Just over 100 years ago, on a warm and festive day in June 1913, Emily Wilding Davison made history at a horse race at Epsom Downs.
Davison wasn’t merely a spectator at the race. She was there on a mission. And, in a way, she was a celebrity in her own right. At any rate, she was well-known to authorities.
Prior to 1908, Davison would have been notable primarily as a woman with more education than most, and one who had a real career.
In 1906, she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Two years later, Davison quit her job to devote herself to the suffragette movement.
Davison’s intelligence was evident, but she was also a violent person. She may well have been unstable. Her crimes included smashing windows, throwing stones, disrupting the peace, arson, and physical attacks. She was arrested and jailed nine times.
Meet Coleman “Cole” Blease, the mustachioed governor and later senator of the great state of South Carolina from 1910 – 1915.
As you will soon learn, Cole Blease had some major character flaws. However, nobody is all bad or all good, and it’s more charitable and interesting to consider him as a whole person. So, my goal is simply to present this man to you as he presented himself to the citizens of the day.
When Governor Blease assumed office, South Carolina was in the throes of civil unrest. Many farmers were giving up the land and going to work in the mills, in quest of a living wage. Black and white, men and women, children and adults were thrown together for the first time – with the only commonality being an unfamiliar environment. The results were frequently chaotic and violent.
Cole Blease didn’t create the stormy environment in South Carolina, but he definitely contributed to it. For one thing, the governor worsened tensions between black and white workers with racist tirades. Black men, he told audiences, would gain the right to vote just as surely as poor white men would lose it.
No one asked the governor how he felt about women of any race getting the vote, but it’s probably safe to assume he was no suffrage advocate. He was violently opposed to women “doing society” instead of staying home with their families. He warned mill workers that the aim of women was to “give us their dresses for our pants.” (No word on how the governor figured out our secret plan.)