The Bodyguard
Eleanor Fitzsimons

The Bodyguard

In 1913, responding to the Cat and Mouse Act that released hunger-striking Suffragette leaders on licence only to re-arrest them once they had recovered, the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) established a secretive all-woman protection unit. This group of thirty or so “brawny young women," known as "the Bodyguard", was trained in jiu jitsu and armed with Indian clubs. With grudging admiration, the press dubbed them "Jiujitsuffragettes,”and referred to their tactics as "suffrajitsu". Tasked with protecting Emmeline Pankhurst and other fugitive suffragettes under surveillance and liable to rearrest, these women outwitted the authorities using disguises, decoys and other forms of subterfuge. Feared and fearsome, they fought pitched battles with police and male bystanders. During the "Battle of Glasgow," on 9 March 1914, twenty-five members of the Bodyguard, heavily outnumbered, brawled with police on the stage of St. Andrew's Hall, cheered on by an audience of four thousand supporters. On 24 May 1914, several of these women were injured in a battle with police during a WSPU "Raid on Buckingham Palace". Disbanded when Pankhurst suspended her militant campaign to support the war effort, they threw themselves into war work, driving ambulances, working in munitions factories, and joining the War Office; taking on roles considered strictly “men’s work”. The extraordinary story of the Bodyguard has never been properly told. Shadowy and secretive by necessity, their militant campaign was suppressed until the 1970s and they are absent from early books, films and plays. Yet they were critical to the success of the campaign for women's suffrage. Their actions resonate with modern day protest movements, often led by women, including “Me Too”, Femen, “Black Lives Matter” and the campaign for the reversal of climate change. 

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  • Author: Eleanor Fitzsimons
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Eleanor Fitzsimons

Eleanor Fitzsimons

 Eleanor Fitzsimons is a researcher, writer, journalist and occasional broadcaster. Her work has been published in a range of newspapers and journals including the Sunday Times, the Guardian and the Irish Times and she is a regular radio and television contributor. She has worked as the sole researcher on several primetime television programmes for the Irish national broadcaster, RTE including an examination of the historic relationship between Britain and Ireland commissioned to coincide with the landmark visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland. In 2011 she returned to Univer...
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