Is It Our Right to Claim the Davison Name?

Emily Wilding Davison never graduated from Royal Holloway because she couldn’t afford the fees following the death of her father.

By Elena Rossi

During this summer’s graduations, Paul Layzell made the mistake of implying that Emily Wilding Davison graduated from Royal Holloway. He stated: ‘since our foundation, we have produced distinguished graduates, like Emily Davison’. However, Davison did not graduate from Royal Holloway. Sadly, she had to leave the university after two years of studying there because she could not afford the fees following her father’s death. Davison is an alumna of Holloway, but since she did not finish her education at our university, it feels as if Holloway has little claim to her success. Therefore, is it right for us to name a building after her?

The students and staff of Royal Holloway chose Davison as the name-sake for the new library and student services centre. Davison was such a dominant figure within the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and the fight for women’s suffrage, that she became a martyr for their cause. Hence, her reputation has developed over the twentieth century to that of an idol. Did those who voted for Davison know about her premature end to studying at Holloway?

Although Davison spent most of her time in further education at Holloway, it is debatable whether we have a right to attach ourselves to her fame. The university did not support Davison in continuing her education when she struggled for financial support. If she had been as valued as she is now, then perhaps the university would have found ways to help continue her education.

Many consider Davison a fantastic inspiration for students; she fought for women’s political rights, something she arguably sacrificed her own life for. Yet, if we consider the actions that Davison took during the WSPU’s campaign for women’s suffrage, we might have a different perspective of the famous suffragette.

Today we almost condone the actions of the WSPU because we accept that their cause was just. How would you feel if people were damaging public property so close to you? For example, in 1913 the suffragettes set fire to the home of Lady White in Englefield Green. It caused significant damage, and even led to the closure of the Holloway Picture Gallery. Although Davison was not involved in this specific attack, she participated in similar incidents which lead to her multiple imprisonments.

Interestingly, there is a continuing debate between Historians over whether the suffragettes can be considered ‘terrorists’. Their actions may fit within the definition of terrorism (using unlawful violence in pursuit of political aims), but the damage they caused did successfully promote women’s suffrage.

Ultimately, the name of our new library and student services centre has been decided. It will continue to be the ‘Davison building’. Democracy has prospered, and it seems people want to be associated with the famous Emily Wilding Davison; but to what extent would she have wanted to be connected to the university?

The unfamiliar names who were also considered for the new building are as respectable as Davison. Sadly, we know little about their stories as they do not contain a tragic and high-profile event like Davison’s. Whilst their names do not feature on our campus, they are a part of Bedford and Holloway’s history. They would be proud to see the university prospering, and would be flattered that we considered honouring their memory. Davison’s time at Holloway may not have been complete, and she may not have achieved the same academic accomplishments at our university as other alumni, but now she can continue her influence at Holloway through her legacy.


Elena Rossi

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