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suffrajitsu

In Nothing Less! by ami

                                                          suffragettes + jiu-jitsu = suffrajitsu

Suffrajitsu… the first time I came across the word, I thought Google was pulling my leg. Digging deeper I found it was indeed real; and with further sleuthing I discovered it had an amazing connection to a remarkable Canadian woman. (Naturally, suffrajitsu made its way into a scene in Nothing Less! )

Throughout the research process that went into writing the play, I unearthed many examples of   women involved in the suffrage movement (in Canada, the UK and the US) using boundless creativity and ingenuity to further the cause. Marches, rallies, speeches, tracts and petitions were all a given; but when times got tough, suffragists were quick to think outside the box.

Songs of suffrage were composed and performed; cookbooks filled with suffrage-inspired recipes were penned and sold; “mock parliaments” (where women debated why men shouldn’t be given the vote) were staged and performed in theatres across Canada.

                                                              a suffrajitsu demonstration.

Suffragettes in the UK, led by Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, engaged in a more militant approach –  their bold actions often putting them in harm’s way. As tensions rose and anti-suffrage sentiment  surged, the women of the UK movement (the WSPU) looked to ways in which to defend themselves. Londoner, Edith Garrud (at 4′ 11″) had the solution. Married to a physical culture instructor, she’d quickly taken to the martial art of jiu-jitsu and touted it as an ideal form of self defence for women. She and her husband William gave numerous public demonstrations and because of their popularity, Edith opened a dojo where she offered suffragist-only classes. (She also choreographed fight scenes for the feminist play: What Every Woman Ought to Know.)

Jiu-jitsu became so popular, that women would hold suffrajitsu parties in their homes to encourage more women to learn the martial art.

Members of anti-suffrage mob tearing a suffragette banner to bits during protests outside the White House. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

 

Emmeline Pankhurst attempting to deliver a petition to Buckingham Palace. (She shouted, “Tell the King!” as she was arrested.)

In 1913 a group of thirty women trained by Edith Garrud in jiu-jitsu formed a secret body guard to protect Emmeline Pankhurst.

Among them was Gertrude Harding, a twenty-four year old farm girl from Welford, New Brunswick. Smart, agile and formidable, she was chosen to be the leader of Pankhurst’s “Amazons.” Gert’s great-niece Gretchen Kelbough describes her as “a tomboy,” and says that, “Her memoirs talk of trying to duck out of doing indoor housework so she could go out and bring the cows in or go fishing and hunting.” Drawn to the UK movement while visiting her sister in London, she soon became part of Pankhurst’s inner circle.

After her time in the bodyguard, she became editor of the underground paper, The Suffragette. 

She returned to New Brunswick in 1920 and lived for a time in a cottage on Hammond River. She then moved to New Jersey to work as a Welfare Supervisor, continuing to fight for the rights of women and children for the rest of her life. When she became sick with cancer at the age of 87, she returned to New Brunswick to spend her remaining days with family. She died a year later at the age of 88.

 

Gert Harding, Canadian hero.

The indomitable Gert Harding is mentioned in Nothing Less!, and it’s my hope that more people will come to know her story because of it.

As a fun tribute to Gert and her sisters in the Pankhurst body guard, artist Alex Kehoe has created this wonderful illustration to be printed on a limited run of t-shirts available only via the Ross Creek Centre for the arts. It also sports the famous line spoken by Canadian suffragist, Nellie McClung, “Let them howl!”  (To order one, see link at end of post.)

Illustration by the amazing Alex Kehoe!

People, places and things mentioned  in this post: 

More on the history of suffrajitsu via The Martial Chronicles.

More about Gert Harding, including an interview with Gert’s great-niece, Gretchen via cbc radio’s Information Morning, St. John.

Order a suffrajitsu t-shirt from the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts.

Nothing Less! runs from July 8 – August 19 : Book your Tickets today!

