Every year PAWA celebrates the UN Day of the Girl which is October 11th. This year, PAWA teamed up with the actress Kate Willoughby of Emily Matters, to celebrate the birthday of Emily Wilding Davison, the suffragette who famously died when she fell under King George V’s horse on Derby Day, 1913.
This was a unique and inspirational event, held on Emily’s birthday which also happens to be October 11th, in the very building where the suffragettes used to meet and which is now Bill’s Holborn.
Kate has written a play which tells the story of Emily Davison, who fought for votes for women in the United Kingdom in the early twentieth century. It has been performed in the House of Lords.
Kate herself played Emily, supported by her cast from History Needs You and Carmina Bernhardt who played Princess Sophia Singh, a Sikh princess and prominent suffragette. “To Freedom’s Cause “ showed Emily at home with her mother in Northumberland as well as with other suffragettes who belonged to the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). We heard how she was a militant fighter for her cause, how she was arrested on ten occasions, went on hunger strike seven times and was force fed on forty-nine occasions. She went to St Hugh’s College, Oxford, before taking jobs as a teacher and governess. She joined the WSPU in November 1906 and became an officer of the organisation and a chief steward during marches. She soon became known for her fearless tactics included breaking windows, throwing stones, setting fire to postboxes and, on three occasions, hiding overnight in the Palace of Westminster—including on the night of the 1911 census. Her funeral on 14 June 1913 was organised by the WSPU. A procession of 5,000 suffragettes and their supporters accompanied her coffin and 50,000 people lined the route through London; her coffin was then taken by train to the family plot in Morpeth, Northumberland.
The actors had to contend with a lot of noise from the restaurant downstairs but as Kate herself said, the suffragettes themselves had so much more to fight against. It was a very powerful performance and everyone said how much they enjoyed the play and how inspiring it was.
There were some other very special touches too.
Zehan brought the actual banner that her father-in-law’s mother had kept from the Pinner suffragette branch. It was hung in pride of place next to the PAWA banner on the stairs up to the first floor where the play was staged.
In addition, there was a beautiful silk dress, ‘One dress for all women,’ designed and made by Atelier Tammam, and during the reception, the designer was stitching new words suggested by people defining female empowerment and feminism onto the dress. This dress will travel to various venues before, hopefully, finding a permanent home at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
PAWA would like to thank Kate and her team, and Bill’s, Holborn which donated the space and the refreshments. It was a great team effort and it was an unforgettable evening.