The Suffragettes had a secret Bodyguard Society trained in martial arts.
Bartitsu or Suffrajitsu was an eccentric ‘mixed martial art‘ combining boxing, jiu-jitsu, kicking, and walking sticks.
(It’s quite probably the source of Sherlock Holmes’ “Baritsu” style.)
Young, London middle-class suffragettes suck off via drainpipes to secret self-defense classes.
More than 1,300 suffragettes were arrested between 1906 and 1914.
When on hunger strike, they were force-fed using rubber tubes.
The so-called 1913 Cat and Mouse Act allowed hunger-strikers to be released and grabbed up as soon as they recovered.
While out on marches, many women complained of being groped by police AND male bystanders.
Some started putting cardboard over their ribs for protection.
But a tiny suffragette (4ft 11in or 150cm) called Edith Garrud started teaching the suffragettes to fight back.
In Jiu-Jitsu, you skillfully yield to your opponent’s movements and use their weight and strength in your favor.
Martin Dixon, chairman of the British Jiu-Jitsu Association says :
“It [jiujitsu] was an ideal way for them to handle being grabbed while in a crowd situation.”
Punch magazine showed a cartoon of Garrud facing several policemen, entitled “The suffragette that knew jiu-jitsu”.
The term “Suffrajitsu” soon came into common use.
Mrs. Pankhurst needed protectors so Garrud formed a group called The Bodyguard.
The Bodyguard, nicknamed “Amazons” by the press, armed themselves with clubs hidden in their dresses.
An umbrella or parasol made an excellent combination of rapier and short spear.
There are very few records of how they actually used the clubs.
We know they targetted police constables’ helmets.
If the constables lost their helmets, they had to pay for them to be replaced!
They learned that a police horse struck on the back of its knee would sit down quickly and dump the mounted constable.
(The horse wasn’t hurt).
Garrud didn’t just teach them physical skills.
They learned to outwit their opponents.
In 1914, Emmeline Pankhurst gave a speech from a balcony in Camden Square.
When she emerged from the house in a veil, escorted by members of The Bodyguard, the police swooped in.
Despite a fierce fight she was knocked to the ground and dragged away unconscious.
But when the police triumphantly unveiled her, they realized she was a decoy.
The real Pankhurst had been smuggled out in the confusion.
I wonder what the suffragettes would make of the recent comment by Ms. Rudd, UK minister for women and equalities.
She claimed that pardoning suffragettes who were jailed while fighting for the right to vote is ‘complicated’.
I think the parasols would be out.
100 years ago on February 6, women were given a (limited) right to vote in the UK.
Siobhan is a freelance writer, research addict and lover of twisted history. If you like horrible but amazing history, check out her website www.interesly.com or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/interesly. Or you can reach her through www.siobhanoshea.com.