This is an edited version of an article which was originally cross-posted as an exclusive feature at our fellow SBNation Blog, Bloody Elbow.com by Cageside Features Guest Columnist John S. Nash, on Feb 23, 2013 [†]
For the earlier history of women's prizefighting, the fact it is not a recent invention, and an exploration into its roots, which reach back to the beginning -- see "The Martial Chronicles: Fighting Like a Girl - Part One."
With the Octagon recently hosting its first ever women's fight last month (Feb. 23, 2013), it is worth noting that despite all the UFC's promotional talk of resistance to women's mixed martial arts, there was a remarkable lack of controversy regarding this match, outside of its perceived lack of competitiveness. That two women should be able to compete in the sport and in the UFC if they so wish, is apparently the overwhelmingly prevalent view.
It would seem that the bigger story is not that women are breaking down another barrier, but that society has moved so far ahead that it really wasn't that big of a story after all.
Such tolerant views haven't always been the case, however. A century ago, women fought on the streets of London, some using the very disciplines that have brought Ronda Rousey wealth and fame -- but, not for sport, merely as a part of a literal battle for their rights.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of one of the most infamous acts of British Parliament, The Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913, better known as the Cat and Mouse Act. It was enacted as suffragist (supporters of women's suffrage, or right to vote), particularly the more militant members who were often referred to as "suffragettes", grew increasingly violent following the withdrawal of The Franchise Bill in January 1913.
Earlier attempts at giving women the right to vote had come close to passing, but each frustrating failure had led to violent confrontations. (Most famously in a November 22, 1910 riot which would become known as "Black Friday".) For the suffragettes this last "betrayal' by Parliament was the final straw.
The suffragettes were mostly part of the Women's Social and Political Union (or WSPU), a splinter group of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (or NUWSS), which had split off, disappointed by the lack of results produced by their more peaceful tactics.
Leadership in the group was centered on Emmeline Pankhurst, the "Dear Leader", and her daughter, Christabel. Other key members included Mrs. Panhurst's two other daughters, Sylvia and Adela Pankhurst (although these two would leave the WSPU in 1913), Norah Docre Fox, and "The General" Flora Drummond. Their motto was to be "Deeds Not Words."
They would soon live up to their motto.
The group began with protests and publishing flyers, but growing more militant over time, as their single demand --the right to vote (or more specifically the right for propertied women to vote) -- was not met. By 1913, suffragette "commando corps crept out at night to commit spectacular acts of vandalism." These included burning houses, churches, theatres, and railway stations, wrecking trains and stoning the houses and carriages of cabinet ministers. But attacks weren't limited to property, as Nell Hall-Humphreys recalled years later:
"We burned houses, but we never attacked anyone physically. Except for the men we horsewhipped."
The governments response to these attacks had been arrest and imprisonment. The suffragettes in turn went on hunger strikes, which the officials tried countering with forced feeding, a particularly dehumanizing experience.
"Five wardresses held [Nell Hall-Humrphrey] by the face and arms while the prison doctor inserted a tube down her throat and poured in liquids that she could identify as soup, lemon juice, and brandy - and another taste she suspected as was bromide to make her amenable.
"In the next cell, Mary Richardson, fed through the nostrils, screamed that her eyes were coming out of the top of her head."
The forced feeding backfired as the general (male) public began to sympathize with the suffragettes. In response, Parliament passed the previously mentioned Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913 on April 25th. The act allowed for the release of prisoners who had become too ill from hunger strikes, and then permitted their re-arrests after they'd regained their strength. It almost immediately became known as the Cat and Mouse Act, for how it allowed the government to play with the suffragettes as a cat played with a mouse.
The primary targets of the Cat and Mouse Act were the members of the suffragette leadership. Perpetually in between jail and recovering from hunger strikes, the policy had the intended effect of beheading the movement.
The suffragettes response was to make sure Pankhurst and others wouldn't be arrested. For that they would need a force of "bodyguards."
"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 practice it as well as men.
