Edith Garrud – Britain’s first female martial artist who popularised Jiu-jitsu and trained the secretive bodyguard unit of the Suffragettes
Researchers at family history website findmypast.co.uk have uncovered details of the incredible story of Edith Garrud, a Jiu-jitsu fighting suffragette who secretly taught other women to fight so they could protect Emmeline Pankhurst and others from arrest during demonstrations.
Edith, who became Britain’s first professional female martial artist and starred in the country’s first martial arts film, trained the women in a series of secret locations across London and taught them “various ways of breaking a heavy fall, arm and leg breaking and holds which produced unconsciousness” according to the Evening Telegraph.
She also taught them to become proficient in the use of wooden Indian clubs, similar to a police truncheon, which the women concealed beneath their dresses.
Born Edith Margaret Williams in Bath in 1872, it was not until 1893 when she married William H Garrud that her passion for self-defence was sparked. William was a physical culture instructor specialising in gymnastics, boxing, wrestling, and according to the Luton Times and Advertiser, ‘an English expert and teacher of Jiu-Jitsu.’
After their marriage, William and Edith moved to London and in the early 1900s they became students at Professor Raku Uyenishi’s Jiu-jitsu school in Golden Square, Soho.
Golden Square, Soho
As her skill in the art grew, so did Edith’s renown. In 1907 she was featured as the protagonist in a short film entitled Jiu-Jitsu Downs the Footpads, which was produced by the Pathé Film Company and by 1908 Edith and William were running the Golden Square School. In the 1911 census Edith and William were both listed as a ‘teacher of Jiujutsu, the Japanese art of self-defence’.
Debra Chatfield, a family historian from findmypast.co.uk said: “Edith Garrud was a pioneering woman who was very committed to her cause. Her efforts and unique dedication went a long way towards driving the Suffragette movement forwards.
“Old newspaper articles, of which there are millions fully-searchable on findmypast.co.uk, are an invaluable resource for adding colour to social and family history, as they reveal exactly what happened then. I’m sure Edith’s relatives would be very proud of their eccentric ancestor.”
By 1910 Edith’s prowess in the discipline was well known and her impressive demonstrations were well publicised. In June of that year, the Evening Telegraph reported how a policeman ‘good naturedly agreed to test her’. Weighing in at ‘13 stone’ and ‘six foot’ against Edith’s ‘4 feet 10 inches’ he was confident of an easy victory as ‘his great red hands played idly about his 42in. chest’ and he scoffed ‘why you’re only a little dot of a woman”. He was very wrong.
For ‘a good few minutes he could not get a grip of the woman’ as she fought off his advance until ‘suddenly the thing happened’ and ‘in a flash the woman fell flat on her back, with the massive policeman towering above her’. In that brief instant, perhaps the hapless PC believed he had won, but quickly ‘up shot her feet to meet his diaphragm’, ‘her little arms strained’ and ‘as he pulled against himself the man lost balance, swirled over her head, turned a somersault in mid-air and fell heavily on the back of his head.’
Once the policeman gained his composure and “contemplatively he scratched his head” before adding “if that had happened on the pavement instead of this mat the police force would be one man short”.
Women’s Athletic Society
Edith used this victory to declare that her “object is to make Jiu-jitsu an additional weapon of woman’s fight for the vote” as she was now organising the ‘Women’s athletic society’, a branch of the ‘Women’s Freedom League’. The W.A.S was in fact a bodyguard unit trained by Garrud herself to ‘deal with male interrupters’. The evening Telegraph declared that “no longer is the annoying male interrupter to disturb the tranquillity of the peaceful Suffragette at her meetings”.
Women’s Freedom League
(c) September 2013
More about Edith:
By 1913 Edith’s band of officers was fully fledged as the government’s ‘cat and mouse act’ saw hostilities escalate as noted in the Grantham Journal’s August article entitled ‘Woman’s War”. Suffragette leaders on hunger strikes could legally be released from jail and then re-arrested and in response Edith and the WSPU established a thirty-member, all-woman protection unit referred to as “the Bodyguard”.
Their attention now turned from ‘male rowdies’ to the London police force and they fought a series of well-publicised battles such as that of the 28 May 1914, reported in the Western Gazette. As a procession of Suffragettes marched on Buckingham Palace, 1000 police officers were amassed and an attempt was made to arrest Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the movement in “a long conflict…waged around Wellington arch and Grosvenor Palace’. Pankhurst and around 52 others were arrested that day and many people were hospitalised.
By the time war broke out in 1914 the situation was getting very serious. Some extremists were arming themselves with pistols and even building bombs, prompting Emmeline Pankhurst to order the suspension of all militant actions in support of the war effort and by 1918, women over 30 were given the vote.
With the battle won, Edith returned to teaching Jiu-jitsu alongside her husband and eventually faded from public life. She died in 1971 aged 99 and Islington Council unveiled a People’s Plaque, voted for by residents, at the house where this little-known suffragette lived in Thornhill Square, London.
WOMEN’S WAR: Grantham Journal – Saturday 23 August 1913
JIU JITSU TEST: Evening Telegraph – Monday 27 June 1910
BATH LADY SUFFRAGETTE: Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – Thursday 30 June 1910
MISS KELLY: Evening Telegraph – Tuesday 21 June 1910
ILLUSTRATED “MAIL”: Hull Daily Mail – Wednesday 28 April 1909
WILD WOMEN: Western Gazette – Friday 29 May 1914
HARPENDEN: Luton Times and Advertiser – Friday 13 October 1905