Canada's Militant Suffragette
Sometimes in the wee small hours
when I can't sleep, little flashbacks
of the old Suffragette days will come to me.
- Gertrude Harding (1889-1977)
Gert Harding as a youth.
In 1913, at the age of 23, a spirited New Brunswick farm girl moved to London, England, with her sister's family. Soon she witnessed a poster parade of women protesting for the right to vote. "This struck a chord in me that I never knew I had."
Within days she disobeyed her family and shunned convention to join this radical organization, the militant suffragettes of Great Britain; it sanctioned violence, but to property only, to push for its cause. Her first mission was to scout a tourist attraction to see if it could be bombed without hurting anyone. It couldn't, so the plan was dropped. Next, she staged a midnight attack on rare orchids at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, which organizers knew would rile up the apathetic public and get attention for the cause. She then worked on the newspaper, driven underground by the government for a time, eventually becoming its editor. Impressed by Harding’s daring and resourcefulness, those in charge asked her to form and head up a secret bodyguard assigned to protect their leader, Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst, from constant re-arrest by Scotland Yard and to help other Suffragettes on the run.
Wearing disguises that would impress Sherlock Holmes, Harding lived the life of an outlaw. She rubbed charcoal on her cheeks and slipped through the back alleys of London, always one step ahead of her pursuers. While they were sometimes badly beaten, she and her bodyguard outwitted and humiliated Scotland Yard detectives, often thwarting their attempts to arrest Mrs Pankhurst.
It's time for Canadians to celebrate Gert Harding: rebel, outlaw, hero.
Gert Harding, appearing earnest, offers to sell The Suffragette newspaper to the head of Scotland Yard. She must stand off of the curb, by law.
To counter the bobbies’ batons when dealing with militants, the bodyguard armed themselves with Indian rubber clubs and trained in jujitsu. While they were sometimes injured and arrested, they managed to employ clever techniques to outwit Scotland Yard, such as planting a decoy Mrs Pankhurst.