So who is Edith Garrud and where does she tend bar? If you had asked me this yesterday, I would have first given you a blank look. (I’m very good at this, believe me.) Then after the requisite ten-second minimum it takes for my mental gears to turn, I would have shrugged and said something like “Search me.” Thanks to the May/June 2016 issue of Mental Floss, however, I now know who Garrud is along with the fact that she does not tend bar. What she does, did rather, was teach jujitsu to suffragette women between 1910 and 1920. Why, you might ask? Because they needed to defend themselves as they marched, protested, and, yes, sometimes got a little rowdy, breaking windows, tossing “flour bombs” at politicians, or hiding barbed wire in floral arrangements with ill intent (the hiding, not the flowers). The latter are things local authorities and police tend to frown upon, only in those days the frowns came in the form of billy clubs.
In his story titled “Fight Like a Girl,” Jake Rossen tells Edith’s tale. Among other claims to fame, she was one of the first female martial arts instructors in the Western world. More notoriously, she taught the Bodyguard Unit (BU) of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) how to toss numerous bobbies willy-nilly into floral arrangements (some wired and some not) with impunity and ease. In particular, the BU was protecting Emmeline Pankhurst, who Rossen describes as “one of the loudest voices of Britain’s suffragette movement.
Garrud, standing a tiny, tiny 4 feet 11 inches, took up athletics as a teenager because she had “trouble fitting in at school.” She married another fitness aficionado and together they learned martial arts and opened a training dojo. Along the way, she appeared in a 1907 silent film titled “Jiu Jitsu Downs the Footpads,” which caught the eye of many people, including those in the WSPU. The rest is, of course, history (what else would it be?).
After being trained by Garrud, the WSPU, the members of which had suffered numerous beatings and even deaths at the hands of police and other “ruffians,” turned the BU loose. The BU, in turn, was “happy to begin tossing policeman like rag dolls.” One reporter foolish enough to ask for a demonstration from Garrud picked himself off the floor and later wrote “I rose convinced of the efficiency of jujitsu, and, aching in every limb, crawled painfully away, pitying the constable whose ill-fortune it should be to lay hands on Mrs. Garrud.” Others wrote that “Garrud taught the women techniques that allowed them to take control of situations that they felt were out of their control.”
We need Edith today. Maybe the next president — well, maybe the next Democrat president — will find someone like her and add her to the Cabinet as the Secretary of No Longer Taking Crap from Anyone (or the SNLTCA, pronounced sna-lit-ka, which would also be a good term for a patented smack-down move). Imagine if kids, boys and girls alike, learned jujitsu early on. That would put a quick end, I would think, to physical bullying, to spousal abuse, to police brutality, to terrorism, and the common cold (okay, maybe not this last one).
I am a little nervous, though. Edith choreographed a play called “Jujitsu as a Husband-Tamer: A Suffragette Play with a Moral.” In it, Rossen notes, “a married woman uses martial arts to force her drunkard husband to sober up.” While I’m not a drunkard (at least not yet), my wife might still get ideas when she sees this. Maybe it’s already begun. I’m staring out the window right now at the shrubs around our house. Is it just me or do they suddenly have a “sharp and hungry look” about them?
Visit Kim Pederson’s blog RatBlurt: Mostly Random Short-Attention-Span Musings.