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Suffrage, Jiu-Jitsu and a New Rashguard

I have a new rashguard design I want to show you. First, though, let me ask you two questions: how do you feel about bullies? And have you seen Mary Poppins?

Yes, these questions are related, and they’re also related to the new rashie I’m finishing up. It’s a tribute to Edith Garrud, the Suffragette Who Knew Jiu-Jitsu, and by extension the group of British suffragists she trained to fight around the turn of the last century.

Who was Edith Garrud? The short version: she was the ultimate anti-bully. A 4-foot, 11-inch woman who stood up to gangs of armed men twice her size using jiu-jitsu, and trained dozens of others to do so as well: how could I not make a rashguard paying tribute to a badass like that?

Back before women had the vote, the British government really pulled out all the stops to crush the suffragist movement. There were police beatings, brutal force-feedings of hunger strikers, and more grisly behaviors. Yes, the Edwardian era British crown was fully down with cracking the skulls of prominent women’s suffrage activists like Emmeline Pankhurst.

Nobody likes a bully, and the people trying to beat down women’s suffragists were kind of the exemplar of bullyhood. Fortunately, Mrs. Pankhurst had The Bodyguard, a 30-woman group of buttkickers trained by Edith Garrud. Quoth Lady Edith: “Women using jiu-jitsu have brought great burly cowards nearly twice their size to their feet and made them howl for mercy.”

The British newspaper punch published a cartoon paying homage to Garrud in 1910, dubbing her “The Suffragette Who Knew Jiu-Jitsu.” I used this cartoon to create a composite image as the basis of a new rashie.

This is the front:

I blended the classic suffragette cartoon with a historic Brazilian newspaper reading "Jiu-Jitsu Wins Again!" in Portuguese.

I blended the classic suffragette cartoon with a historic Brazilian newspaper reading “Jiu-Jitsu Wins Again!” in Portuguese.

This is the back:

That's Edith Garrud on the left, Emmeline Pankhurst on the right, and some actual text from the New York Times and a suffragist publication.

That’s Edith Garrud on the left, Emmeline Pankhurst on the right, and some actual text from the New York Times and a suffragist publication. (I thought about adding more newsclips referring to the “gang of Amazons,” but I think it’s best to keep it simple.)

Here’s the draft of how the whole works is going to look. This is a rough version, but the body of the rashie is going to mimic old-time newsprint.



When I was a kid, I watched Mary Poppins. Maybe you did, too. Maybe you remember this song, which name-checks the aforementioned Emmeline Pankhurst:

Of course, the movie offers a somewhat sanitized version of a rather gnarly part of history, which you can learn more about through this awesome Prezi, or by checking out some nasty contemporary visual  depictions of people who thought women ought to be able to vote.

But what got me thinking about Mary Poppins is the song’s refrain: “Our daughters’ daughters will adore us. And they’ll sing in grateful chorus: ‘Well done, Sister Suffragette!”

Those daughters’ daughters? That’s our generation. About 100 years ago, a bunch of tiny, fearless fighters stood up for themselves. That’s worth remembering and yes, adoring. We take the right to vote for granted today, but half the population has it because some extraordinary people put their asses on the line a few generation ago.

These stories fascinate me, and I’ve of necessity given short shrift to them. (For more, you can listen to a terrific BBC “In Our Time” podcast about this, and an episode of “A History of the World in 100 Objects” about a penny defaced by suffragists in an act of art sabotage).

This post could be thousands of words long, so I’ll cut it short by encouraging you to check out all the links (and of course to buy the rashguard when it comes out!).

We’ll wrap up by noting that the British government, as this article notes, honored Edith with a plaque in 2012. The last paragraph of the piece struck me:

But Tony Wolf cautions against romanticised images of suffragettes throwing officers around. “The bodyguard had some remarkable tactical victories using decoys and disguises,” he says. “But the grim reality is that they were heavily outnumbered by the police and were often injured.”

This premise is true but the conclusion is flawed. They were always outnumbered, and many of these women (Garrud included) wore layers of carboard under their dresses to cushion truncheon blows from police. They  were smaller, fewer in number, and hopelessly outgunned in terms of weaponry and resources. That’s undeniable.

But they fought. They were right, and they knew it, and so they fought anyway, often knowing they were going to take beatings. Doesn’t that make them even fiercer and more courageous than if they won every fight? I certainly think so.

Edith Garrud lived to be 99, and kicked enough ass for 99 lifetimes of that length. Well done, Sister Suffragette.



About Jeff

I write, work for social justice, listen to music and grapple. That's about it for now.

5 responses to “Suffrage, Jiu-Jitsu and a New Rashguard

  1. Kersti ⋅

    I’m ordinarily not a fan of graphic rash guards, but I love love love both the concept and the look. Please let us know when this shirt becomes available. To my mind, this captures the spirit of BJJ so perfectly! Thanks for depicting women in martial arts not as idealized sexy ninjas, but as flesh and blood fighters–bruises and all–who use the ( imperfect) skills they have as best they can to fight the bigger stronger opponent.

  2. I will be a future owner of this rashguard once it is available. This is totally badass! I am in LOVE with these women! These are the type of women we should be teaching our youth about.

  3. aiseop

    Great, great idea. Incredible story. I had no idea. Needs to be spread and would be proud to wear this rashguard.

  4. Tony Wolf

    Hi Jeff,

    I was quoted correctly in the Guardian article and stand by that statement; the members of the Bodyguard, as undoubtedly brave and righteous as they were, did often suffer injuries at the hands of the police.

    The only Bodyguard who claimed to have worn cardboard body armour was Katherine Marshall. Edith Garrud herself was not a member of the Bodyguard team, being considered too valuable as a trainer to risk her own safety and freedom as a front-line fighter. By her own accounts, though, she did once throw a police constable over her shoulder during a street scuffle and also organised an ad-hoc defence of Mrs. Pankhurst by a group of suffragettes swinging Indian clubs.

    The “Badass of the Week” article on Edith is great fun but it’s also full of exaggerations and historical errors. If you or your readers are interested in the real story, I recommend her Wikipedia entry or my book “Edith Garrud: the Suffragette who knew Jujutsu”, which was written to encourage an interest in self defence and feminist history among teenage readers.

    Finally, my graphic novel trilogy on the jujitsu-trained “Amazons” of the suffrage movement is due to be published in October of this year.

  5. Jeff

    Hi Tony,

    Wow, thanks for posting and thanks for the great comment!

    I really appreciate the recommendations for accurate reading by someone who has done the research. (And I hope it was clear that I wasn’t trying to critique your quote, but rather to say “these facts Tony points out are accurate, but simply make me think more highly of Edith Garrud and her fellow travelers.”)

    Believe me, I plan to purchase your upcoming graphic novel series. I read about your project when I was researching the post, and almost linked it here, but the post was getting to be the length of my master’s thesis (which is not on suffragists, but I wish it was). I could’ve written another 1,000 words on the so-called “Battle of Glasgow” alone, but it sounds like I should read your book first.

    Everybody, buy Tony’s book ( and order the graphic novel series when it comes out. I’ll make another post when the rashguard and the graphic novel trilogy become available.

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