THESE women are not to be messed with as a series of retro photos reveals the self-defence techniques suffragettes learnt in the early twentieth century to protect themselves.
Incredible images, as revealed by the website Retronaut, show novice Iris Dehnel getting to grips with black belt Mary Smith at the London headquarters of the Judo Movement in 1948, women police instructor in Jiu-Jitsi and Sargeant Mary Hobbs putting the Station Sergeant in a wristlock and the Mayfair Gymnasium in 1931 where many well-known women were taking courses in boxing.
Other striking shots show London female wrestlers during a practice session in 1932, Clara Mortenson, one of America’s foremost women wrestlers, giving Betty Lee a taste of the ‘aeroplane spin’ during a bout in 1937 and Eton College gym instructor George Pape leaping over a chair to demonstrate an attack during a Jiu-Jitsi demonstration in 1923.
Women’s self-defence classes are often seen as a relatively recent phenomenon. Yet, the women’s self-defence movement has a much longer history that has paralleled the various waves of women’s rights.
Boxing was touted as a way of developing both character and physical strength in men in the early twentieth century but it became a popular fad among a new generation of politically empowered and socially active women as well as students who used it as a means of self-defence.
Jiu-Jitsu was popular in England among suffragettes who needed to protect themselves against violent attacks.
Representing a radically empowering idea of autonomy and personal defence, jiu-jitsu and boxing gave some women a sense of security and wellbeing within the domestic sphere.
As the first wave of the women’s rights movement waned in the 1920s, so too did the practice of women’s self-defence. The 1960s-1970s and the 1990s would witness the emergence of the second and third waves of feminism and the rebirth of a much broader women’s self-defence movement.