The inspirational story of Edith Garrud, the jiu-jitsu expert who taught Suffragettes how to defend themselves from the strong arm of the law

We've all heard of Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison. But what about Edith Garrud?

One of the first professional female martial arts instructors, Garrud taught members of the Suffragette movement to defend themselves from police brutality. She also choreographed fight scenes for plays, and wrote magazine articles about women and martial arts.

A Punchy Partnership

Edith Margaret Williams was born in Bath, Somerset, in 1872 (click to see birth record). Her family later moved to Wales where she met and married William Garrud (click to see marriage record), a physical culture instructor who specialised in gymnastics, boxing and wrestling. The couple eventually moved to London, where William began work as a physical trainer.

In 1899, Europe's first jiu-jitsu instructor, Edward William Barton-Wright, introduced the couple to the throws, chokes and limb locks of his preferred martial art. By 1904, the Garruds were training under the legendary Sadakazu Uyenishi, one of the first Japanese practitioners to teach outside of Asia. When Uyenishi returned to Japan three years later, the couple took over his academy, with Edith leading the women's and children's classes.

The Garruds in the 1901 Census

The Garruds also popularised jiu-jitsu by performing in exhibitions throughout London and writing articles for various publications. In 1907, Edith was featured in Britain's first ever martial arts film, a short produced by the Pathé Film Company entitled 'Ju-jutsu Downs the Footpads'. In 1909, Edith began teaching classes to members of the Suffrage movement and choreographed the fight scenes for 1911 film What Every Woman Ought To Know.

Apologies for the poor quality (it was the best we could find), but this short film from the BBC's The One Show on Garrud's influence on the Suffrage movement is an interesting watch.

The Bodyguard

In 1913 the British government instituted the so-called Cat and Mouse Act to tackle the Suffrage movement. The act meant that suffragettes on hunger strikes could legally be released from jail in order to recover their health and then re-arrested on the original charge. The Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) responded to this by establishing a thirty-member, all-woman protection unit referred to as “the Bodyguard" to protect released Suffragettes from re-arrest.

Explore the Newspaper Archive & Read More Stories From the Time

Under Edith Garrud's training, the members of the Bodyguard became experts in jiu-jitsu, and self defence using Indian clubs. The group were trained in secret and fought a number of well-publicised hand-to-hand battles with police officers in the streets of London. They proved highly effective and were even able to stage successful escapes and rescues of captured Suffragettes before being disbanded in 1914 after WSPU leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, decided to suspend militant Suffrage actions to support the war effort.

The Garrud School of Martial Arts

The Garruds shared their jiu-jitsu knowledge until 1925, when they closed their school. Although the public eye no longer focused on the couple so keenly, Edith's remarkable contribution to the Suffrage movement continues to be celebrated on both stage and screen. She was portrayed by the actresses Judith Lowe and Jeanne Dorree for the Channel 4 docudrama The Year of the Bodyguard (1982), her involvement with the Suffragettes is the subject of plays The Good Fight (2012) and Mrs Garrud's Dojo (2003). She even makes a cameo appearance in Issue #1 of the graphic novel trilogy Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst's Amazons. Most recently, the character of Edith Ellyn in Suffragette was inspired by her with actor Helena Bonham Carter modelling her performance after Garrud and requesting the character's name be changed from Caroline to Edith in honor of her.

Edith Garrud, we salute you!