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Hate mail and firebombs: How women won the vote

From BBC - February 4, 2018

"I am glad to hear you are in hospital. I hope you suffer torture until you die, you idiot."

Signed "an Englishman", this piece of hate mail was sent to votes-for-women campaigner Emily Wilding Davison as she lay dying in hospital in June 1913.

Days earlier, she had been trampled by the King's horse after ducking on to the track in a protest at the Epsom Derby.

She never regained consciousness and her death on 8 June is regarded as a key point in the votes-for-women campaign.

The letter is among hundreds of rarely seen documents made accessible to students on a new free online course, marking 100 years since the first women gained the right to vote in the UK.

The course timing is "hugely appropriate", and the content "so relevant" given current debates on the gender pay-gap and sexual harassment, says its leader Claire Kennan of Royal Holloway, University of London.

The letter shows today's trolling of female academics, MPs and other public figures is nothing new, she says.

"It just so happens that now this is done on social media platforms rather than through letters.

"There are so many parallels here."

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"The idea is that we wanted to take the learners on a journey with me as I go and discover of history of the women's suffrage movement," says Mrs Kennan.

"It's not just sitting listening to a video of a lecture, there are very short sharp documentary-style interviews - which makes it accessible and a lot more interesting and engaging than a traditional course."

Students will learn about the "splits and splinters" in the suffrage movement, with many organisations preferring peaceful campaigning and rejecting the "deeds not words" approach adopted by Emily Wilding Davison and her allies in the Women's Social and Political Union, led by Emmeline Pankhurst.

"Without the militant action we probably would not have got the vote as early but we must not forget the peaceful constitutional methods of protest," says Mrs Kennan.

Documents from the National Archive at Kew detail how the state kept tabs on the suffrage campaigns, the protests and the attacks on property.

Windows were smashed, telegraph wires cut and chemical bombs put in letter boxes. There was even a bomb at St Paul's Cathedral which failed to go off.

There are the official records of the costs of repairs, as well police arrest lists and first-hand accounts of the violent force-feeding of women protesters who went on hunger strike in prison.

There's also access to the London School of Economics Women's Library collection, which holds the personal effects that Emily Wilding Davison had on her on Derby Day, including her race programme and her return train ticket.

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