British Suffragettes Debate Compliance With Insurance Act

The Vote

The debate on the Insurance Act that was announced in an edition of The Vote went as planned, and The Vote did a follow-up article in its issue:

Insurance Act Debate.

The Women’s Freedom League has from the first refused to comply with the regulations of the Insurance Act, and has not paid one penny in respect of the insurance of its employees. It is no concern of ours whether this Act is good, bad, or indifferent; we oppose the Insurance Act because it is legislation affecting vast numbers of women, and no woman has a voice in the legislation of this country. We are determined to show the authorities that the government of women without their consent is both a difficult and costly matter.

But we offer our congratulations to the Women’s Tax Resistance League for arranging the public debate on the Insurance Act which took place at the Caxton Hall. Sir Edward Busk presided, and Miss Margaret Douglas proposed the following Resolution:—

That this meeting declares that the Insurance Act is undemocratic in character and unjust in operation, and that its hardships press most heavily upon women.

Miss Douglas said that the new elements in our present Insurance Act were compulsion and the card. In theory, the card was a receipt for money paid in; in practice it was a passport for the worker, a means of registration and identification, it was used as a certificate of character, and as evidence against men who came from a strike area in search of work elsewhere. Miss Douglas considered that it was undemocratic to set asid, the Truck Act in order to tamper with a man’s wages — his wages at any rate should be secure from the greed of the modern social reformers, who should be urged to carry out experiments of this kind at their own expense! The Insurance Act was substituting bureaucracy for self-government. £2,000,000 of hard earned money was being expended on gentlemen who were touring the country in motor-cars, and who possessed extra-ordinary powers to enforce the Act on unwilling contributors. It was killing the spirit that built up the old friendly societies which were now being forced into competition with Insurance Companies; it was not safe to entrust problems of National Health to people who look at life as a profit making concern. Miss Douglas further contended that this Act was an injustice to women. This so-called greatest measure of social reform was careful to leave out those women from its benefits who do their duty by staying in their homes to look after their families; they can only get the accidental maternity benefit on their husband’s card. Surely that was enticing women to go out of their homes to find an employer! In the vast majority of cases the 4d. a week contributed by men had to come out of extra economies effected by women in the home.

Sir Victor Horsley in opposing this resolution said that Miss Douglas had given a highly coloured picture of the Insurance Act. The principle of the Insurance Act, was absolutely democratic; and by it the whole nation was taking part in a measure of National Health. It was not a German but an English Act, and it was first brought forward in the House of Commons, nearly one hundred years ago by Mr. Curwen, an ultra-Progressive member for Cumberland. Mr. Lloyd George had shown constructive capacity in financing the movement. What was offered in its stead? A return to the old Contract Club system, which was hopeless. The Insurace Act brought about a redistribution of wealth among doctors, and the poor doctors benefited thereby. It had done away with the sixpenny doctor, and was a boon to the poorest people in our country. Through the Insurance Act, the friendly societies had gained an enormous number of adherents, and the insurance of women was a definite crystallisation of the fact that woman was a separate entity, a separate person. The Insurance Act was an organisation of the forces of the nation against disease.

Several members of the audience took part in the subsequent discussion; with but one exception, all opposed the Act, either in its principle or in its administration. The critic we appreciated most was the young man who mounted the platform and informed the audience that he was a Liberal, an anti-suffragist, and an opponent of the Insurance Act! He then proceeded to urge those who objected to it, to tear up their cards this week end. If only they would do that the Act would be smashed. We hail this young man as a militant!

On the resolution being put to the meeting it was carried by an overwhelming majority, only twelve voting against it.

F[lorence]. A. U[nderwood].

Also from the same issue:

Women’s Tax Resistance League

Dr. [Katherine] Heanley was summoned at the East Ham Police-court, on , for non-payment of the insurance tax for her servant. Dr. Heanley explained that her objection to paying was due to the fact that she, as a voteless woman, had no voice in the government of the country. The magistrate was sympathetic, and admitted that though he might have reasons against paying taxes, they would not be so weighty as hers! In addition to the arrears, a fine of £1 and costs 10s. was imposed. A very sympathetic audience listened at an open-air meeting addressed afterwards by Miss Margaret Douglas and Miss Amy Hicks.


From the issue of The [New London, Connecticut] Day:

Miss Kellems Says Others Feel Tax Ruling Unlawful

Vivien Kellems told a federal jury of seven women and five men here that there were “others who felt as I did,” that the withholding provision of the income tax law, is unconstiutional.

