From Suffragettes

No Man Shall Protect Us – a Suffrajitsu Documentary Now on Kickstarter!

No Man Shall Protect Us is a new documentary project to be co-produced by Suffrajitsu author Tony Wolf:

(…) closely based on detailed accounts by witnesses, journalists, police constables and radical suffragettes. Narration, graphics and rare archival film will portray the dangerous work of the Bodyguard Society during this spectacular clash of wills and ideologies.

We will also be using a theatrical “black box” docudrama format, with dramatic performances by costumed actors representing Emmeline Pankhurst, martial arts trainer Edith Garrud, Canadian Bodyguard leader Gert Harding, political radical Princess Sophia Duleep Singh and Chief Constable James V. Stevenson of the Glasgow police force.

In collaboration with the Babes With Blades Theatre Company’s production of Anne Bertram’s play The Good Fight, the documentary will also feature dynamic re-enactments of the Bodyguard Society’s origins, training and tactics, performed by a cast of twelve actors.

Check out the Kickstarter page for more info and to support this exciting new project!

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Suffrajitsu-inspired fashion

Here’s an intriguing example of modern fashion directly inspired by the lore of the suffragette Amazons.  According to the Beljacobs.com website:

For centuries, sweeping skirts and tight corsets dominated British womenswear. The war in 1914 changed this. As men left to fight, around 1.5 million women took up work, on buses, in factories, as ambulance drivers and window cleaners, and as their roles in society shifted, so – by necessity – did the clothes they wore. Fashion & Freedom, a new exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery, explores this transformation through fashion and film.

Designer Karin Human was inspired by the ‘Suffrajitsu’, martial-arts trained Suffragettes who formed protective walls around Emmeline Pankhurst during marches. ‘Anywhere Emmeline went, the jiu jitsu’s would follow her,’ says Vydelingum. ‘If they were in a demonstration and needed to get her out quickly, they would surround her and march her out.’ Human’s dress of cotton, leather and nylon contains large pockets for tools and weapons – which the suffrajitsu would have needed.

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Play Suffragetto Online! – the 1909 Suffragettes vs. Police Board Game Meets the Digital Age

Tony Wolf, the author of the Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy, has created a free, online version of the Suffragetto board game.  This recently re-discovered game, first published circa 1909, pits radical suffragettes against police constables in the mean streets of Edwardian London.

Suffragetto board demo 1

The game requires two players, who can be signed in on two different computers.

Here’s how to play:

  1. At least one player must create a free account at http://tabletopzen.com.
  2. Sign in and then click on the Suffragetto board in the Game Library.
  3. Study the rules (also listed below in this post) and then click on “Create Table” to generate a unique table for your game, with the pieces already properly arranged on the board.  You may need to re-size the game board using Ctrl and – to fit your screen size.
  4. You can now send the other player the URL for your table and they will then be able to join the game simply by creating a nickname.  Alternatively, if you are both signed in to tabletopzen.com, they can also join the game via the “Active Game Tables” screen in the Lobby.
  5. Use your cursor to move the pieces.

If you and the other player are using remote computers, it’s easy and fun to chat while you play using Skype or any similar service.

Enjoy playing Suffragetto!

Suffragetto board demo 2

Suffragetto Online Rules

Closely based on the original 1909 board game, Suffragetto represents the street battles fought between radical suffragettes and police constables in London during the years leading up to World War 1. The original game was created by the Women’s Social and Political Union and manufactured by Sargeant Bros., Ltd.

Fun fact: there was a real-life secret society of martial arts-trained female bodyguards who protected the leaders of the suffragette movement. Their escapades also inspired the 2015 graphic novel trilogy Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons; see www.suffrajitsu.com for details!

SUFFRAGETTO

An Original and Interesting Game of Skill for Two Players

Suffragetto is a contest of occupation between two opposing factions, The Suffragettes and The Police.

The goal of the Suffragettes is to break past Police lines and enter the House of Commons. At the same time, The Suffragettes must also prevent the Police from entering Albert Hall.

