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The Female Jiu-Jitsu Crew That Defended Women's Rights

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Image Credit: HistorieNet

Had the police known there was barbed wire hidden in the floral arrangements, things might have gone a little differently.

The officers had poured themselves into an assembly hall in Glasgow, Scotland, in March 1914 to arrest Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the loudest voices in the British feminist movement who had traveled from London to rally support for her cause. Women, she declared, deserved the right to vote, to ask for a divorce, or to inherit land.

Anticipating a fight, she arrived with an army of women—roughly 25 in all—collectively known as the Bodyguard. These “Amazons,” as the press breathlessly reported, were trained in the art of jiu-jitsu, club-fighting, and sabotage by Edith Garrud, one of the first female martial arts instructors in Europe. Unlike many who study self-defense, the women weren’t preparing for hypothetical threats. The police had pummeled them with their fists and sticks before, and wouldn’t hesitate to do so again.

Pankhurst had already made police look foolish by evading arrest at the entrance: She simply bought a ticket and walked in, presumed to be a spectator. As she stood holding court, the uniformed officers began to advance, outnumbering the Bodyguard by two to one. One of the women—dubbed “suffragettes” in newspapers— pulled out a pistol and took aim, firing. They were blanks, but it stunned her target. Other officers were tossed in the manner Garrud instructed, tumbling into razor-sharp bouquets. Indian clubs, which were shaped like bowling pins, emerged from the women's dresses and were used to batter their foes. The melee would later be referred to as the “Battle of Glasgow,” with Pankhurst finally being dragged away.

It was little wonder why she needed protection, or why Garrud was the woman for the job—despite the fact that she stood only 4 feet 11 inches tall.

The illustrated art of Edith in action. Image courtesy of Bartitsu.org.

Born in Bath, Somserset, in 1872, Garrud’s parents were unmarried, a shameful circumstance for the time. Sent to live with her aunt, she had difficulty fitting in at school and took to athletics as a means of busying herself. In 1893, she and fellow fitness enthusiast William Garrud were married; in 1899, the couple saw a demonstration by Edward Barton-Wright, a compact man who had developed his own blend of grappling and striking he dubbed Bartitsu—a style (misspelled as “Baritsu”) so well publicized it was name-dropped by Sherlock Holmes in a 1903 Arthur Conan Doyle story.

The Garruds went on to train with Sadakazu Uyenishi, a Japanese jiu-jitsu instructor affiliated with Barton-Wright. When Uyenishi left in 1908, they took over his dojo in Golden Square. Edith ran the women’s and children’s classes, demonstrating how even a small individual could overpower a larger foe using the leverage of jiu-jitsu (at the time often spelled as “ju-jitsu,” jujutsu,” or “jiujitsu.”)

Garrud had gotten some publicity for a short 1907 film reel that displayed her skills and was invited by Pankhurst to appear at a Women’s Social and Political Union meeting in 1909 after William got ill and couldn’t make it. The suffragettes were so impressed by her abilities that they asked her to begin regular training sessions. By December, Garrud was running the Suffragette Self-Defense Club. The idea of a physically domineering woman arming the feminists with combat techniques (even as they wore wide-brimmed hats and elaborate dresses) was something the press couldn’t get enough of.

A 1910 Punch Magazine cartoon of a capable suffragette cowering police. Image courtesy of Bartitsu.org.

Garrud’s responsibility was considerable: Pankhurst and her protestors were radicals, setting mailboxes on fire, throwing “flour bombs” at the Prime Minister, and smashing windows of shopkeepers that refused to support their cause. A visiting Mahatma Gandhi addressed the suffragettes in 1909, telling them their cause was just but their tactics unacceptable.  

While Gandhi simply shook his head, police response was brutal: a 1910 confrontation ended with several women battered. When women were arrested and refused to eat in protest, they were force-fed with rubber hoses. Those imprisoned sometimes saw Garrud climbing atop prison walls, singing and waving a flag; those freed were taught how to throw policemen through the air and avoid being bludgeoned by wrapping cotton and cardboard around their ribs.

The suffragettes didn't want to risk arrest for their secret weapon, and so Garrud rarely joined the fray—but she wasn't averse to being an accomplice. Once, after a group of women smashed over 400 shop windows, she instructed them to run back to her dojo, where they changed into grappling uniforms. She stashed their street clothes and weapons in a trap door under the mats. As Garrud told author Antonia Raeburn:

“They were all in their jiu-jitsu coats working on the mats, when bang, bang, bang on the door. Six policemen! I looked very thunderstruck and wanted to know what was the matter. ‘Well, can’t we come in?’ said one of the policemen. I said, ‘No, I’m sorry, but I’ve got six ladies here having a jiu-jitsu lesson. I don’t expect gentlemen to come in here.’…He didn’t see anything, only the girls busy working, and out he went again.”

As the fight dragged on and it became clear Pankhurst was not going to fold, authorities invoked a new law dubbed the Cat and Mouse Act. It stated that protestors who were arrested and refused to eat would be set free. Once they had returned to health, police would re-arrest them. Tempers flared on both sides; the Women’s Social and Political Union even took credit for blowing up a vacant house recently purchased by Chancellor Lloyd-George.

