- Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Saturday, 26th November 2016
This gallery of images from an article in the Oregon Daily Journal (April 30, 1911) showcases the combative talents of Miss Blanche Whitney.
Between 1908-11, the Philadelphian Miss Whitney travelled the US carnival and vaudeville circuit, taking on all comers as the “World’s Champion Lady Wrestler”. She challenged any woman in the audience to try their skill against hers, and would also grapple with any male wrestler weighing no more than 145 lbs (she herself weighed in at a muscular 155 lbs). She was also held to be a proficient boxer and foil fencer, and indeed an all-around athlete whose skills included bowling and gymnastics.
During April of 1910 she defied a police ban on “lady wrestling” contests in Chicago and took on Miss Belle Myers in an otherwise all-male wrestling card. She then moved on to performing tent-shows at the lakeside White City amusement park, where she proudly informed an interviewer that she was teaching up to four classes a day for “society ladies” desiring to learn how to apply half-nelsons and hammerlocks.
It may have been at the White City that she assembled her troupe of “Lady Athletes” – wrestlers, boxers, ball-punchers and gymnasts – with whom she later toured to perform at the great Appalachian Exhibition.
The “Americanised jiujitsu” featured in these pictures may not be strictly traditional – it may, in fact, represent something more in the nature of catch-as-catch-can wrestling plus a couple of half-learned tricks from a jiujitsu manual. Nevertheless, while Miss Whitney was self-professedly not a suffragette (“I can take care of myself without a vote”), she had no qualms about promoting her contests and classes as exemplars of women’s self-defence.
If a husband is cross and disagreeable, “advises the stalwart Miss Whitney, “just put him on his back as fast as he can get up. It will make a gentle man out of him in no time.
This clinging vine stuff is alright, but, believe me, the woman is a winner who can look her husband in the eye and say, ‘what about the coin for that new dress? Do you come across like a little man, or do I throw you down and sit on you while you make up your mind?’
Think how different the world would be if such scenes were common. The stranglehold might be useful in case hubby came home late at night.
Miss Whitney reported that she herself had applied some of these lessons one night in a Chicago alley:
(…) a tall man halted her in the semi-darkness and said something which, in her surprise, she took to be the words of a “hold up. ” Whether it meant robbery or flirtation, she didn’t waste time inquiring. She merely gripped him by the coat lapel, the simplest trick in Americanized jujitsu, and yanked him forward and downward . At the same instant she swung a clenched fist upward – the simplest blow in sparring – and landed on his jaw. The combination of descending head and ascending fist came within an ace of being a knockout. Her accoster reeled, dazed, for the instant she needed to brush past him and reach the full streetlights.