It is the Police Force’s duty to break up a meeting of the Suffragettes, currently being held in Albert Hall, all the while, preventing the Suffragettes from entering the House of Commons.

The game is won by whoever first succeeds in introducing six members into the building guarded by its opponents.

Direction and Mode of Play

The game is for two players, each of whom has 21 pieces, representing the Suffragettes and the Police.

A coin toss determines the first player.

The rank-and-file Suffragettes are colored green, and the purple pieces are distinguished as Leaders of the Suffragette Party.

The rank-and-file Police Constables are colored dark blue, and the white pieces are distinguished as Inspectors of Police.

The Suffragettes are placed on the squares marked ‘S’ near ‘Albert Hall.’ The leaders of the party are positioned as follows: one Leader is placed in the middle of the front row, and the other four Leaders are placed at the ends of the front and second rows.

The Police Force is placed upon the squares marked ‘P’ near the House of Commons. One Inspector is placed in the middle of the front row, and the remaining four Inspectors at the ends of the front and second rows.

Moving and Hopping

Each player alternatively moves or hops one of their own pieces. Moving can result in moving to one space into a single adjacent square, hopping over your own pieces to move farther along the board, or hopping over an opponent’s piece to “arrest” or “disable” your opponent’s piece.

Moving

A piece may move horizontally or diagonally one square per turn into any of the 8 adjoining squares, as long as that square is unoccupied.

Pieces may freely move over any part of the board except:

a. No piece can be moved (except when arrested or disabled) onto the spaces marked Prison, Prison Yard, Hospital, or Hospital Grounds.

b. A Suffragette cannot move onto the spaces marked Albert Hall.

c. A Policeman cannot move onto the spaces marked House of Commons.

Hopping

On a player’s turn, they may hop a piece rather than move it a single square. Hopping means jumping over one of your own pieces into the unoccupied square on the other side of the hopped over piece (as in Checkers). A player may string together hops into multiple jumps, provided that each jump lands in a permitted zone (as listed above) and there is a space in between each piece hopped over. If the square behind a piece is occupied, the hop cannot be completed.

Any piece having gained entrance into their opponent’s House of Commons or Albert Hall may move about freely on the squares representing the building, but must not move or hop away from those squares. Moving within either the House of Commons or Albert Hall spends a player’s turn.

Arresting and Disabling

Properly hopping over your opponent’s pieces results in arresting or disabling your opponent’s piece(s). Police may arrest Suffragettes and Suffragettes may disable Police.

Any piece standing on one of the squares in The Arena (squares marked pink) is liable to be arrested or disabled by their opponent. Any of your pieces may arrest or disable any of your opponent’s pieces.

A rank-and-file Suffragette disables the Police by hopping over him in a diagonal direction. A Leader of the Suffragette Party can disable any member of the Police Force by hopping over him in any direction.

A rank-and-file Policeman arrests a Suffragette by hopping over her in a diagonal direction. An Inspector of Police arrests any Suffragette member by hopping over her in any direction.

A piece can only arrest or disable its opponents when it is hopping, not when simply moving. Thus, one of the smaller pieces may hop over a Leader or Inspector simply to move about the board. A single piece may arrest or disable multiple pieces during one series of jumps. Suffragettes who are arrested are moved to the Prison. Police who are disabled are moved to the Hospital. No piece can be arrested or disabled in the yellow zones outside the Arena, but may move or hop freely in these zones.

Exchanges

If at any point, the Prison and the Hospital each contain 12 or more inmates, either player may insist on an exchange of 6 or less pieces. The pieces exchanged must be of equal value, e.g., a Leader is exchanged for an Inspector, and the rank-and-file of the Suffragette party for the rank-and-file of the Police.

The exchanged pieces may start moving from the squares marked ‘Prison Yard’ and ‘Hospital Grounds’ respectively. No exchange can be made while any piece remains on the Prison Yard or the Hospital Grounds.

If one player does not agree to an exchange, the exchange does not occur.