"... It is no use pretending. We have got to fight."
- Sylvia Pankhurst, New York Times, August 12th, 1913.
Enter Edith Garrud.
Mrs. Garrud had been born Edith Margaret Williams in 1872, becoming Edith Margaret Garrud in 1893 when she married physical culture instructor William Garrud of Wales.
The couple relocated to London where they joined Edward William Barton-Wrights's Bartitsu club (probably in 1899). It was there that they were introduced to jiu-jitsu. (For more on Barton-Wright and Bartitsu, see The Forgotten Golden Age of Mixed Martial Arts - Part III.) The two studied under the school's jiu-jitsu instructors, Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi, the premiere exponents of the Japanese martial art in all of England, and probably Europe.
After the Bartitsu Club closed in 1903, they followed Uyenishi to his new dojo in Golden Square. In addition to Mr. Wright, Tani, and Uyenishi, she also studied under "(Tarro) Myaki, (Akitano) Ono, (Mitsuyo) Maida (also known as Conde Koma), Chiba San, and others," a veritable who's-who of the best jiu-jitsu masters of the Edwardian era.
When Uyenishi eventually returned to Japan it was William who took over the Golden Square School, with Edith becoming the instructor for women and children. Soon after, Mrs. Garrud also opened her own dojo in the East End, for the express purpose of teaching suffragist jiu-jitsu.
"The latest move of the militant suffragettes is to learn the art of jiu-jitsu with the object of resisting the police. Twenty-five of them are studying under an instructress, who maintains that some of her pupils have already punished rude males."
During this time, Garrud also wrote essays, choreographed plays, and gave demonstrations, in which a "large, muscular man was literally twisted round a woman's little finger". Once for the benefit of The Daily Mail, she asked the paper's male representative to try to repeatedly attack her, both unarmed and armed:
"I rose convinced of the efficacy of jiu-jitsu, and, aching in every limb, crawled painfully away, pitying the constable whose ill-fortune it should be to lay hands on Mrs. Garrud."
Many of these exhibitions were of an overt political nature, often involving an assistant playing the part of a police officer, whom she'd toss around and submit to the pleasure of her suffragist audience. The newspaper had a field day with Mrs. Garrud and her pupils, and played up the story of "jujitsuffragettes", as one reporter coined them, confronting policemen:
"The Policemen of London are feeling rather uneasy just at present.... The Suffragette have taken up the study of ju-jutsu; they will very soon emerge as expert practitioners in the art, and then, Oh, Robert!
"Meanwhile. Mrs. Garrud is at present, perhaps, the most important of all members of the Women's Freedom League. I am not aware that she worries much about the vote or anything like that; she does not take a leading part in their meeting, but - and it's a very big but - it is she who is teaching the other members the art of ju-jutsu."
- "Jujutsuffagettes: A New Terror for the London Police" Health & Strength, April 24, 1909
In truth, Mrs. Garrud was an ardent suffragette, but was supposedly not "allowed by the organisers of raids on the House of Commons to take a prominent part in them, she might carelessly hurt a policeman if he were rough with her."
This didn't stop her from occasionally getting a chance to use her skills. During a meeting of the Women's Freedom League, a policeman expressed doubt that the 4'11" Mrs. Garrud's jiu-jitsu would enable her to throw him. Smiling she replied, "I'm glad you're not more than thirteen stone":
"Up shot one ot her feet to meet his diaphragm. Her little arms strained, and as he pulled against himself the man lost his balance, swirled over her head, turned a somersault in mid-air, and fell heavily on the back of his head. In less than ten seconds the Suffragette had thrown the policeman."
Fortunately, The Daily Mirror managed to capture the image of what happened to the second policeman that gave her a try. These policemen had been gentlemen, according to Garrud:
"But there are other men who are not a bit nice, men who are merely silly and a nuisance to others besides themselves. I have already had the pleasure of ejecting one youth from a woman's franchise meeting."
