An article in The North Mail on December 18, 1912 evoked a series of responses, among which Emily Davison’s in turn stimulated the vituperative response of “Henpecked.” At issue was the militant tactic of ringing fire alarms to summon fire engines to non-existent fires. In her first letter Davison defends the practice as comparatively humane, in light of male warfare, and as a tactic to leverage the government out of their stalling tactics. She concludes with a quote from the Gospel of Matthew, 11:15, where Jesus reproves the citizens of cities he has visited for not repenting and changing their ways. In her second letter she seems to loose control and lapses into a kind of stilted insult roughly equivalent to “keep your shirt on,” the world is not about to end, after having called attention once more to the government’s cat and mouse torture of two women who have been released temporarily from prison in order to regain their strength before being re-incarcerated. The full exchange follows:
Article in The North Mail, Dec. 18, 1912, “Murderous Militants”
There will be very widespread satisfaction this morning at the news that one at least of the women who have resorted to giving bogus fire alarms has been captured by the police. Of all the outrages to which civilized society has been subjected by the militant suffragettes, the wanton ringing of the fire alarm bells is probably the most dangerous. In yesterday’s case, the female Anarchist who broke the glass and gave the false alarm succeeded in hurrying five engines to the scene of the supposed fire. One shudders at the bare contemplation of what this might mean if an actual fire, in which human life was in peril, should have broken out in the same district at the same time. Compared with such cruel and abominable attacks on society as these, the attempts to blow up theatres are comparatively trivial, while the letter-box fiends are merely foolish. It is sincerely to be hoped that the authorities will not be influenced by any mistaken chivalry in punishing miscreants found guilty of such callous criminality. In dealing with the militant peril, we are bound, sooner or later, to be driven to defend ourselves irrespective of the sex of the offenders. This seems to be the point at which it would be wise to begin.
Emily Davison responded in “Other People’s Opinions: Topics and Affairs Discussed by ‘North Mail Readers’” December 19, 1912, “Murderous Militants”:
Sir, in your issue to-day there is a hysterical and amusing leader on ‘Murderous Militants,’ in which you denounce the latest manifestation of militancy. As each new occasion arises, fresh epithets of vituperation have to be found if possible to denounce the act till perhaps the Press and Parliament will at last grasp the sovereign truth that it is ‘deeds, not words’ that are needed, and ‘the only way’ to put an end to these manifestations of unrest and discontent is to remove the cause of the grievance, a fact which the Government realized clearly enough in the case of the recently ended strike in Newcastle, and which the combatants of Central Europe are endeavoring to carry out in London to-day.
Anything else is hysteria and waste of breath! Thus, for example, in your desire to pile on the agony in the matter of abuse, you describe ‘the wanton ringing of the fire alarm bells’ as ‘the most dangerous’ of all the methods so far adopted not even excepting, ‘attempts to blow up (sic!) theatres,’ because, forsooth, a genuine alarm of fire might have taken place in the same neighbourhood! What would then have happened? Why, the engines would have been ready and able to reach the scene of action a little more promptly, and those in danger might have had reason to bless the militants!
How much more humane is our way of warfare than that of men as exemplified in strikes and the Balkan war! It is, perhaps, too humane for those who only understand the language of inhumanity, but it is none the less determined! He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!– Yours, etc.
Emily Wilding DAVISON
Longhorsley, Dec. 18, 1912
This letter evoked the following insulting response in “Other People’s Opinions” on Friday, Dec. 20, 1912, “Murderous Militants”
Sir, I am afraid you must accept the criticism of Miss E.W. Davison on your leader on ‘Murderous Militants,’ which she describes as hysterical. She having had a large experience in the various degrees of hysteria, even up to acute forms of suicidal and homicidal mania, there can be no appeal against such an authoritative decision, and your only alternative is to seek a more level-headed leader writer.
Her attempt to minimize the serious consequences of calling out fire engines on fruitless errands is typical of the logic displayed by Mrs. Pankhurst and Co. How on earth would an engine be able to reach the scene of action a little more promptly if it happened to be a mile or two away when the real alarm was given?
Her Biblical quotation is very apt. We have ears and we can hear right enough, but oh! What rot we are deafened with—Yours, etc.
Gateshead, Dec. 19, 1912
Prompting this response from Davson in “Other People’s Opinions” December 21, 1912, “Murderous Militants”
Sir, –The anonymous letter in your columns to-day signed suggestively enough, ‘Henpecked,’ clearly emanates from just such a brave and chivalrous one as those who, according to another paragraph in your issue, have once more seized two frail women, with whom they have been playing a cat and mouse game for the past three months, after having tortured them by forcible feeding for one or two months before that, so that both have been at death’s door.
fBut with regard to the terrible bogeys which are exercising your unfortunate correspondent, and apparently leading him into the wildest flights of imagination, they cannot fail to remind us of the salutary douche applied to similar visionaries that ‘pigs might fly!’ The prospect is terrific and awe-inspiring, but the contingency is as yet remote enough for us to urge your ‘preux chevalier’ to keep his hirsute growth firmly fixed to the upper part of his cranium! Yours, etc.,
EMILY WILDING DAVISON
Longhorsley, Dec. 20, 1912