Winning

The first player with six pieces in their opponent’s home base wins.

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“Suffragetto”: a Suffragettes vs. Police Board Game Rediscovered After 100 Years

The Bodleian Library’s recent Playing With History exhibition featured, among many other interesting historical games, the only known playing set of Suffragetto; a board game based on the battles between radical suffragettes and police constables in London during the early 20th century.

A free, online version of the game is also now available: see here for details!

The game itself appears to date from 1908/9 (Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866-1928).  Although widely reported upon in recent media as dating from 1917, the earlier dates are much more likely, as the radical suffrage movement was largely abated by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

Players enact the roles of either the suffragettes, represented by 21 green markers, or police constables, represented by 21 dark blue markers.  The suffragettes’ object is to occupy the House of Commons with six markers while defending their home base of the Albert Hall against the police, whose object is, likewise, to occupy Albert Hall while defending the House of Commons.

Each side includes five larger markers, representing the Leaders of the suffragettes and the Inspectors of the police, respectively.

Gameplay is engaged as each side takes turns in attempting to out-manoeuvre the other, capturing opposing markers by jumping over them as in chess or checkers.  “Arrested” suffragette markers must remain within the Prison section of the board, while “disabled” police constable markers must remain within the Hospital section.

If, at any point, the Prison and the Hospital each contain 12 or more inmates, either player may insist on an exchange of 6 or fewer markers. The markers exchanged must be of equal value, e.g., A Leader is exchanged for an Inspector, and the rank and file of the Suffragette party for the rank and file of the Police.

See Georgia Tech’s Suffragetto webpage for much more information, including a printable playing board so you can play the game yourself!

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“The Rise of the Jujitsu-Suffragettes: Martial Arts in fin-de-siècle Great Britain”

Click here to contact the organisers and/or to book your place for this fascinating lecture on the real secret society of suffragette bodyguards who inspired the Suffrajitsu trilogy!

When?  6.30 – 8.00 p.m., May 19th, 2016

Where? Asia House, Library, 63 New Cavendish Street, London, W1G 7LP

How much? Admission: £8

What’s it about? The lecture will explore the blossoming of martial arts in Great Britain at the turn of the 20th century, investigating the Victorian obsession for self-defence, the appeal of the ‘exotic East’, and gender as a social and cultural construct.

Starting with the mid-Victorian garotting panics, Dr Godfrey will show how a fear of violent street crime was entangled with a fascination with Indian thuggee and how in response, civilians manufactured gruesome weapons.

By the end of the 19th century, the use of violent forms of self-defence had become unfashionable and Japanese martial arts were considered to be the ideal, minimally aggressive way to fend off attackers. Experts from Japan taught politicians, the public and police alike the art of jujitsu and women sensationally took up jujitsu in the campaign for women’s suffrage.

A century later, martial arts with an Edwardian twist are again in vogue.


 Lecturer: Emelyne GodfreyEmy Godfrey

Dr Godfrey is a writer and researcher specialising in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. She is a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement and has been interviewed by the BBC on numerous occasions. Author of Masculinity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature (2010), and Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and Society (2012), her latest work Utopias and Dystopias in the Fiction of H.G. Wells and William Morris will be available in September 2016. Dr Godfrey is currently working on a book on the suffragettes.

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“The World We Live In: Self-Defence” – some words of wisdom from suffragette martial arts trainer Edith Garrud

The following article was first published in Votes for Women, the newspaper of the Women’s Social and Political Union, during March of 1910. At that time, Edith Garrud (right, above) had been running her “Suffragettes Self Defence Club”, which was advertised in Votes for Women, since at least December of the previous year. The club was based at Leighton Lodge in Edwardes Square, Kensington, a facility which also included a number of studios for classes in sculpture, painting and voice. The Suffragette self defence classes started at 7.00 p.m. each Tuesday and Thursday evening and cost 5s, 6d per month.

