Moonlight Phoenix has risen

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Book Review: The Suffragette who died for Women’s Rights

on February 20, 2018

I wrote a book review back in 2013 about this book and my review never got published by the site I wrote it for sadly so thought all these years later I’d share it now with you, since it’s the centenary year and all that!

The Suffragette Who Died for Women’s Rights by Lucy Fisher

I have to admit despite identifying as a feminist for quite some time now, my knowledge of the history of the suffragette movement has been somewhat limited. I can’t recall learning anything about them in my history lessons at school and I think my first real glimpse into what these women went through to win us the right to vote was the powerful film ‘Iron Jawed Angels.’ Then, recently there was a documentary on Channel 4 presented by Clare Balding called ‘Secrets of a Suffragette’ in which she looked into the history of a woman called Emily Wilding Davison who just over one hundred years ago walked into the midst of a horse race and died, sparking debate over many years as to whether it was a suicide attempt or was a political protest gone wrong. I had never even heard of Emily until this program, so when the opportunity came to read a biography of her life, it was an offer I found hard to refuse.

I was rather impressed to read that the author of the book is quite young, in her early twenties and is already a news journalist for the Sunday Times. There is a clear reason for her decision to write this particular biography, she discovered she was in fact related to Emily Wilding Davison leading to long term fascination and this book is the result.

To begin with, I found this book a fairly difficult read and found the starting chapters a little dull as it discussed Emily‘s early beginnings as a child. As I suspected, I really started to find the book fascinating in the following chapters which start with her discovering suffrage, to her dramatic death.

Emily Wilding Davison was probably what would be considered an extremist today, she wasn’t afraid of being arrested, often causing criminal damage to properties. When we consider that a lot of us take the right of being able to vote for granted, how would we be now if this wasn’t the case? Would we really be walking the streets peacefully or would we be angry at the injustice? When you put things into perspective, it’s understandable that these women would feel driven to do these crimes.

Although I enjoyed the book overall, I felt very angry and sad at the injustice that the suffragettes had to suffer for what we now consider a very basic right. It seems wrong that I never learned about these women at school, when these women were put into prison, and when they went on political hunger strikes they would be forcibly fed. The description of this activity is harrowing, and really turned my stomach. But this is not a fiction novel, this really happened and we should all really be aware of it. There may have been no deaths caused by the force feeding but there were many mishaps caused by it, and in years to come this practice was banned.

The book also demonstrated clearly the passion and belief Emily Wilding Davison had in her cause, the horse racing incident was not the only time she had shown she was willing to die for the cause. When she had barricaded the door to her cell after being force fed, there was no choice for the prison authorities to break down the heavy door- which barely missed her. But Emily had known if it had fell on her, she would die, yet she had remained in the same spot, willing to sacrifice herself.

The following chapters delve deep into Emily Wilding Davison’s passionate, exhaustive activism and her experiences with prison and also with the opposing sides. Of course, her death is also discussed in great detail.

I found this biography very thought provoking and inspiring, after I read it, I immediately felt like I should get all my female friends and family to read it, especially those who have no knowledge of this very important part of history. It made me feel angry and passionate. This explores the life of one very brave woman who was part of making one of the most important changes of women’s history and we should never take this for granted.

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