Historians’ victory over ‘Emily’s scarf’

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Historians have scored a victory at the heart of government in their quest to ensure that truth prevails about Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison.

The women’s rights campaigner, who is buried in Morpeth, has been the subject of many myths since her fatal protest at the 1913 Epsom Derby when she was struck by the King’s horse after stepping onto the track.

But last year, local genealogist Maureen Howes, who spent a decade researching the Suffragette and her Morpeth background, put paid to many of them, least of all the image of a mad fanatic who deliberately committed suicide.

Her book Emily Wilding Davison – A Suffragette’s Family Album, featuring relatives’ archives never previously seen by the public, showed the highly intelligent woman with a strong sense of humour that had previously been overlooked.

It found national acclaim and the message seemed to get out.

However, Mrs Howes has been anxious to ensure that more myths do not spring up and now she has joined forces with three other authors to cast doubt on the story of ‘Emily’s scarf’.

The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) scarf, which was shown in Morpeth during last year’s Emily Inspires commemoration, is said to have been worn by the Suffragette during her Derby protest.

But Mrs Howes, along with fellow historians Irene Cockroft, Carolyn Collette and Michael Tanner, are concerned at the lack of evidence to support the claims.

And after learning that the scarf was on display in the Houses of Parliament with a label stating that it was worn by Emily, they wrote to Curator Malcolm Hay to request a change of wording.

The letter stated: “Surely, given the way that Emily Davison has been appropriated and treated for the last hundred years, maligned as a madwoman, described as a suicide, ridiculed for her actions, the time has at last come to discover and celebrate the real woman.

“Associating her with a WSPU motoring scarf without actual evidence, while perhaps done with the best of intentions, nevertheless perpetuates the pattern of misinformation and misrepresentation that has accredited to the story of her life.

“We respectfully request that the description on the scarf be changed from the declarative to the subjunctive and indicate that it is said to have been associated with her actions at the 1913 Derby, not that she actually wore it, an assertion that cannot be proven.”

A spokeswoman for the House of Commons said the description is now being amended accordingly.

She said: “Following a review, the Curator’s Office has revised the description of the WSPU scarf, which is part of the Parliament and Votes for Women display in the entrance to the public gallery of the House of Commons. After consultation with the scarf’s owner, an updated label was ordered and is due to be installed shortly.”

Mrs Howes was delighted with the news.

“I feel like the mouse that roared. It’s not just me though, it has been a group project,” she said.