Click on the article to read it at full size:

The World We Live In

Eight months after this article was written, the intensity of the “suffrage question” was dramatically boosted when a large but ostensibly peaceful suffragette rally in central London escalated into the violent confrontation that became known as the Black Friday riot. That event forced the urgency and evolution of Mrs. Garrud’s training and by 1912 her Votes for Women advertisements read:

Ju-Jutsu (self-defence) for Suffragettes, private or class lessons daily, 10.30 to 7.30; special terms to W. S. P. U. members; Sunday class by arrangement; Boxing and Fencing by specialists. — Edith Garrud, 9, Argyll Place, Regent Street

By 1913 – in response to the Cat and Mouse Act, which allowed hunger-striking suffragette prisoners to be released and then re-arrested once they had recovered their health – Mrs. Garrud was training the secret Bodyguard Society, A.K.A. the Amazons, in preparation for street-fighting with the police.

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“Suffrajitsu”: How The Suffragettes Fought Back Using Martial Arts (BBC News)

A BBC News article by Camila Ruz & Justin Parkinson.


The film Suffragette, which is due for release, portrays the struggle by British women to win the vote. They were exposed to violence and intimidation as their campaign became more militant. So they taught themselves the martial art of jiu-jitsu.

Edith Garrud was a tiny woman. Measuring 4ft 11in (150cm) in height she appeared no match for the officers of the Metropolitan Police – required to be at least 5ft 10in (178cm) tall at the time. But she had a secret weapon.

In the run-up to World War One, Garrud became a jiu-jitsu instructor to the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), better known as the suffragettes, taking part in an increasingly violent campaign for votes for women.

Sick of the lack of progress, they resorted to civil disobedience, marches and illegal activities including assault and arson.

The struggle in the years before the war became increasingly bitter. Women were arrested and, when they went on hunger strike, were force-fed using rubber tubes. While out on marches, many complained of being manhandled and knocked to the ground. Things took a darker turn after “Black Friday” on 18 November 1910.

Black Friday protest, 1910: Suffragettes were assaulted by police and men in the crowd

A group of around 300 suffragettes met a wall of policemen outside Parliament. Heavily outnumbered, the women were assaulted by both police and male vigilantes in the crowd. Many sustained serious injuries and two women died as a result. More than 100 suffragettes were arrested.

“A lot said they had been groped by the police and male bystanders,” says Elizabeth Crawford, author of The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide. “After that, women didn’t go to these demonstrations unprepared.”

Some started putting cardboard over their ribs for protection. But Garrud was already teaching the WSPU to fight back. Her chosen method was the ancient Japanese martial art of jiu-jitsu. It emphasised using the attacker’s force against them, channelling their momentum and targeting their pressure points.


A suffragette’s guide to self-defence

The first connection between the suffragettes and jiu-jitsu was made at a WSPU meeting. Garrud and her husband William, who ran a martial arts school in London’s Golden Square together, had been booked to attend. But William was ill, so she went alone.

“Edith normally did the demonstrating, while William did the speaking,” says Tony Wolf, writer of Suffrajitsu, a trilogy of graphic novels about this aspect of the suffragette movement. “But the story goes that the WSPU’s leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, encouraged Edith to do the talking for once, which she did.”

Garrud began teaching some of the suffragettes. “At that time it was more about defending themselves against angry hecklers in the audience who got on stage, rather than police,” says Wolf. “There had been several attempted assaults.”

By about 1910 she was regularly running suffragette-only classes and had written for the WSPU’s newspaper, Votes for Women. Her article stressed the suitability of jiu-jitsu for the situation in which the WSPU found itself – that is, having to deal with a larger, more powerful force in the shape of the police and government.

The press noticed. Health and Strength magazine printed a satirical article called “Jiu-jitsuffragettes”. Punch magazine showed a cartoon of Garrud standing alone against several policemen, entitled “The suffragette that knew jiu-jitsu”. The term “suffrajitsu” soon came into common use.

“They wouldn’t have expected in those days that women could respond physically to that kind of action, let alone put up effective resistance,” says Martin Dixon, chairman of the British Jiu-Jitsu Association. “It was an ideal way for them to handle being grabbed while in a crowd situation.”