“We mean to have a revolt,” daughter Sylvia Pankhurst said at one rally [PDF]. “I and my friends are out to have a few riots.”

The Pankhursts decided the fugitives needed protection. Garrud was charged with training the Bodyguard, the squad of women who would serve as a barrier to deter cops. They were organized, swift with clubs, and seemingly fearless in the face of badges. Police, aware of Garrud’s tenacious skills, tried spying on their lessons from skylights.

Edith Garrud tosses a suffragette in training. Image courtesy of Suffrajitsu.com.

In February 1914, just a month before their rumble in Glasgow, the Bodyguard were faced with another bloody scenario. Emmeline was delivering a rousing speech from a balcony in a Camden Square home. Police were waiting below, eager to re-arrest the fugitive. When she declared she was coming down and dared authorities to stop her, they swarmed her protectors. After a protracted struggle, they finally managed to nab Pankhurst.

Stopping to catch their breath, police looked more closely. They had caught Pankhurst’s double. The real thing had remained inside, spirited away in the opposite direction.

The Bodyguard used wits and jiu-jitsu in equal measure, even knocking one policeman unconscious in front of Buckingham Palace. The only thing that could stop the Pankhursts in their tracks was the declaration of actual war. When World War I broke out, Emmeline decided that women’s rights wouldn’t be of much use if Germans occupied Great Britain and she decided to focus her efforts on keeping her country free.  By war’s end, women finally won their right to vote.

Edith Garrud with two of her children. Islington Tribune.

Having sold the dojo in 1925, Garrud was long out of the business of proving doubters wrong, as the times she had done so had left a lasting impression. After tossing one Daily Mirror reporter, he picked himself up and wrote:

“I rose convinced of the efficiency of Jujutsu, and, aching in every limb, crawled painfully away, pitying the constable whose ill-fortune it should be to lay hands on Mrs. Garrud.”

Fit and disciplined, Garrud passed away just shy of her 100th birthday in 1971.

Additional Sources: Bartitsu.org; Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and Society; “Soft Power of the Soft Art: Jiu-Jitsu in the British Empire of the Early 20th Century,” 2011 [PDF]. 

This story originally ran in 2015.

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History
The Day Notre Dame Students Pummeled the Ku Klux Klan
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General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

At first glance, there was nothing unusual about the men who stepped off the train in South Bend, Indiana on the morning of May 17, 1924. Dapper and mannered, they drifted from the station to the downtown area. Some headed for a nearby office that sported a red cross made out of light bulbs stationed in the window. Others roamed around looking for Island Park, the site of a planned social gathering.

A closer look at these visitors revealed one common trait: Many were carrying a folded white robe under their arm. Those who had arrived earlier were fully clothed in their uniform and hood, directing automobile traffic to the park.

The Ku Klux Klan had arrived in town.

Fresh off a controversial leadership election in Indianapolis, Indiana, there was no reason for Klansmen to have any apprehension about holding a morale booster in South Bend. Indiana was Klan territory, with an estimated one in three native born white men sworn members within state lines. Just a few months later, Klansman Ed Jackson would be elected governor.

It was only when Klansmen found themselves guided into alleys and surrounded by an irate gang of Catholic students from nearby Notre Dame University that they realized mobilizing in South Bend may have been a very bad idea.

The Klan wanted a rally. What they got was a full-scale riot.

Photo of KKK Indiana Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson
Indiana Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson
By IndyStar, Decemeber 12, 1922 issue, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Politically-endorsed prejudice was the order of the day in the early part of the 20th century, when the Klan—first created in 1866 to oppose Republican Reconstruction with violent racial enmity and then revived in 1915—expanded its tentacles to reach law enforcement and civil service. No longer targeting people of color exclusively, the KKK took issue with Catholics, the Jewish faith, and immigrants. An estimated 4 million Americans belonged to the Klan in the 1920s, all echoing the group’s philosophy that only white, God-fearing citizens were worthy of respect.

Under the guidance of Indiana's Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson, the group had attempted to shift public perception from the lynch mobs of the past to an orderly and articulate assembly. Rallies were held in KKK-friendly areas; propaganda material was becoming an effective weapon for their cause. Acceptance of the Klan’s ideology seeped into political office; Stephenson was a prominent Indiana politician.

To help continue that indoctrination, the Klan made plans for a parade in South Bend to be held on May 17, 1924. That it would be in close proximity to the Notre Dame campus was no mistake: At the time, 75 percent of the school's nearly 2000 students were Catholic, a religion the Klan found abhorrent. By pledging allegiance to the Vatican, their reasoning went, Catholics were acknowledging a foreign power. In the fall of 1923, they had persisted in setting crosses on fire near the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, a predominantly Catholic college, and were frequently chased off by angered football players. That December, the Klan set off firebombs in Dayton during Christmas break. While no one was seriously injured, the intent was to send a message—one they wanted to spread to Indiana.

In the weeks and months leading up to the parade, both students and faculty began to get a taste of that perspective. Copies of the Fiery Cross, the official Klan newspaper, circulated on campus; one Klansman showed up at an auditorium to broadcast that Catholics were not good Americans. He exited the stage when attendees began throwing potatoes at him.

