Although the woman known as “Miss Sanderson” was a prominent fencer and self defence instructor in Edwardian London, regrettably little is known of her life – including her first name. At some point in the early 1900s she married Pierre Vigny, who had begun his own career in London as the chief instructor at the Bartitsu Club. Miss Sanderson, who continued to use what was presumably her maiden name for professional purposes, became Vigny’s assistant instructor when he opened his own school in Berner’s Street during 1903. By 1908 she was teaching her own unique system of women’s self defence, based on Vigny’s method but concentrating on the use of the umbrella and parasol.
Here follow some excerpts from newspaper reports on her exhibitions:
Then Miss Sanderson came to the attack, and the demonstration showed her to be as capable with the stick as the sword. She passed it from hand to hand so quickly that the eye could scarcely follow the movements, and all the while her blows fell thick and fast. Down slashes, upper cuts, side swings, jabs and thrusts followed in quick succession, and the thought arose, how would a ruffian come off if he attacked this accomplished lady, supposing she had either walking-stick, umbrella, or parasol at the time? In tests, she has faced more than one Hooligan, who was paid to attack her, and each time he has earned his money well.
The contest between the Professor and Madame (Vigny, i.e. Miss Sanderson), which mingled the English art of Fisticuffs with the French Savate, was also intensely interesting, as proving the quickness, endurance and hitting power which can be developed as readily by members of the fair sex, as by those of the male persuasion, provided only that they be suitably trained.
– J. St. A. Jewell, “The Gymnasiums of London: Part X. — Pierre Vigny’s” Health and Strength, May 1904, pages 173-177.
It is certain, after seeing Madame’s performance, that every lady would wish to study the art as, were she acquainted with it, and provided with a hooked umbrella, she could penetrate into the roughest districts, and yet feel sure that any assailant, however formidable, who ventured to molest her, would bitterly regret having done so.
– “Professor Pierre Vigny’s Sixth Great Annual Tournament,” Health and Strength, January 1906, pages 38-39.
The mysterious Miss Sanderson also appears in the Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy, in which she wields her parasol in defence of the leaders of the radical women’s rights movement.
Fascinating! How did she come to be a prominent fencer? What was *is* known of her background?
Late last year we discovered that her first name was Marguerite and learned where she and her husband Pierre had lived while Pierre was teaching at the London Bartitsu Club. After they left England (circa 1910) she continued to teach self defence and exercise classes for a number of years at Pierre’s new school in Vienna.
We still don’t know much about her past, including how she first learned fencing, but note that fencing was a fairly common athletic activity for middle-class girls of her generation, especially in France and to a lesser extent in England.