34]. The event was being filmed by the cameras from almost all the angles and soon enough the film was shown of the incident to those who were interested enough to see it[35].

The initial reaction from the press was a mixture of shock and outrage, especially from the conservative right-wing newspapers. A day after the incident, Nottingham Evening Post published an article which called Emily ‘insane’ woman who “sought to bring some evil mischance, irrespective of the possibly serious consequences, involved for the jockey and for the woman herself”[36]. It went as far as comparing her to “the Anarchist who is blown up by his own bomb”. The public was indeed shocked at how far women were willing to go. The Guardian reported that the crowd “could not believe at first that the woman ran out deliberately. They thought that she must have had the idea that all the horses had gone by…” while others saw it as “the deed of a mad person or a suicide…”[37]. There were also reports that “the police had to hold the crowd back, who were angry with her for spoiling the day and embarrassing the king”[38]. You perhaps suspected that this was a plan by WSPU, but it appears that even her fellow friends did not know her plot. In the later years, Emmeline Pankhurst in her autobiography wrote: “while I was still bed-ridden, a terrible event occurred, one that should have shaken the solid British public into a realisation of the seriousness of the situation…” “…the death of Miss Davison was a great shock to me and a very great grief as well”[39].

When the news of her reached the people, the country grieved.  While the suffragettes finally had a martyr they have been waiting for and they did not miss a chance in using this tragedy to their advantage. On the 13th June 1913, their newspaper The Suffragette published a moving image of Emily portrayed as an angel with a subtitle “in honour and in loving, reverent memory of Emily Wilding Davison. She died for women.”[40] Furthermore, as mentioned before, the government was blamed for the actions of suffragettes and this was a moment that women pushed politicians for the vote with the power of the press. The Guardian published Miss Christabel Pankhurst challenge to the government where she stated “what has the Government to say of Miss Davison’s death? How many more martyrs do they ask for before they give women the vote?”[41].

The general reaction of the press has also changed – there was no mockery or anger but simply respect and sympathy to her family and friends. That is not to say that there were no newspapers that focused on the negative aspect of the case. For instance, the article published by Manchester Guardian on June 9th pointed out that Emily’s lack of consideration towards the safety of jockeys and horses put “a new obstacle to women’s suffrage” and her actions kept “women voteless and ‘militancy’ prominent”[42]. What I find interesting, however, is the considerable number of angry letters the author has received for stating his opinion against Davison; which shows that Emily Davison has inspired many people. This is also evident in more positive press coverage such as by The Daily Herald where Emily was named a ‘heroine’ and her passing was as a ‘Victory in Death!’[43]. Her influence can also be seen in The Derby Daily Telegraph where Miss Kenney reportedly told the jury that “I shall be a rebel until we get the vote if it means like Emily Wilding Davison I have to die to get the vote, I shall die.[44] Her bravery was even famous in France, where Maurice de Waleffe in Paris Midi wrote “This British virgin, who, like the Christians, of ancient Rome, throws herself into the circus in front of the Chariot race and dies to attest her faith, will have done more to advance feminism that thirty councils.”[45]

Lastly, I want to point out an interesting detail that I stumbled across while reading Simon Webb’s book[46]. I am sure most of you have never heard of an individual named Harold Hewitt (Harry Hewitt) since there is not much written about him. Surprisingly, two weeks Emily Davison’s incident, Hewitt has done the exact same thing – he jumped in front of the horse with a suffrage flag in his hands[47].  The Scotsman stated that “police was satisfied…(it) has nothing whatever to do with the suffragist movement” and it was simply an act of a copycat[48].

If you are interested reading more about him, check out Lesley’s blog.  By using him as an example, I just wanted to point out that Emily Davison also influenced people not in a good way and that not all incidents were reported by the press.

To conclude, learning history (that we usually learn from the books) with newspapers is a fascinating thing. This is because you read what people read at the time, allowing you follow the events day by day as they once did. It also allowed me to feel a stronger connection to the time period it was written in. Thus, looking at the suffragette militancy, specifically into the bombing of Lloyd George house and the death of Emily Davison through the eyes of the press allowed me to better understand how far they were willing to go to get the vote – which sadly, nowadays we take for granted. 



2970 words

[1]Andrew Crisell, An Introductory History of British Broadcasting, 1st ed. (London: Routledge, 1997). P.13

[2]Mark Aldridge, The Birth of British Television: A History, 1st ed. (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). p.1

[3]British Library, Newspapers, image, n.d., accessed April 13, 2018,

[4] Simon Webb, The Suffragette Bombers: Britain’s Forgotten Terrorists, Kindle Edition (South Yourkshare: Pen & Sword, 2014). Introduction.

[5] Ibid. ch.5

[6] Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story, Kindle Edition (London: Hearst’s international library Co, 1914). p.11

[7] Emmeline Pankhurst, Suffragette, The Autobiography of Emmeline Pankhurst, Kindle Edition (London: Hearsts’s International Library, 1914). P.39

[8] ibid. book 3 ch.1

[9] Webb, The Suffragette Bomber, ch.4

[10] ibid

[11] Pankhurst, My Own Story, p.200

[12] ibid

[13] The Times, “The Bomb Outrage in Surrey”, 20.02.1913, p.6 accessed April 20, 2018,

[14] Derby Daily Telegraph, “The Bomb Outrage At Mr Lloyd George’s House”, 20.02.1913, p.2 accessed April 20, 2018,

[15] William Cullen, “Hobhouse Incites to Violence’”, Daily Herald, 26.02.1913, p.6 accessed March 19, 2018,

