ON 8 June, 1913, suffragette Emily Davison died, succumbing to injuries she sustained after throwing herself in front of the king’s horse on Epson Derby day.
Dismissed as mad and militant by some, championed as a heroine by others, Davison became a figurehead for the campaign to get women the vote.
Now 100 years on, so much has changed, yet every step forward has been hard fought. Education is one aspect of the fight for equal rights that began even before Davison’s fame was established.
When Edinburgh’s St George’s High School for Girls opened in 1888, women were still denied admission to Edinburgh University. As pioneers of the women’s educational movement, the founders helped establish degree-standard classes which were taught by sympathetic local university lecturers. Classes to prepare women for examinations (from the most elementary up to university level) followed along with correspondence courses.
St George’s Training College was set up in 1886 – the first institution for women in Scotland looking to teach beyond elementary level.
Although they had to wait another four years before women would be accepted into Scottish universities, these tenacious Victorian women were nothing short of formidable.
Access to education – or the voting booth – wasn’t enough: having studied at London’s Royal Holloway College – a pioneering women-only college – and with a first class honours degree from Oxford, Davison still had little hope of fulfilling her dreams of becoming a political journalist. Had she lived long enough to see women get the vote, she’d have seen similarly ambitious women confronted by further challenges.
Today, just 17 per cent of FTSE 100 directors are women – a figure that might be changing, but is still demonstrative of how far we have to go. As educators, the onus continues to be on us to lead, whilst equipping students with the academic and life skills needed to address these imbalances. It is by encouraging women of independent mind that we can best safeguard progress and equality for the next 100 years.
• Anne Everest is headmistress of St George’s School for Girls, Edinburgh.