Her school too, served as a redoubt for the suffragettes. Martin Williams, her great-nephew, told The Islington Tribune how:
"She didn't want people to know Golden Square was a dojo, so she was very pleased to have it in the posh end of town because people were less likely to suspect. The suffragettes would create a disturbance in Oxford Street, but then they'd run back to the dojo and hide their clubs and bats under the floor. By the time the police arrived they'd be pretending they were in the middle of their exercise class."
Mrs. Garrud was therefore the perfect choice to train a special new group, one that, according to The New York Times, was being organized in November of 1914 to protect Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst:
"A band of amazons whose mission it will be to defend the leader whom the police will try to arrest, is being formed."
These women were to be known as "The Body Guard" and made up of 25 women, mostly from members of the suffragettes "Athletic Society." Led by a young Canadian named Gertrude Harding, these women carried concealed Indian clubs and were trained in jiu-jistu by Edith Garrud in the East End.
From then on, Mrs. Pankhurst never appeared in public without these Body Guards, who would resort to both ruses, as much as physical means, to protect their leader:
"Although they couldn't out-muscle the policemen, they could outwit them. On several occasions they staged exciting rescues. Twice a decoy maneuver led the detectives to carry off the wrong Mrs. Pankhurst. But the sad truth is that, more often than not, the women suffered dislocated joints, broken bones & concussions."
- "With All Her Might" by Gretchen Wilson
The Body Guards made it extremely difficult for the police to carry out what had previously been easy arrests. In one case, when Mrs. Pankhurst was returning from the United States, the police boarded and apprehended her at sea on an ocean liner, instead of risking a confrontation with her suffragette protectors. According to Pankhurst, the reasons why they went to such lengths was:
"...the fear on the part of the police of The Body Guard of women, just then organised for the expressed purpose of resisting attempts to arrest me. That the police, as well as the Government were afraid to risk encountering women who were not afraid to fight we had had abundant testimony. We certainly had it on this occasion..."
Following that incident "General" Drummond "swore that the government should never again 'take our beloved leader." ["The Grape Belt" - Dec. 9, 1913]
Under threat of arrest, Pankhurst couldn't risk going out into the public, but instead addressed crowds from the balcony of wherever she was currently taking refuge. Even then, the police would mingle with the crowds and then attempt to arrest her, but she was able to escape each time thanks to "the valiant efforts of The Body Guard."
The ingenuity of The Body Guard was particularly demonstrated when Parkhurst found herself besieged at Mr. Hertha Ayrton's house, which was surrounded by both the police and crowds of women sympathizers.
During their vigilance outside, waiting for Mrs. Pankhurst to show, the police noticed a cab drive up to the front door where a veiled woman, surrounded by Suffragettes, exited. The police quickly blocked her way into the cab and, when they attempted to lay their hands on her, someone shouted, "They are arresting Mrs. Pankhurst!" A scuffle ensued, during which the police were able to tear the veiled woman away from her companions. They piled their captive and themselves into the cab and ordered to chauffeur to drive away.
After driving off with their prisoner, however, they raised her veil and found, to their disbelief, that it was not Mrs. Pankhurst, but a decoy. During the confusion, the real Emmeline Pankhurst had slipped away in another cab and was now speeding off in a different direction.
That was followed by an even more terrible clash on May 9, 1914 in Glasgow, Scotland, that became known as "The Battle of Glasgow". That evening, as Tony Wolf described it in "The Suffragette Who Knew Jiu-Jitsu":
"St Andrew's Hall was packed to capacity with a crowd largely sympathetic to the Suffragettes' cause. The Body Guard carefully surveyed the crowd from their vantage point, a semi-circle of chairs set up on the stage directly behind the speaker's podium. Garlands of white and purple flowers decorated the edge of the stage and banners bearing the Suffragette mottoes, "Deeds Not Words" and "Votes for Women" were strung high above them.