The Pankhursts agreed and encouraged all suffragettes to learn the martial art. “The police know jiu-jitsu. I advise you to learn jiu-jitsu. Women should practice it as well as men,” said Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of Emmeline, in a 1913 speech.

As the years went on, confrontations between police and suffragettes became more intense. The so-called Cat and Mouse Act in 1913 allowed hunger-striking prisoners to be released and then re-incarcerated as soon as they had recovered their health.

“The WSPU felt that as Mrs Pankhurst had such a vital role to play as motivator and figurehead for the organisation that she was too important to be recaptured,” says Emelyne Godfrey, author of Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and Society.

She needed protectors so Garrud formed a group called The Bodyguard. It consisted of up to 30 women who undertook “dangerous duties,” explains Godfrey. “Sometimes all they would get would be a phone call and instructions to follow a particular car.”

The Bodyguard, nicknamed “Amazons” by the press, armed themselves with clubs hidden in their dresses.

They came in handy during a famous confrontation known as the “Battle of Glasgow” in early 1914.

The Bodyguard travelled overnight from London by train, their concealed clubs making the journey uncomfortable. A crowd was waiting to see Emmeline Pankhurst speak at St Andrew’s Hall. But police had surrounded it, hoping to catch her.

Pankhurst evaded them on her way in by buying a ticket and pretending to be a spectator. The Bodyguard then got into position, sitting on a semi-circle of chairs behind the speaker’s podium.

Suddenly Pankhurst appeared and started speaking. She did so for half a minute before police tried to storm the stage.

But they became caught on barbed wire hidden in bouquets. “So about 30 suffragettes and 50 police were involved in a brawl on stage in front of 4,000 people for several minutes,” says Wolf.

Eventually police overwhelmed The Bodyguard and Pankhurst was once again arrested. But the difficulty they had in dragging her away showed just how effective her guards had become.

Garrud did not just teach them physical skills. They had also learnt to trick 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 realised she was a decoy. The real Pankhurst had been smuggled out in the commotion.

The emphasis on skill to defeat and outwit a larger opponent was what first impressed Garrud about jiu-jitsu. She came across it when her husband William attended a martial arts exhibition in 1899 and started taking lessons.

Garrud was soon teaching it herself and became one of the first female martial art instructors in the West. In exhibitions, she would wear a red gown and invite a martial arts enthusiast dressed as a policeman to attack her.

“As far as the suffragettes were concerned, she was very much in the right place at the right time,” says Wolf.

“Jiu-jitsu had become something of a society trend, with women hosting jiu-jitsu parties, where they and their friends underwent instruction.”

Garrud and her jiu-jitsu students continued their fight for the vote until a bigger battle engulfed them all. At the outbreak of WW1, the suffragettes concentrated on helping the war effort.

At the end of the war, in 1918, the Representation of the People Act was finally passed. More than eight million women in the UK were given the vote. But women would not get the same voting rights as men until 1928.

As time passed, The Bodyguard and their trainer began to be forgotten. “It was the leaders that wrote the books and set the history,” explains Crawford. The stories of those who helped them were less likely to be recorded.

Edith Garrud does not feature in the new film but one of its stars, Helena Bonham Carter, has paid her own tribute by changing her character’s name from Caroline to Edith in her honour.

She was “an amazing woman” whose fighting method was not about brute force, Bonham Carter has said. “It was about skill.”


Helena Bonham Carter’s character in the film Suffragette is named Edith in homage to Edith Garrud

It was this skill that helped the suffragettes take on powerful opponents. As Garrud recalled in an interview in 1965, a policeman once tried to prevent her from protesting outside Parliament. “Now then, move on, you can’t start causing an obstruction here,” he said. “Excuse me, it is you who are making an obstruction,” she replied, and tossed him over her shoulder.