If that public response was foreshadowing, the Klan either ignored or failed to heed the warning. Members began arriving the Friday evening prior to the rally and were met at the train station by irritated students, who scuffled with the early arrivals by ripping their robes. By Saturday morning, when more Klansmen arrived, hundreds of students were in town, a loosely organized anti-Klan task force.

Keystone Features/Getty Images

Klan members were used to breezing into towns without incident. Here, they were immediately confronted by young, ornery college kids proud of their Catholicism. Klansmen were led into alleys and tossed into walls; students who played for the school’s legendary football squad formed wedges, the offensive line-ups found on the field, and plowed into groups of Klan members like they were challenging for a state title.

The violence, swift and sudden, prompted the Klan to retreat to their headquarters in South Bend. The students followed, their blood pumping hot at the sight of the red cross lit in the office window. Below it stood a grocery store with barrels of fresh potatoes. The students lobbed them at the glass, smashing the bulbs inside.

The conflict had been uninterrupted by law enforcement, but not for lack of trying. Deputy Sheriff John Cully, himself a Klansman, tried to enlist the National Guard but was shot down by officials. Notre Dame president Matthew Walsh had already implored students not to go into town, but his words went unheeded.

Unencumbered by authority, the 100 or so students idling near the Klan’s office decided they wanted to seize the hideout. Dozens began running up the stairs but were greeted by a Klan member who produced a gun. Unarmed, the students backed off. Four seniors went back and came to an impromptu truce: The student body would disperse if the Klan agreed to hold their rally without weapons or their robes.

The agreement seemed to placate both sides until Stephenson finally arrived in town before the parade’s scheduled 6:30 p.m. start. Assessing the roughed-up Klansmen and their skittish behavior, he complained to the police, who posted officers on horseback around their assembly at Island Park.

But there would be no rally: A heavy downpour prompted Stephenson to call it off, although the potential for further violence likely weighed on his mind. Lingering students who still hadn’t returned to campus met departing Klansmen as they attempted to drive out of town, smashing windows and even tipping over one car.

By Sunday, things seemed to have settled down. Walsh cringed at newspaper reports of the incidents, fearing it would portray the students as thugs.

Unfortunately, neither side was done protesting. And when they met a second time, the robed men would be backed up by lawman Cully and a squad of 30 deputized Klansmen.

Denver News - The Library of Congress (American Memory Collection), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Students back on campus Monday had taken to hanging up seized Klan robes and hoods on their walls like trophies. It had been a rout, with the Klan barely putting up a fight.

Now, word was spreading through the halls that the Klan had captured or perhaps had even killed a Notre Dame student. Roughly 500 students jogged the two miles back into South Bend, eager for another confrontation.

When they arrived at the Klan’s headquarters, the light bulb cross had been rebuilt. It was an act of defiance, and the students moved forward. But the Klan was prepared: Many had been deputized, and uniformed officers joined the melee. Axe handles and bottles were brandished, and blood began to stain the street. It was a clash, with parties on both sides laid out.

When he got word of the conflict, Walsh rushed to the site and climbed on top of a cannon that was part of a monument. Shouting to be heard, he implored students to return to campus. His voice cut through the sounds of breaking glass, snapping the students out of their reverie. They returned to the school.

Absent any opposition, the Klan did the same. Stragglers from out of town returned home. With bombastic prose, writers for the Fiery Cross later recapped the event by accusing Notre Dame students of “beating women and children.” Later that summer, they declared they’d be returning to South Bend in greater number.

It never happened. Although the Klan maintained an aura of strength for several more years, the conviction of Stephenson for raping and murdering a woman in November 1925 extinguished one of their most enthusiastic leaders; the Depression dampened the ability of new recruits to pay dues. By 1930, the Klan was down to an estimated 45,000 members.

While Walsh never condoned the vigilante justice exacted that weekend, he never disciplined a single student for it.

Additional Sources:
Notre Dame vs. the Klan, by Todd Tucker (Loyola Press, 2004)
"Hearing the Silence: The University of Dayton, the Ku Klux Klan, and Catholic Universities and Colleges in the 1920s" [PDF], by William Vance Trollinger

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Why the Berlin Wall Rose and Fell
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

One of history's most notorious barriers broke ground early in the morning on August 13, 1961, when East German construction workers, guarded by soldiers and police, began tearing up the Berlin streets.

As European history professor Konrad H. Jarausch explains in this video from Ted-Ed, the roots of the Berlin Wall can be found in the period of instability that followed World War II. When the Allies couldn't decide how to govern Germany, they decided to split up the country between the Federal Republic of Germany in the West and the German Democratic Republic in the East. Eventually, citizens (especially young professionals) began fleeing the GDR for the greater freedoms—and higher salaries—of the West. The wall helped stem the tide, and stabilized the East German economy, but came at great cost to the East's reputation. In the end, the wall lasted less than three decades, as citizen pressures against it mounted.

You can learn more about exactly why the wall went up, and how it came down, in the video below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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