Credit: BFI National Archive
The BFI is thrilled to announce the discovery of previously unidentified moving image footage of iconic suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, revealed within a film of a suffragettes procession in 1910, Scenes in the Record Demonstration of Suffragettes (1910), held by the BFI National Archive and available to view for free on BFI Player as part of the BFI’s Suffragettes on Film collection.
This is a significant find as the only previously known footage featuring Emily Davison came from the 1913 Epsom Derby Day, in which she lost her life, and from her funeral procession.
The discovery was made by writer and performer Deborah Clair who was watching the BFI’s Suffragettes on Film collection as research for her new play about Davison, A Necessary Woman. Whilst studying Scenes in the Record Demonstration of Suffragettes, Deborah Clair thought she saw Emily Davison in the suffragette procession, in her graduate gown and mortar board: “A familiar figure emerged. I instantly knew it was her right away and I even cried out ‘Emily’ almost to get her attention! Then, even more strangely, the figure stops as the line temporarily halts and she looks directly at the camera. I could see her up close, in motion, for the first time. She was alive and she looked – defiant!”
Clair compared the moving image to a photo she knew of Davison held by the National Portrait Gallery. Stood next to Christabel Pankhurst and taken on the same day at a march in Hyde Park on 18 June 1910, the photograph was identical to the Emily on film: same clothes, same hair; there was no doubt as to her identity. Elizabeth Crawford, a suffrage historian, agreed with the positive identification, which was corroborated by biographers and those with family connections. Having checked existing records for the film, the BFI are thrilled to confirm that this moving image identification of Emily Davison is a new discovery.
BFI silent film curator Bryony Dixon, who curated the Make More Noise! Suffragette collection, said: “Congratulations to Deborah for spotting Emily Davison in the crowd. It’s so exciting that we can now share our film heritage online so that viewers can help us make these types of discoveries. Every contribution, large or small, to our knowledge of these films is great, but this is a really significant case. As an icon of the suffrage movement Emily Davison is a hugely important national figure. Her positive identification in this film is especially poignant given this centenary year.”
The news of this discovery is incredibly timely 100 years after the Representation of the People Act gave the first British women the right to vote. Sunday 10 June will see thousands of women and girls in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London come together to take part in a celebratory mass participation artwork, PROCESSIONS, commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary and produced by Artichoke. Whilst we know Emily Davison’s story the best, what this footage demonstrates and this discovery reinforces, especially in the light of the centenary celebrations, is the importance of every woman’s story in that demonstration, and being able to make a direct link between the past and the present.
Deborah Clair is currently on a UK tour with A Necessary Woman. Based on a true event, the play focuses on Census Night, 2 April, 1911, when Suffragette Emily Davison hid in a cleaning cupboard, in the crypt beneath the Palace of Westminster, planning a daring act in Parliament. Further details of the production available www.clairobscur.co.uk.
• Watch more of BFI Player’s Suffragettes on Film collection.