Source 4

Two extracts from an account by Mary Raleigh Richardson entitled ‘Laugh a Defiance: an autobiography’. Published by George Weidenfeld & Nicolson: an imprint of The Orion Publishing Group, London, 1953.


Mary Richardson was a prominent suffragette present at the Derby who observed what happened to Emily Davison.


From where I stood it was impossible to see the Royal Box; but I knew by the cheering and excited faces of the people near me that Their Majesties had arrived. Just as the first race began I summoned up all my courage and took out a copy of ‘The Suffragette’ from my bag and waved it in the air. I had judged correctly: except for the scornful glances cast in my direction I was not molested.


It was not until the end of the third race that I saw Emily Davison.


We had met several times and from the talks we had had I had formed the opinion that she was a very serious-minded person. That was why I felt so surprised to see her. She was not the sort of woman to spend an afternoon at the races. I smiled to her; and from the distance she seemed to be smiling faintly back at me. She stood alone there, close to the white-painted rails where the course bends round at Tattenham Corner; she looked absorbed and yet far away from everybody else and seemed to have no interest in what was going on round her. I felt a sudden premonition about her and found my heart was beating excitedly. I shall always remember how beautifully calm her face was. But at that very moment – as I was told afterwards by her closest friend – she knew she was about to give her life for the cause.


It is impossible to explain feelings like that; one can only accept them and wonder. The evening before the Derby Emily had told a few friends, quite calmly, that she would be the only casualty. No one else would be injured, not even the jockey.


I was unable to keep my eyes off her as I stood holding ‘The Suffragette’ up in my clenched hand. A minute before the race started she raised a paper of her own or some kind of card before her eyes. I was watching her hand. It did not shake. Even when I head the pounding of the horses’ hooves moving closer I saw she was still smiling. And suddenly she slipped under the rail and ran out into the middle of the racecourse. It was all over so quickly. Emily was under the hooves of one of the horses and seemed to be hurled for some distance across the grass. The horse stumbled sideways and its jockey was thrown from its back. She lay very still.


There was an awful silence that seemed to go on for minutes; then, suddenly, angry shouts and cries arose and people swarmed out on to the racecourse. I was rooted to the earth with horror until a man snatched the paper I was still holding in my hand and beat it across my face. That warned me of my own danger.


« Return to What methods did the Suffragettes use to gain the vote?
  • What was the author, Mary Richardson, doing at Derby day?
  • Why was she surprised to see Emily Davison there?
  • How does this version of events differ from the newspaper account given in source 3?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of this autobiographical evidence when trying to find out what happened?
  • Research the history of Mary Richardson.