Revolting Women: The Ju-Jutsuffragettes
This post is part of a series on the theme of women and protest. The full series is collected under the tag “Revolting Women”.
My choice of subject for our Revolting Women series was decided the moment I saw the picture below, an event which caused me to loudly shout “GET IN!” and do an air-punch with great abandon.
The lady in this image is Mrs Edith Margaret Garrud (1872-1971), and she appears to have a policeman in an armlock.
It turns out that it’s only an actor playing the hapless bobby, because Edith is the person responsible for teaching the Suffragettes jujutsu.
Before we ask how a middle-aged woman in a respectable hat was able to learn the (then barely discovered) Japanese martial art, let’s look at why she’d bother:
We have not yet made ourselves a match for the police, and we have got to do it. The police know jiu-jitsu. I advise you to learn jiu-jitsu. Women should practise it as well as men.
We have got to have [military] drilling in the East End. If there is any man who has been in the Army or who knows anything about drilling, will he please communicate with me, and we will start drilling.
You should all go out with your sticks [Indian clubs which were popular for exercise at the time, and easily hidden in clothing]. What is the use of demonstrating for freedom and going unarmed? Don’t come to meetings without sticks in future, men and women alike. It is worth while really striking. It is no use pretending. We have got to fight.
– Sylvia Pankhurst, quoted in the New York Times on Aug 12th 1913, shortly before she was arrested.
With the recent practice of police using “kettling” to contain students during anti-cuts protests, and any (very predictable) resulting violence against police by the protesters subsequently being loudly criticised in newspapers, it’s refreshing to see the sentiments above. ‘Well, we have to learn jujutsu too, or the police might be able to stop us. And obviously we can’t have THAT. This is a protest! Get someone who can make it happen and have him report to me immediately. Next?’ While the actions may cause debate today, the sheer ‘nothing will stop us’ attitude is amazing.
But Sylvia is not the focus of this post, much as we love her here on BadRep. It’s Edith who is less well known but also truly remarkable. She taught PE at a school and married William, also a PE instructor, when she was 21 and he 22. They moved to London and met the intriguing Edward William Barton-Wright, who in 1899 started to teach them both jujutsu.
I have to pause again and talk about Barton-Wright, because England produces a unique brand of truly bonkers things and he was definitely responsible for one of them which is of great importance to this narrative.
Sherlock Holmes, as well as being a boxer, was written in a later story as knowing the gentleman’s martial art of “Baritsu”. This was a mis-spelling of Barton’s invention, “Bartitsu” (Barton-jujitsu). Asian martial arts weren’t very widely known in the West before 1900, and he was one of the first instructors in Europe. It was a time when… well, when men had moustaches and hats like those in the accompanying image. Barton-Wright had learned Shinden Fudo Ryu jujutsu and judo, and developed a new system for English people of ‘class and bearing’ to use with dignity (and often a walking stick or umbrella).
It was his academy that Edith and her husband attended, and they both went on to become students of Sadakazu Uyenishi who taught there. When Uyenishi left his own dojo a few years later, they took over as teachers of that club in Soho. (Their daughter, Isabel, also assisted them in running the dojo from 1911 onwards, at the age of fifteen.)
Edith was almost certainly the first female jujutsu instructor in Europe. She and her husband continued teaching until 1925 – but from 1908 she alone ran some classes which were only open to suffragettes.
And if you thought that Sylvia was a straight-talker in the quotes above, Edith didn’t hold back either. There is far, far too much awesomeness going on to fit it all into this post, so I strongly recommend you read the pages on the other end of these links:
In her article “Damsel Vs Desperado” for Health and Strength magazine in 1910, Edith said that jujutsu was not just for protesters to use against police (as the newspapers were gleefully retelling) but that
Woman is exposed to many perils nowadays, because so many who call themselves ‘men’ are not worthy of that exalted title.
