Kitty marion the actress who became a ‘terrorist’ – bbc news electricity symbols ks2

"They were the internet of their day," says Riddell. "Just like memes appear on social media today, a song would be written and performed in Music Halls on the day of a significant cultural event. It was a raw, electric and relevant world that told of a society that differed from the restrained images often painted by historians of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Especially when it came to women. It captivated me and I was excited to learn more."

"At that time I had a certain impression of suffragettes that many people did. I knew about the window-smashing, being chained to rails, the force-feeding, the posters and marching. I thought I knew everything there was to know about these women." Image caption

About five pages in, Riddell says, an incredible voice leapt off the page. She was reading the words of a suffragette who talked openly about staging arson attacks. Other papers indicate she was also a bomber. In other words, says Riddell, she was "a terrorist".

"Through the pages Kitty was a such a powerful speaker. And she was telling me a violent story that I had never heard. Later I checked with my friends, my family, and even other academics I knew. They had never heard this either. This was a part of our history that most historians seemed to have shied away from exploring, and here I was with access to a primary source, a woman who was unlike anyone I had encountered in the history books."

Katherina Maria Schafer had arrived in London at the age of 15 after fleeing from her abusive home in Germany. Her mother had died when she was an infant, leaving her alone with a violent and unloving father. He killed her puppy when it began to show her affection.

She lived with her aunt, uncle and cousins in east London, and quickly learned English. By chance, she stumbled into the energetic and vibrant world of Music Halls and for the first time, the teenager felt a sense of belonging. She renamed herself Kitty Marion and began a career as an actress and dancer.

"Kitty was mesmerised by this world," says Riddell. "Music Halls were an exciting and cosmopolitan pocket of Victorian London. Working, financially solvent women and interracial marriages were common here. Kitty had a diverse group of friends – the son of a Chinese diplomat gave her her first cigarette. She forged fast friendships with women – strong, sexually liberated women unlike those I had read about in the history books. Women in Victorian England were generally depicted as long-suffering pious victims, not the free agents I was meeting in Kitty’s autobiography." Image copyright Alamy Image caption

An assault by a Music Hall agent, whom she refers to only as "Mr Dreck" or Mr Trash, made Marion seriously question a career in an industry dominated by powerful men. In her autobiography she describes how her "whole being revolted" at the incident.

"It was the idea that women deserved a right to be safe in their working environments, and to have their independence without having to sacrifice their bodies to get it, that propelled Kitty into the fold of the suffragette movement," Riddell says.

Marion joined the Actress Franchise League, which often staged pro-suffragette plays. After that she joined the Pankhursts’ Women’s Social and Political Union and soon began to participate in demonstrations and marches, graduating later to radical acts of civil disobedience.

Her first experience of prison came after she threw a brick through a Newcastle post office window, and, like an increasing number of jailed suffragettes, she went on hunger strike. The prison authorities dealt with these women by force-feeding them – violently pushing a tube into the nose or mouth. Marion protested against this first treatment by breaking a gas lamp and using mattress stuffing to set her cell on fire.

On the night of 13 June 1913, she and a fellow suffragette set fire to a racecourse grandstand in retaliation for the death of Emily Wilding Davison, who had died after being trampled by King George V’s horse during a protest at the Epsom Derby. Both were arrested the following morning.

Riddell was entranced by Kitty Marion. Here was a woman who was not a household name, but was certainly a frontline soldier in the suffragette movement, and well-known to its leaders. Riddell spent hours, then days, months and eventually years, looking through huge amounts of archival documents including personal diaries, letters, court and police records, published memoirs, and newspapers to piece together Marion’s life in the movement. A little-known history of the suffragettes began to emerge.

Home-made bombs, much like the one that Riddell had seen on social media following London’s Parson’s Green attack, were found in churches, packed train carriages, halls and stations, and Riddell says that they were intended to hurt people. It was pure luck that they didn’t.

In pamphlets suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst called the militancy "continued, destructive guerrilla warfare against the Government". Both suffragettes and the police called it a "Reign of Terror". Newspaper headlines referred to "Suffragette Terrorism".

She kept a scrapbook of clippings of arson attacks that she carried out – and included reports of bombings where the attacker is not identified. Riddell believes Kitty is claiming responsibility for these attacks. There are also revealing letters from one suffragette to another.

"Other historians were defensive, saying that there was no large whitewashing of suffragette memory. To that I’d like to address people who aren’t in the elite academic bubble, ‘Have you or your friends heard of suffragette bombers? Have you ever heard them called terrorists?’"

Kitty Marion’s final arrest in the UK came the year before, on suspicion of setting fire to the grandstand at Hurst Park racecourse, near London. She was sentenced to three years in prison, of which she served several months before being released to a hospital under the provisions of the so-called Cat and Mouse Act (which allowed for the early release of prisoners who were so weakened by hunger strikes that they were at risk of death – though they were recalled to prison once their health improved).

The research Riddell carried out for her PhD became the basis of her recently published book, Death in Ten Minutes. This has been optioned as a drama series detailing the lives of Marion and her friends – a group within the suffragette movement who called themselves The Young Hot Bloods whom Riddell accuses of carrying out bomb attacks.