How the Suffragettes literally fought for their rights.

"Their last line of defence is the elite secret society of Amazons; women trained in the martial art of Bartitsu and sworn to protect their leaders from arrest and assault."
Tony Wolf, Suffrajitsu

Okay, the quotation above seems a little dramatic, but then it's taken from an alternative history graphic novel. Nonetheless, the women's suffrage movement of the early twentieth century was under attack socially, politically and with physical violence. The leaders of the Suffragette movement were wanted women, the protests were often met with awful violence from the police. Beatings, groping and sexual assault were commonplace when these women met with the police, and after a time, the women decided to take the fight a step further, and learn how best to defend themselves.

Women were (still are sometimes) referred to as "the weaker sex". It was with this in mind that various bartitsu clubs and jujistsu dojos had began opening classes to women at the beginning of the century. One Emily Diana Watts decided to go a step further and offer classes specifcally designed for women to enable them to defend themselves.

As the Suffragette movement gained traction, the leaders (notably Emmeline Pankhurst) started to be targeted by police at protests. After the passage of the "Cat and Mouse Act" in 1913 (designed to enable the release of hunger strikers so they could return to health and be recaptured) the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) formed a cadre of women trained in various martial arts. This group would later form what became known as the Bodyguard; their duties were to protect the leaders and defend the protests. These women would often carry Indian clubs concealed in their clothing and were more than capable of putting up a fight. They were unafraid to take on adverse odds, as witnessed on 9 March 1914 at the "Battle of Glasgow" when 30 women present at a protest gathering took on 50 police officers. Emmeline Pankhurst and many others were arrested, including one Glasgow woman who produced a revolver. These women were serious.

The Bodyguard weren't just fighters either. They were trained in the art of deception, misdirection and evasion, and they organised activities with various groups around the country. Whilst they were prepared to engage in hand to hand combat, they sought to avoid it, preferring more subtle tactics when possible. In the case of the Glasgow incident¹ they had Pankhurst smuggled to the event in a laundry basket and kept escape routes open, hoping to get her out quickly after the event.

Soon after the outbreak of the World War in 1914, the WSPU began to focus more on nationalism, supporting the government in the war. By 1917 they had all but stopped supporting the suffrage movement and the Bodyguards were no more.

The press were of course had been reporting on all these protests, and it was an anonymous journalist who named these feminist special forces' tactics "Suffragitsu", and in recent years the word has once again come to prominence, thanks in part to a graphic novel Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst's Amazons² and the 2015 film Suffragette. Never underestimate the power of women (see Judges 9:53).


Iron node 13

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