She then goes on to write a short story (with illustrations!) about a woman being attacked while “returning home along a lonely country road.” It contains lines such as:
Believing that he has had enough by now and that she has shown him what she can do, she gives him a severe twinge that makes him fairly squeal, and throws him off as a “thing” beneath contempt.
It was this magazine which came up with the title “Ju-jutsuffragettes”, one which Edith seemed to quite like, and in 1911 they printed another article describing a short sketch also written by her, in which a wife defends herself against her violently drunk husband. The headline proudly announced
“Ju-Jutsu as a Husband-Tamer: A Suffragette Play with a Moral“(!) The photos are brilliant (I am all too familiar with the wrist-lock in no.4, ouch) and the short script contains some comedy:
“I’ll learn this ‘ere jucy jujubes, Liz, for I could do for you if I was sober,” he says.
“No,” answers Liz; “you’re a good husband to me then, and wouldn’t want to, but when you’re drunk I’ll always be a match for you.”
The reminder that domestic violence was (and is) widespread enough to make the play relevant to the audience is chilling, however.
What makes Edith of particular importance to the protest movement she was part of is not just that she was a suffragette, or taught others to take on police during protests, but that she trained the 30 women known as “The Bodyguard”. This group was set up to prevent the frequent arrest of top suffragette protesters (the police would release those who were on hunger strike and then quickly re-arrest them). As well as pitched hand-to-hand fighting between ladies and Her Majesty’s constabulary, the Bodyguard used disguises, decoys and all sorts of other tricks to get the known leaders away after a protest. For many years, she was their chief trainer.
I ordered a copy of a charming book by Tony Wolf called “Edith Garrud: The suffragette who knew Jujutsu“. It’s one of the most fully-researched works on the woman and her deeds, but is written for children, leading to sentences such as ‘The Police, of course, didn’t like the idea of the Suffragettes’ new Bodyguard society one little bit.’ It also provides some amazing quotes and stories: during one public demonstration, a reporter from the Daily Mirror was invited to attack the 4’11” Edith on stage. After trying several attacks and being roundly thrown or wristlocked each time, he wrote of his experiences in an article for the newspaper:
I rose convinced of the efficiency of Jujutsu, and, aching in every limb, crawled painfully away, pitying the constable whose ill-fortune it should be to lay hands on Mrs. Garrud.
Again and again in her story we see parallels to the student and anti-cuts protests earlier this year. The suffragettes knew that property damage meant headlines, but there were generally strict boundaries – no people were to be hurt, and no factory or other workplace was to be damaged where people’s jobs would be affected. One incident Edith was involved in was a gathering of women on Oxford Street, who, when Edith blew a whistle, pulled hammers and rocks from under their clothes and threw them through shop windows. This was seen as a logical, necessary and entirely justified action which had a place in protest, not just empty vandalism, and she defends it eloquently. Newspapers and blogs are still having that debate today.
She presented a suffragette petition to Lloyd George, who started to argue with her. Edith replied “Now then, you are dealing with a fellow countrywoman from the Welsh Valleys. Be sensible, man!” (She was born in Bath but grew up in Wales). They then had entirely civil conversations on more than one occasion, although never agreed on ideals.
In an interview for Woman magazine when she was 94, she said that self-discipline had been the key to jujutsu and protest – discipline of the body, but much more of the mind. Even at that age she presented as someone with unbending levels of determination. Reading about women’s voices in protest then and now, the difference comes over as a directness in attitude: of being entirely sure that your cause is just and that you must therefore do everything to help protest succeed. The conversation in those circles would be “So the police are using kettling and ‘pre-emptive arrests’ to suppress dissent. How do we make sure those techniques never work on us again?”
Edith Garrud died in 1971 at the age of 99. She was instrumental in teaching the suffragettes the skills they used to evade capture and speak in public for longer. She also broke new ground in being a woman who taught martial arts only recently discovered in Europe to women. This year, Edith will be honoured with a permanent memorial by Islington council – an ‘Islington People’s Plaque’ – because she won a public vote to be one of the five people or places thus celebrated.