Nicola Adam column: A tale of two Emilys

Emily Wilding Davison

Emily Wilding Davison

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My little niece Emily knows her own mind when it comes to the battle of the sexes.

‘Girls are best,’ she told me with complete confidence, while relegating small brother Ben to the less popular toy in the room.

‘Why?’ I dared to venture at this declaration of supposed superiority.

‘I’ve decided,’ she answered, putting an end to that particular discussion. And in her mind she absolutely had that right.

At aged six, she is completely unaware that 104 years ago her namesake made a stand that was to shape the way women - and girls - view themselves and their rights to make decisions in modern society today.

In fact, evidence of this remarkable act, is not easy to revisit.

But last week, on a visit to Parliament accompanied by a sitting MP, I was lucky enough to be shut in a cupboard.

This cupboard, an ordinary one of the dusty broom and spider variety, is hidden at the back of the Crypt in the ornate chapel where MPs can be married or laid to rest (most recently Margaret Thatcher).

But behind the door lies a little known plaque to Emily Davison - suffragette and advocate of votes for women.

During the 1911 census she hid in this very cupboard in the Palace of Westminster so when asked for on that day, she could give as her address ‘The House of Commons’ - thus making her claim to the same political rights as men.

Two years later she died after throwing herself in front of the King’s horse to draw attention to the plight of women.

So I felt very small, very inconsequential, standing in that cupboard and reading the plaque, placed quietly and with little fanfare on the back of the door by Tony Benn, to mark her remarkable action that night.

She didn’t live to see votes for women.

But her legacy lives on through the complete confidence of little girls like my niece Emily, who are absolutely assured of their rights to equality in this world,because another young Emily hid in a cupboard in 1911.