"The Glasgow police had taken no chances, surrounding the entire hall with a cordon and also stationing 50 constables in the basement. The atmosphere was tense, even more so when the appointed hour of 8:00 came and went with no sign of Mrs. Pankhurst. Many members of the audience doubted that she could possibly break through the cordon, no matter how many Body Guards she might have to help her.
"Thus, when she suddenly appeared on the stage, the effect was like magic; though, as with the most apparently sophisticated illusions, the principle was simple misdirection. After spreading a rumour that she would attempt to breach the cordon, she had in fact arrived at the hall early and in disguise, paid for her ticket like any other member of the public, and taken a seat close to the platform."
Mrs. Pankhurst managed to say only a couple lines before a large force of police stormed into the hall, but The Body Guards were ready and waiting. As the authorities attempted to get to the speaker up on the platform they were met by resistance. Flower-pots, tables, chairs and other objects were hurled at them, and, to their surprise, barbed-wire had been concealed beneath the garlands and wrapped around the platform rail, further hindering their progress.
The fighting grew even more fierce as Mrs. Pankhurst described what happened next in "My Own Story":
"Meanwhile, more of the invading host came from other directions. The Body Guard and members of the audience vigorously repelled the attack, wielding clubs, batons, poles, planks, or anything they could seize, while the police laid about right and left with their batons, their violence being far the greater. Men and women were seen on all sides with blood streaming down their faces, and there were cries for a doctor.
"In the middle of the struggle, several revolver shots rang out, and the woman who was firing the revolver--which I should explain was loaded with blank cartridges only--was able to terrorise and keep at bay a whole body of police.
"I had been surrounded by members of The Body Guard, who hurried me towards the stairs from the platform. The police, however, overtook us, and in spite of the resistance of The Body Guard, they seized me and dragged me down the narrow stair at the back of the hall. There, a cab was waiting. I was pushed violently into it, and thrown on the floor, the seats being occupied by as many constables as could crowd inside."
Mrs. Pankhurst had actually planned on being captured, counting on the inevitable press coverage and the resulting public blowback from such a show of force for the capture of one lady at a legal meeting. It was a propaganda "coup".
The battle between the suffragettes and police came to a halt shortly thereafter, with the start of The Great War. The WSPU called a truce and turned their attention to patriotic support of the war effort. Their support would be rewarded as women, although some were excluded on property grounds, gained the right to vote in 1918.
† -- This revised article by our guest columnist John S. Nash has been 'crossposted' to CageSideSeats.com today (Mar. 30, 2013). In addition to delving into wrestling's past for CageSide Seats, Mr. Nash has regularly chronicled the forgotten history of mixed martial arts at our fellow SBNation Blog: BloodyElbow.com, where this article was posted in it's original form back on Feb. 23, 2013. CageSide Seats is proud to feature the cross-posting of his entire archive of articles in this exclusive guest column for your enjoyment. To read more fascinating articles from Mr. Nash, simply bookmark this link and remember to check back frequently for new content.
Special thanks to Thomas Nash
- The Bartitsu Compendiums Vol. I & Vol. 2, Edited by Tony Wolf
- Jujitsu Suffragettes, by Godfrey Winn (pay site, other than part 1 & part 2)
- With All Her Might; the Life of Gertrude Harding, Militant Suffragette, by Gretchen Wilson
- Noteworthy: Tony Wolf has a book out entitled Edith Garrud: the Suffragette Who Knew Jujutsu, which I have yet to read, but based on his other work, is probably worth recommending.
- "The Arrest", by Arthul Wallis Miles, Punch Magazine, 1910 - accessed via wikimedia.org
- "Black Friday", accessed via martialhistory.com
- "WOMENS SOCIAL AND POLITICAL UNION" - Banner, accessed via wikimedia.org
- "LADIES CRAZE FOR JIU-JITSU", via The Daily Mirror, Jan. 3, 1906
- "Mrs. Garrud, a well known suffragette...", via The Sketch, Dec. 19, 1913
- "SUFFRAGISTS AND JIU-JITSU", via paperspast.natlib.govt.nz