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  • Writer's pictureShaun Lewis


This is one of my favourite cartoons. It is a tribute to Edith Garrud, a martial arts instructor prior to WW1. Only 4' 11" in height, she made a name for herself as 'The suffragette who knew jiu-jitsu' after she was recruited by the Women's Social and Political Union (the militant arm of the suffragettes) to train women to form a bodyguard for the senior leaders to prevent their arrest by the police. The Bodyguard not only provided a physical ring of defence around the leadership, but adopted disguises and acted as decoys.

However, it was not just the members of the Bodyguard who learnt jiu-jitsu. Women on marches were increasingly subjected to violence from the police and male bystanders and the Pankhursts advocated that all women should learn self-defence. Many women were sexually molested, too. Matters came to a head on Black Friday, 18 November 1910, when 300 suffragette demonstrators were met with extreme violence from the police. 100 women were arrested, several sustained serious injuries and two were killed.

I fictionalise some of the activities of the Bodyguard and the suffragettes in my first novel, The Custom of the Trade, and my heroine, Elizabeth Miller, continues to champion women's rights in my latest novel, Where the Baltic Ice is Thin.

If I may make a political point from all this on International Women's Day, I urge all women to remember the battle their forebears fought to gain the vote and exercise the hard-won right at every election.

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