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Edwardian Amazons: The English Suffragette (Kung Fu Magazine)

The Suffrajitsu media blast continues with this excellent article by KUNG FU MAGAZINE journalist Lori Ann White …

 

Hark back to days of yore, and schoolbook pictures of the women who fought for the vote in the days leading up to the First World War. Ladies in long skirts with grim faces, marching through the city streets and wielding their weapons of choice: banners and pamphlets, signs and shouting. Motherly and grandmotherly types, in starched white shirts with lace at their throats, giving speeches and picketing City Hall. Maybe—if they were extra hard-core—being arrested and going on hunger strikes.

These women are all familiar images from both sides of the Atlantic. British and American suffragettes, who won a voice for their sisters and daughters almost 100 years ago. Noble. Uplifting.

But there’s a picture that’s missing from many accounts of the history of the suffrage movement in England. A picture of the women who were totally bad-ass, with training in grappling and throws and, tucked in their bustles, clubs they were not afraid to use on the men who were trying to shut them down.

The film SUFFRAGETTE (2015) is a study of why these women wanted the skills to defend themselves. It shows the brutality of the London bobbies, who waded into demonstrations and meetings with their own fists and truncheons. More than that, it shows the assaults and insults women had to deal with every day of their lives, from their bosses, their husbands, random men on the street.

One very short scene in the film shows the heroine, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan, an Edwardian Everywoman) getting expertly dumped to the mat by Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter, a steely, seasoned soldier of the cause). This is a welcome hint, but only a hint of the martial training of London suffragettes.

The reality is fascinating: A group of dedicated women trained in a hybrid art called Bartitsu who served as bodyguards for wanted suffragettes, security detail for events, and de facto Secret Service detail for Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep in the film), the leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union, representing the more radical faction of the suffrage movement.

Another option for learning more about these “jiujitsuffragettes,” as dubbed by the press of the day (and having fun doing it), is the graphic novel trilogy, “SUFFRAJITSU: MRS. PANKHURST’S AMAZONS” (2015), written by Tony Wolf, with art by Joao Vieira.

Set in early 1914, at the height of the suffragette movement in London, SUFFRAJITSU introduces us to the Bartitsu-trained women who protect Emmeline Pankhurst, and two of their real-life instructors, Edith Garrud, the women’s jiujitsu instructor at the Bartitsu Club, and the mysterious Miss Sanderson, who was actually Marguerite Vigny, the wife of Pierre Vigny, the cane and savate instructor at the Bartitsu Club.

SUFFRAJITSU: MRS. PANKHURST'S AMAZONS book cover art by Joao Vieira

“The first part of the story is very closely based on real history,” says author Wolf, “as the Amazons engage in escalating confrontations with the police. The strategies of jiujitsu were seen as a metaphor for the womens’ fight to get the vote, and the Amazons served as symbols of women’s defiance against the state’s authority as well as functional bodyguards. Both sides were really engaged in an all-out, hearts-and-minds propaganda battle by that point.”

Wolf is a martial artist, martial arts scholar, fight choreographer and stuntman whose credits include developing the different styles used by the various races in Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003). He got his start in eastern styles such as Taekwondo, but became intrigued by the history of martial arts in Europe. His researches led him to Bartitsu, a hybrid style developed by E. W. Barton-Wright (hence the name), a British engineer who spent three years in Japan, which he introduced in London in 1898, according to Wolf.

“Bartitsu was an eccentric ‘mixed martial art‘ combining boxing, jiujitsu, kicking and the Vigny method of self-defense with a walking stick,” says Wolf. It is quite probably the source of Sherlock Holmes’ “Baritsu” style.

In about 2002 Wolf used what he calls “historical detective work and practical pressure-testing” to bring back the lost art of Bartitsu. “Reviving Bartitsu as a sort of gentlemanly Jeet Kune Do, or maybe ‘Edwardian Dog Brothers,’ has been my main martial arts interest since then,” he says.

Wolf’s first exposure to Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons happened much earlier, though.

“I remember first coming across an anecdote about the ‘jiujitsuffragettes’ in a martial arts history book when I was a teenager,” he says. “Apparently, young, middle-class London suffragettes would shinny down the drainpipes and sneak off to secret self-defense classes in the dead of night.”