[16] ibid

[17] Olga Hartley, “Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Review”, Women’s Work, 01.10.1912, p.16 accessed April 17, 2018,

[18] Western Daily Press, “Alarming Bomb Outrage”, 1913, p.10 accessed April 20, 2018,

[19] Derby Daily Telegraph, “The Bomb Outrage At Mr Lloyd George’s House”, p.2

[20] Daily Herald, “Propaganda By Deed”, 20.02.1913, p.1 accessed April 19, 2018,

[21] ibid

[22] Cullen, “Hobhouse Incites to Violence’”, Daily Herald, p.6

[23] Leicester Chronicle, “Suffragette Bomb Outrage”, 22.02.1913, p.2 accessed April 16, 2018,

[24] ibid

[25] Derby Daily Telegraph, “The Bomb Outrage At Mr Lloyd George’S House”, 20.02.1913, p.2 accessed February 19, 2018,

[26] Ibid.

[27] Webb, The Suffragette Bomber, ch.6

[28] ibid

[29] ibid

[30] ibid ch.6

[31] Derby Daily Telegraph, “Summary Of News”, 05.06.1913, p.2 accessed April 18, 2018,

[32] Nottingham Evening Post, “Suffragists Mad Plunge”, 1913, p.3 accessed April 18, 2018,

[33] Derby Daily Telegraph, “Summary Of News”, 05.06.1913, p.2

[34] Daily Herald, “The Derby Sensation”, 1913, p.7 accessed April 16, 2018,

[35] Video Of Emily Wilding’s Death, video, 1913, accessed April 20, 2018,

[36]Nottingham Evening Post, “Suffragists Mad Plunge”, 1913 p.3

[37] The Guardian, “Suffragette’s Rush To The Course”, 05.06.1913, p.9 accessed April 20, 2018,

[38] Diane Atkinson, Rise Up Women!: The Remarkable Lives Of The Suffragettes, ebook (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018), ch.2 accessed April 18, 2018,

[39] Pankhurst, My Own Story, p.226

[40] The Suffragette, “Emily Wilding Davison”, 13.06.1913, p.1 accessed April 20, 2018,

[41] The Guardian, “Miss Davison’s Death”, 10.06.1913, p.9 accessed April 20, 2018,

[42] The Guardian, “A Horrible Responsibility”, 09.06. 1913, p.6 accessed April 20, 2018,

[43] Daily Herald, “Grand Triumph Funeral March”, 16.06.1913, p.3 accessed April 20, 2018,

[44]Derby Daily Telegraph, “The Suffragists”, 17.06.1913, p.3, accessed April 18, 2018,

[45]The Observer, “The Derby Suffragette”, 08.06. 1913, p.14 accessed April 20, 2018,

[46] Webb, The Suffragette Bomber

[47]The Scotsman, “Royal Ascot Sensation”, 20.06.1913, p.7 accessed April 20, 2018,

[48] ibid





Primary sources

British Library. Newspapers. Image, n.d. Accessed April 13, 2018.

Cullen, William. “Hobhouse Incites To Violence’”. Daily Herald, 1913. Accessed March 19, 2018.

Daily Herald. “The Derby Sensation”, 1913. Accessed April 16, 2018.

Daily Herald. “Propaganda By Deed”, 1913. Accessed April 19, 2018.

Derby Daily Telegraph. “The Bomb Outrage At Mr Lloyd George’S House”, 1913. Accessed February 19, 2018.

Derby Daily Telegraph. “Summary Of News”, 1913. Accessed April 18, 2018.

Derby Daily Telegraph. “The Suffragists”, 1913. Accessed April 18, 2018.

Daily Herald. “Grand Triumph Funeral March”, 1913. Accessed April 20, 2018.

Hartley, Olga. “Conservative And Unionist Women’s Franchise Review”. Women’s Work, 1912. Accessed April 17, 2018.

Leicester Chronicle. “Suffragette Bomb Outrage”, 1913. Accessed April 16, 2018.

Leitrim Advertiser. “Another Victory For Irish Bred Horses”, 1913. Accessed April 19, 2018.

Nottingham Evening Post. “Suffragists Mad Plunge”, 1913. Accessed April 18, 2018.

Pankhurst, Emmeline. My Own Story. London: Hearst’s international library Co, 1914.

Pankhurst, Emmeline. Suffragette, The Autobiography Of Emmeline Pankhurst. Kindle Edition. London: Hearsts’s International Library, 1914.

The Guardian. “A Horrible Responsibility”, 1913. Accessed April 20, 2018.

The Guardian. “Miss Davison’s Death”, 1913. Accessed April 20, 2018.

The Guardian. “Suffragette’s Rush To The Course”, 2018. Accessed April 20, 2018.

The Scotsman. “Royal Ascot Sensation”, 1913. Accessed April 20, 2018.

The Suffragette. “Emily Wilding Davison”, 1913. Accessed April 20, 2018.

The Times. “The Bomb Outrage In Surrey”, 1913. Accessed April 20, 2018.

Video Of Emily Wilding’s Death. Video, 1913. Accessed April 20, 2018.

Western Daily Press. “Alarming Bomb Outrage”, 1913. Accessed April 20, 2018.



Secondary sources

Aldridge, Mark. The Birth Of British Television: A History. 1st ed. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Atkinson, Diane. Rise Up Women!: The Remarkable Lives Of The Suffragettes. Ebook. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2018.

Crisell, Andrew. An Introductory History Of British Broadcasting. 1st ed. London: Routledge, 1997.

Webb, Simon. The Suffragette Bombers: Britain’s Forgotten Terrorists, Kindle Edition. South Yourkshare: Pen & Sword, 2014.



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