Judge Carroll C. Hincks permitted her statement despite the fact that he already has ruled the law to be constitutional.

Reads California Speech

For that matter, Judge Hincks permitted the Stonington manufacturer, over the objections of the government’s attorney, Fred J. Neuland, to read in full a speech she made at Los Angeles in , vigorously attacking the withholding tax law.

Neuland, special assistant to Atty. Gen. J. Howard McGrath, is defending the government in Miss Kellems’ attempt to force the return of $7,819 seized by Collector John J. Fitzpatrick from her bank accounts in as withholding taxes and penalties due.

Miss Kellems told Judge Hincks and the jury today that George C. Waldo, editor and chief of the Bridgeport Post, “felt the same way as I did for the same reasons, and even went further.”

She recalled having asked his views at a dinner before she made her Los Angeles speech, and pictured him striding up and down his library while he expressed his views and, she added, he dictated a part of the speech she eventually made.

Stresses Absence of Wilfullness

Miss Kellems stressed during the early stages of her testimony the “absence of wilfullness” in her refusal to collect withholding taxes from the two score employes of her Stonington cable grip factory.

There were a bare dozen spectators in Federal Judge Carroll C. Hincks’ courtroom during the brief period in which the jury was selected, most of them women.

It was expected that after a short space during which the government would introduce documentary evidence in the form of records tending to show her failure to pay withholding taxes during the disputed period, Miss Kellems would go on the witness stand and occupy it most of the day.

Miss Kellems suit followed her failure to persuade the government into suing or indicting her. Operator of a small plant at Stonington she charged in sppeches delivered all over the country that the withholding provision of the income tax law is unconstitutional.

Her employes pay their income taxes individually.

Government attorneys have said that she will not be able to raise the question of constitutionality during the trial, however. Judge Hincks disposed of the question last fall when he ruled the law constitutional in dismissing a government motion for a summary judgment dismissing her suit.

It was obvious Miss Kellems acted intentionally and deliberately in refusing to pay withholding taxes, Judge Hincks said, but the case must be tried to determine whether she also acted “wilfully.” He defined a wilful action as one taken with a motive or purpose.

Miss Kellems has named as defendants the government itself and John J. Fitzpatrick, internal revenue collector of the Connecticut district. Her case against Fitzpatrick will be heard by a jury at her request. Judge Hincks will decide the case against the government.

Miss Kellems filed her suit, she said, as a last resort after the president and Treasury Secretary Snyder turned a deaf ear to her requests for indictment. In letters to them, she said she had been defying the law in the conviction it was unconstitutional and because she wanted to fight out the issue to the supreme court.

Weirdly, the jury found that Kellems had not acted wilfully, but the judge found that she had (the two suits were decided separately because in one case Kellems was suing the government itself, not the internal revenue commissioner personally, and the government did not allow juries to decide such cases).

The jury awarded Kellems the $6,133 that John Fitzpatrick had seized for penalties, but the judge awarded the rest of the contested amount to the government. At first, Kellems declared that she would appeal, reasoning that it made little sense for the judge to come to a different decision than the jury on the same set of facts, but she later decided the expense of an appeal wasn’t worth it.


On this date in , Phœbe W. Couzins addressed a U.S. House of Representatives committee on the subject of women’s suffrage, and in particular on the Minor v. Happersett ruling. In the course of her testimony, she alluded to the tax resistance of Julie and Abby Smith:

It was the tax on tea — woman’s drink prerogative — which precipitated the rebellion of . To allay the irritation of the colonies, all taxes were rescinded save that on tea, which was left to indicate King George’s dominion. But our revolutionary fathers and mothers said, “No; the tax is paltry, but the principle is great” and Eve, as usual, pointed the moral for Adam’s benefit. A most suggestive picture, one which aroused the intensest patriotism of the colonies, was that of a woman pinioned by her arms to the ground by a British peer, with a British red-coat holding her with one hand and with the other forcibly thrusting down her throat the contents of a tea-pot, which she heroically spewed back in his face; while the figure of Justice, in the distance, wept over this prostrate Liberty. Now, gentlemen, we might well adopt a similar representation. Here is Miss Smith of Glastonbury, Conn., whose cows have been sold every year by the government, contending for the same principle as our forefathers — that of resistance to taxation without representation. We might have a picture of a cow, with an American tax collector at the horns, a foreign-born assessor at the heels, forcibly selling the birthright of an American citizen, while Julia and Abby Smith, in the background, with veiled faces, weep over the degeneracy of Republican leadership.


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