An appealing image to a rebellious teen, but Wolf did not begin to study them in earnest until he was researching the history of Bartitsu. “I came across more and more information about the suffragette Amazons. Eventually I incorporated that information into some Bartitsu-themed books and a documentary I co-produced in 2010.”

Amazons training in the Bartitsu Club

Then well-known science fiction and fantasy author Neal Stephenson, a Bartitsu aficionado, approached Wolf to write the story of the Edwardian Amazons for Stephenson’s vast shared-world project, the Foreworld Saga.

“I think [Stephenson] was really taken by the idea of a group of bad-ass Edwardian ladies and wanted to see that happen somewhere in the Foreworld,” Wolf says.

With more experience in non-fiction than fiction, Wolf approached the project with some hesitation. “It was a bit of a leap of faith for Neal to get me involved in the Foreworld project,” Wolf says. “I’m very grateful that he did, though, because it was a blast to get to work creatively with all the jiujitsuffragette material I’d been gathering for years.”

Bartitsu Sparring match.

The truth is almost as strange, though, and provides a fascinating glimpse into women in the martial arts in the early 20th century. A number of circumstances—some positive, some less so—had begun to open up the pursuit of martial arts to women.

“Women who wanted to learn jiujitsu weren’t typically considered to be less than ladylike,” Wolf says. “It dovetailed nicely with several other popular trends, including ‘physical culture’ or exercise training, which was generally looked on with good favor, and there was also a lot of popular enthusiasm for Japanese culture at the time.”

On a darker note, says Wolf, “There was a growing awareness of assaults in public spaces, on board trains, and so on, especially as more and more women went into employment and started to travel in cities without chaperones.”

It’s probable that both Marguerite Vigny and Edith Garrud developed new techniques for the women under their tutelage, says Wolf. “Madame Vigny’s system was a pragmatic adaptation of her husband’s method, based on using the umbrella or parasol as a combination of rapier and short spear,” he says, while the women learned some interesting and very effective techniques with Indian clubs, either from Garrud or through trial and error.

“There are very few specific records of how the clubs were used, but the Amazons did learn to target police constables’ helmets, because if the constables lost their helmets, they had to pay for them to be replaced,” Wolf says. Knocking a helmet off a bobby’s head generally sent him scrambling after.

The women also found a useful technique for dealing with the mounted police. “One of the suffragettes figured out that, if you struck a police horse on the back of its knee with an Indian club, the horse would sit down quickly and dump a mounted constable off its back. The horse wouldn’t be hurt, so that was a great counter-move.”

Suffragettes Assemble!

According to Wolf, the suffrage movement in the US did not employ similar tactics. “The US suffrage movement was nowhere near as radical as the suffragettes in the UK,” he says. By some accounts, the violence employed by the more radical suffragettes in London set their cause back by a few years. But following World War I the men of England realized that the women of England deserved a voice and a vote.

After all, there’s only so much you can say with your fists.

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The Suffragettes Who Learned Martial Arts to Fight for Votes (Atlas Obscura)

This new Atlas Obscura article by writer Tao Tao Holmes highlights both the Suffrajitsu graphic novels and the real history of the suffragette Amazons, including an interview with Suffrajitsu author Tony Wolf.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Wolf describes himself as a ‘very staunchly feminist sort of guy,’ and while writing Suffrajitsu, he approached the women as a group of professionals, political radicals committed to an ideological goal. “The fact that they were female was third or fourth in the list of priorities in terms of how I wanted to present them,” he explains.

At the same time, he didn’t want it to be ‘women: good; men: bad.’ There were many men who very assiduously supported the radical suffrage movement to the point that they earned their own nickname: suffragents. Suffragents supported these women while they engaged in very aggressive, though non-violent civil disobedience. ‘These women were very careful and also very lucky that no one was physically harmed in their protests—even the extreme stuff like bombing,’ says Wolf.”

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