Beccie White

School: The Mary Erskine School, Edinburgh
 

A Suffragette


She is,

Post-boxes alight,

Flames licking at Queen Victoria’s stern face,

Carefully affixed to the left-hand corner.

A blazing inferno of rich orange and ruthless crimson,

The acrid smoke clogging up lungs.

Coughing and spluttering,

A long list of arrests and interrogations,

Waiting to be carried out by rapacious police officers.

 

She is,

A mistaken Baptist minister attacker,

The minister mixed up with Lloyd George.

Ten days imprisonment for savagely using her whip,

But she managed to get released early.

Due to enduring four days of agonizing hunger pangs.

 

She is,

A frequent hunger striker,

49 times funnels, tubes and various concoctions,

Were forced upon her,

Unwanted.

Cruelly shoved down her reluctant throat,

Gagging and retching.

The inhumane treatment destroying her last piece of sanity.



She is,

Throwing herself from vertigo inducing prison railings.

The result?

Two cracked vertebrae and an extremely injured head,

And a sore, suffering suffragette.

Her thought process?

“One big tragedy to save many others.”

 

She is,

Crepe-trimmed dresses,

No pearls insight.

Diamonds?

Strictly prohibited.

Just a heavily veiled Marie-Stuart coif,

A brooch, watch chain and earring are the limit,

To comply with the strict mourning etiquette,

And judgemental nosy neighbours.

 

She is,

Included in the 1911 census twice.

Once by her landlady,

Marking her present in her lodgings.

The other by a cleaner,

Who had stumbled upon her,

Hiding in the Chapel and reported her unholy presence.  

 

She is,

Hiding in the Sahara of a heating system,

In the posh Palace of Westminster.

Detained,

While attempting the simple task of,

Finding water to quench her thirst.

Her thirst for equality.

 

She is,

Anxious glances at the body,

Laying at Tattenham Corner.

Hit by Anmer,

The regal horse.

But all the king’s horses and all the King’s men,

Couldn’t put her together again.

 

She is,

Two suffragette flags,

Begging to be waved loud and proud.

Found in her possession,

A return stub of her railway ticket.

Saved for her journey home,

The journey home that never happened.

 

She is,

The endless stack of hate mail,

Each cursive letter dripping with malice.

Even in Epsom Cottage Hospital,

Where she was operated on.

But failed to ever regain consciousness.

But,

The hate mail still reached her.

 

She is,

Two hundred letters to over fifty newspapers,

In the short span of two years,

In a bid to shine positive light on the WSPU.

A non-violent campaign,

Where no-one got hurt or whipped,

And no post-boxes burning like a campfire,

Or any windows smashed.

Just the occasional papercut or two,

But the result was disheartening,

Only a few ever appeared in print.

 

She is,

Barricaded in her cell,

Using her bed and stool.

A desperate attempt to avoid a repeat of,

The barbaric, harrowing torture,

That they called force-feeding.



She is,

A fire hose turned on in her cell,

Fifteen agonising minutes,

Six inches of dark, suffocating water.

To then only receive a pitiful amount in much deserved compensation,

A healthy mind can’t be bought.

She was whisked away to the grim prison hospital,

Warmed with hot water bottles and sympathetic looks.

 

She is,

A frequent inmate at Strangeways.

She sued them once,

For the unnecessary use of a fire hose.

Psychological damage deep

The horror forever engrained on her tormented soul.

Her mind,

A clump of deep scars.

Irreversible, permanent, perpetual, incurable scars,

Cut deep into her mind.

 

She is,

Hundreds of letters stamped and addressed,

Each containing powerful, poignant essays.

Thought-provoking arguments and persuasions,

Each envelope kissed goodbye,

Before they hit the ever growing pile of letters,

In the depths of the post-box.

Hope would swirl throughout her veins,

Hope that the words would reveal,

The real motive of the suffragettes.

Shine the light of truth upon their militant actions.

 

She is,

A broken, weeping Captain Henry Davidson,

Giving evidence for her in the inquest.

Calling her “passionately devoted”,

And “a woman of very strong reasoning”.

Tears fleeing his raw, red eyes,

No matter how hard he tried,

He couldn’t choke them back.

They slid wordlessly down his cheeks,

The salty moisture running over his lips.

 

She is,

An acute fracture to her skull,

Caused by being accidentally knocked down,

According to the court.

“She wilfully rushed onto the course,

During the progress of the race for the Derby”,

“The women did not make for His Majesty’s horse in particular”,

“Death due to misadventure,”

They declared.

 

She is,

“A well-known suffragette”,

Says the Daily Express.

“Miserable women,” reports The Daily Mirror, unsympathetic.

The Pall Mall Gazette, had “pity” for the “grotesque”,

Martyrdom she apparently sought.

“A horrid woman”, according to the Queen’s diary.

Her sanity was questioned,

Labelled suicidal,

Like a jar.

An abundance of publications,

Insensitive.

“A martyr,” the suffragettes and the WSPU cried,

Waving issues of ‘The Suffragette,’

On which she was an angel,

Arms raised to heaven.

 

She is,

Still fighting.

Her coffin danced around London,

A grand procession of regrets and sorrow.

It seemed fitting,

For the women danced with death,

Confronted and defied him many a time,

Disobeyed him,

Refused to die.

Her legacy,

Spectacular.

 

She is,

A defenceless mouse,

Caught in the jaws of the press, public eye and patriarchy.

Praying to escape unharmed,

To finally have equality.

But the cat has malice aforethought,

And a sadistic streak.

The mouse earning more bruises, more cuts,

Each one deeper than the last,

But nevertheless, she persisted.

 

She is,

The angry yeller,

On a corner of a cobbled lane,

Pleading for signatures on a petition,

For justice,

For all.

But the passer-byers sport blinkers,

Only focused on their own selfish agenda.

 

She is,

An illicit laugh at a sombre funeral,

A frowned upon, shunned member of society.

A radical, frustrated protester,

Who turned to violence to force people to listen.

To spread her important message,

To wake people up to the unjust in the voting system.

Votes for women.



She is,

The shut venetian blinds,

Shut out of respects.

Streets upon streets of windows upon windows,

A thin slit of sunlight creeping into the room.

The mumbled amens and tolling bells,

Despairing and red eyed faces behind veils,

A nation of bereft hearts.

Choking back an ocean of unjust and outrage,

Pity and loath,

Her life laid down for generations yet unborn.

 

She is,

Being able to put a ballot in a black box,

Getting a say in referendums, elections,

Who represents you,

Who will speak out,

Who will stand up for minorities,

Who will banish inequality.

Be a part of the now diverse democracy,

No matter what your gender.

 

She is,

That rush of respect and appreciation,

For the women who laid down time and life,

For our generation,

The generation yet unborn.

That rush of frustration and anger at the sheer unjust,

The fundamentally awful and disgusting discrimination,

How they were pushed aside,

When they should have been welcomed.

The rush of thankfulness, that some people listened,

That some people realised,

Acted.

That women can now vote.

 

She was,

Tragic, inspiring, moving.

Green for eternal hope.

Dedicated, brave, strong.

Violent for everlasting dignity.

Unruly, valued, kind.

White for untainted purity.

Hate receiver,

Ground breaker,

Equality granter.

She was Emily Wilding Davidson.

And she helped women get the vote.



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