 

 

 

 

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Philomel, with melody

In Nothing Less!, the writing life by ami

spider web and lilac

You spotted snakes with double tongue, 

Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen;

Newts and blind-worms, do no wrong,

Come not near our fairy queen. 

My garden has been shrouded in fog the last couple of days – nature acting as a beguiling muse as I compose incidental music for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

As I enter into my fourth week of rehearsals with the talented crew and company of players at Two Planks and a Passion Theatre, I feel profoundly blessed to be a part of their 2017 summer season. The words, characters and melodies that have lived in my head for months are being brought to life each day in new and remarkable ways.

bleeding hearts

Since my last few posts have focussed on the main stage play, Nothing Less! I thought I’d take a moment to share some of the world of this season’s fireside show, Shakespeare’s,  A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Each performance will take place around a bonfire on the enchanting, wooded grounds of The Ross Creek Centre for the Arts. A perfect setting for the Bard’s classic tale of love, rebellion, fairies and fate.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that the rehearsal hall has been filled with experimentation and excitement ever since the legendary Jim Morrow of Mermaid Theatre stopped by to lend his wisdom and magic. As for my part, I’m doing my best to follow our fearless director, Ken Schwartz’s lead, in composing music that will transport audience members to an otherworldly realm filled with incantations and fairy song.

Hope to see you this summer at the Creek!

People places and things mentioned in this post:

Jim Morrow and Mermaid Theatre

Two Planks and Passion Theatre

 

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a woman’s place

In Nothing Less!, the writing life by ami

Anti-suffrage post card circa 1918.

We’re about to start week three of rehearsals for “Nothing Less!” so I thought I’d share another behind-the-scenes post about the history that has informed and inspired the play. This time, I’m tackling the anti-suffrage movement and how it found its way into homes across Canada, the US and the UK.

The Suffragette Tango. (Also the name of a song in the show!)

Postcards were extremely popular in the early 1900’s. People were keen to send, collect, and display them in their homes. Political cartoons were also wildly popular and often found their way from the newspapers in which they were printed, into the scrapbooks of middle-class families. Illustrations depicting anti-suffrage sentiments appeared in both formats and were  distributed widely in North America and the UK.

“The Suffragette Meeting.”

The “arguments” presented via these illustrations ranged from, “a woman’s place is in the home,” to “only monstrous-looking old-maids want the vote.” Many showed men as the victims of women’s suffrage; left home to deal with crying babies, dirty dishes and mounds of laundry while the women were off engaging in the sphere of politics.

“The Suffragette Madonna”

Still others portrayed suffragists as women-turned-monster, as if the mere act of wanting the vote had de-feminized them and made them more harpy than human. In some cases, the images even went so far as to suggest violence against women as a “cure” for the “woman question.”

“What I Would Do With the Suffragists.”

If the idea of women voting was reprehensible to the anti’s, the thought of women playing a role in government was akin to blasphemy. Anti-suffragists predicted chaos and collapse if the unthinkable were ever to take place.

suffragettes storming parliament.

“the House that Man Built”

Needless to say, the anti-suffrage movement used the notion of “ideal womanhood” to its advantage, labelling any woman who dared call herself a suffragist as un-ladylike, unpatriotic and unacceptable. For women living in small towns and rural communities, speaking out often meant all eyes were on them. Many women met in secret, deciding it was the only safe way for them to participate.

Ultimately, the suffrage movement fought back with art of their own, putting forth their position with grace and sass. (Not unlike the sea of posters carried at women’s marches around the world this past January.)

A woman’s place…

 

suffragette side-eye.

While it would be easy to dismiss the anti-suffrage illustrations as “of their time,” they feel painfully timely, both in the current Trumpian political climate, and in the way women around the world are still struggling for voice, respect and equality.

“Nothing Less!” may be set in 1918, but the fight goes on.

People, places and things in this post: 

For more historic images, check out this Smithsonian Magazine article.

The ties between the suffrage movement and Wonder Woman’s costume.

“Nothing Less!” opens July 8. For tickets, visit The Ross Creek Centre for the Arts.