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DEEDS NOT WORDS: The Tragic Fate of Emily Davison and the 1913 Epsom Derby

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sc1Emily Davison was a firecracker – with a cause. She fought for women’s rights in Britain at the turn of the 20th century, a volatile and oftentimes violent movement. Her British legacy is compared to America’s fiery Carrie Nation, who smashed saloons to make her point. Davison was even more extreme. She set fires, was arrested multiple times, even deliberately fell down a flight of stairs just to draw attention to herself. But her most outrageous stunt took place in 1913 at the Epsom Derby. A flossy affair that turned deadly.

The Epsom Derby is a grand event similar in prestige to the Kentucky Derby in the U.S. The race in 1913 was of particular interest due to the inclusion of a horse owned by King George V who had just taken the throne three years earlier in 1910 after his father’s death. He would remain King for nearly three decades. On July 5 1913, just as he was beginning to establish a role in Britain’s hierarchy, Anmer, a horse owned by the King himself, was entered in the Epsom Derby. King George was expected to be there. Excitement mixed with apprehension filled the air.

Davison found this heightened level of attention the perfect stage for her extreme activism. During the race, she positioned herself close to the rail. As the horses passed, Davison stepped onto the track and appeared to reach for the reigns of the King’s horse.  Anmer struck Davison and knocked her off her feet. She violently tumbled to the ground and was trampled by the horse who also fell. It was a horrifying scene. Anmer got to its feet and continued ahead, dragging jockey Herbert Jones who was knocked unconscious by the impact and caught in the leather straps. Jones slipped out and eventually recovered. Davison lay motion less on the ground, her skull fractured. Four days later she died.

Davison was accused of deliberately stepping in front of the horse and offering herself up for martyrdom, which would fit her views and extreme actions so far. But an examination of her day suggest otherwise. She had a return train ticket home and planned to attend an upcoming suffragette event. Nothing substantial would support the theory that she tried to kill herself for attention. A newsreel film of the incident appears to show Davison coolly stepping on the track and reaching for something, possibly the horse’s bridle. Perhaps she was trying to stop the horse or more pragmatically place a scarf or flag in its reigns, a plausible idea, if unrealistic.

Other arguments centered on how she knew which horse was the King’s.  There was no race caller and from the perspective of someone on the rail seemingly impossible to distinguish one horse from another so quickly. Perhaps it wasn’t the King’s horse Davison was focusing on after all, but any horse. The result would still be the same. Newspapers across the world would have blared headlines describing her actions, results and reactions, especially her own. Instead, the tragic turn of events were examined, debated and mostly ridiculed.

Typical of the suffragette movement as a whole, Davison got a fair mix of admiration, shock and criticism after her death. Her funeral was a lavish affair, coveted by her supporters who used the pageantry to further their cause. On her tombstone is inscribed the phrase, “Deeds not Words.”

In 2013, on the 100th anniversary of Davison’s death, a plaque commemorating the incident was placed on the track’s grounds. A “moment of silence” for Davison was planned but for reasons unclear were dropped.

In the U.S., her story is not widely known. But even if her actions that day were not directly related to the sport itself, it resonated. Today there are female jockeys winning important races and the day before the Epsom Derby – similar to its counterpart the Kentucky Derby – is traditionally known as one for the fillies.

It’s called Ladies Day.

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FOR THE LOVE OF THE DAY: The Story of the “Pastimes” and Baseball’s Earliest Nines.

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By Ken Zurski

In the heart of Brooklyn, in 1858, a group of men known as the Pastimes, hiked up their wool trousers, buttoned-down their flannel shirts, and ran onto an open grassy field to play a game they fondly referred to as base ball. The team was one of several in the New York area, but the Pastimes were different. Instead of being a ragtag group of patchwork players, the Pastimes billed themselves as more refined and high-toned. Many of the members were prominent citizens, some even held government jobs. They enjoyed spending the day together, socializing and being seen. Base ball, the game, they said, was just good exercise.

To announce their importance, the Pastimes arrived at away games in carriages, usually in a line. It was showy and effective, “like a funeral procession passing,” remarked one observer. After the game they invited their rivals, win or lose, to a fancy spread of food and spirits. Oftentimes this was the reason for getting together in the first place. The game was the appetizer. The day’s highlight however was the feast. The opposing players rarely complained.

Despite this, the Pastimes did actually play the game. But it hardly represented what we know baseball to be today. Pitchers tossed the ball (there was no “throwing” allowed) and strikes were rare. With no called balls, a batter could wait through 30 to 40 tosses or more before deciding to hit it. The batter was out when a fielder caught the ball on a fly or on “a bound.”  And player’s running the bases rarely touched them.  After all, who was going to make them?

“What jolly fellows they were at the time,” wrote Henry Chadwick, a New York journalist and Pastimes supporter, “one and all of them.”

Unfortunately, for fans of other cities, New York holds the distinction of introducing the world to baseball. While bat-and-ball type games were popping up throughout the country, in New York, an actual team emerged in the 1840’s calling themselves  the Knickerbockers. While they’re not trailblazers in creating the game, they can be considered pioneers when it comes to the sport. The Knickerbockers actually made and followed some rules.  The play itself was raw, almost comical, but enjoyable for spectators. “Ball Days” became popular, and the Knickerbockers certainly had fun. Soon other teams would join in, some more determined than others. The Pastimes had their reasons too.

But you still had to take the field.

At some point, as more teams participated, the game started changing. It became more challenging and competitive and the Pastimes who had been enjoying a day of friendly raillery and self-adulation, had to adjust. “Until the club became ambitious of winning matches and began to sacrifice the original objects of the organization to the desire to strengthen their nine-match playing,” Chadwick wrote, “everything went on swimmingly.”

But losing takes its toll. And for the lowly playing Pastimes, the fun went out of the day.  “Finally the spirit of the club, having been dampened by repeated defeats at the hands of stronger nines, gave out,” Chadwick  grumbled. “The Pastimes went out of existence.”

Well that and the start of the war. The Civil War effectively put an end to baseball at the time, which was inevitable. There just weren’t enough players to take the field and for many it would be the last time they ever played.   The game carried on however once the conflict was over. That’s when younger players joined in, skills improved, and rules were implemented.  Base ball became Baseball. The Pastimes would have never fit in.

Perhaps the most appealing part of the early game would have also pleased the more ardent followers today. Especially those who crave the action on the offensive side of the ball.  On October 28 1858, the Pastimes played the Newark Adriatics.  According to the rules back then, a game played out every half inning, even in the ninth, and even if the home team was winning.  That day, the Adriatics came to bat in the bottom of the ninth.  They were leading 45-13.

The crowd likely cheered them on for more runs.