It’s been a while since I’ve dug into the archives to hunt for information on how tax resistance was used in the British Women’s Suffrage Movement.
Here is a very early example, as reported by the Buffalo (New York) Express on :
A London Woman Wants the Franchise and Refuses to Pay Taxes
London, — Miss Muller [Henrietta Müller, I think —♇], a member of the London School Board for the Lambeth District, is the first woman in England to pose as a martyr in the cause of woman suffrage. She has undertaken in her own person to prove her devotion to the principle “No taxation without representation.” Miss Muller is a leader of the Woman Suffragists, and was one of the first to propose, during the pendency of Mr. Woodall’s amendments to the Franchise bill, that women throughout the kingdom should form societies to resist the payment of taxes until the franchise should be extended to women householders. When Mr. Woodall’s amendment was so overwhelmingly defeated in the House of Commons the ardor of the ladies perceptibly cooled, and but little has lately been heard of the proposed tax-resistance societies and defense fund. Miss Muller, however, never wavered, and when the rate collector made his rounds this year she promptly and absolutely refused to pay a farthing for taxes upon her house. This is situated in the fashionable precincts of Cadogan Square. The collector argues and implored in vain, and finally distrained a portion of the furniture in Miss Muller’s residence in satisfaction of the levy.
was set for the execution of the writ, and Miss Muller, far from relenting to save her property, publicly advertised the date of the seizure, and invited the women of England to come and witness the disgraceful spectacle of a woman being robbed by the minions of the law because she dared to ask for a voice in the disposition of her taxation. The invitation was accepted by hundreds of well-dressed but excited and indignant women, who crowded into Cadogan Square and nearly mobbed the bailiffs while they were removing the lares and penates from the Muller residence. An indignation meeting was afterward held in Miss Muller’s drawing-rooms and many bitter and vehement denunciations of the tyranny and injustice of the law were indulged in.
Miss Muller was visited by a Cable News correspondent, and was found to be full of fight and determination to continue in her resistance. She is a small and slender but sinewy woman of about forty-five, and gives one the impression of a veritable volcano of temper and pluck. She sadly bewailed the seizure by the minions of the law of her favorite belongings, and said that the wretches had purposely picked out those articles which were most cherished by her on account of their associations and overlooked others of greater value. “But,” she added, “they did not collect the rates, and they never will if they rob me of every stick of my furniture and pull the doors and windows out of my house. I shall continue this fight if I am the only woman left in England to do so, but I hope and believe that thousands of English women will be found brave enough to follow my example.”
A paragraph of unsigned editorial commentary accompanied that piece:
The Smith sisters [Abby & Julia] of Glastonbury, Ct., who struggled so hard for the principle of “no taxation without representation.” now have an imitator in England. The Smith sisters regularly refused to pay their taxes because they could not vote, and as regularly saw their cows sold by the tax collector, they protesting but bidding them in. Miss Muller, the English woman who is following the same principle, lives in a fashionable quarter of London. She witnessed the carting off of some of ber choicest furniture by the minions of the law, and invited several hundred other women to be present and witness the outrage. It was no doubt a touching spectacle. Our cable special clearly shows that Miss Muller was very mad. But the public will refuse to sympathize very profoundly with a reform martyr of that sort. Women suffrage may be advisable, though some of us do not believe in it. But the policy of trying to reform the laws by refusing to obey them is certainly not the height of wisdom.
My next example is a brief note from the Camperdown Chronicle:
Women can refuse, as Mrs Montefiore is again doing, to pay income tax so long as they remain unenfranchised, on the old historic ground that “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” If resistance, passive or active, ever can be justified, it assuredly is so justified in the case and cause of injured and insulted womanhood. —“Ignota.” in “Westminster Review.”
From the Albany Advertiser:
The widow of Sir James Steel, a former Lord Provost of Edinburgh, refused to pay house or property tax on the ground that she is denied a vote. A portion of her furniture was sold by auction to cover the amount of the tax. Five thousand persons were present at the sale.
At first I thought that must be referring to Flora Annie Steele, but she was never married to a James Steel[e]. Turns out this was Barbara Joanna Steel. She promoted tax resistance in 1907 to the Edinburgh National Society for Woman’s Suffrage, telling them:
…it is the only way I can see of publicly discrediting the practice of taxing women while withholding from them the rights of citizenship. If [ENSWS] could persuade a few women in every town in Scotland to … [allow] their furniture to be sold as a protest against the law which classes them with criminals and idiots as unworthy of a vote, their object as a Society would soon be attained.
The Advertiser of Adelaide also carried the story:
Suffragist Passive Resister.
Refuses to Pay Taxes.
Her Furniture Sold.
On the ground that the franchise has not been extended to women, and she is therefore without a vote, the widow of Sir James Steel, a former Lord Provost of Edinburgh, lately refused to pay her house and property taxes.
The authorities thereupon ordered the sale by auction of a sufficient portion of Lady Steel’s household furniture to meet the, demand, of the tax collector, and the sale was held in the presence of 5,000 people.
The Otago Witness added the details that “The amount of the tax was £18 9s, and the first article put up, a handsome oak sideboard, realised nearly double that amount.”
Moving on to 1911, by which time the Woman’s Tax Resistance League is in full swing, here is a note from the Barrier Miner of :
New Plan of Obstruction by Suffragists
A boycott of the census is (says the “Daily Chronicle” of ) to be the latest method of the militant suffragists for calling attention to their claims to the vote.
The announcement was made by Mrs. [Charlotte] Despard at a “King’s Speech meeting” of the Women’s Freedom League, held in the Caxton Hall. The census would cost a great deal of money, said Mrs. Despard, and involve an enormous amount of labor. So far as they were concerned, this census should not be taken.
“We shall prove,” said Mrs. Despard, “whether there is a people, or whether there can be a people without the women. We shall call upon women householders and women lodgers all over the country to refuse absolutely all information when the census takers come round.”
Women, she went on, had been proud to belong to the nation, but they had been denied their citizenship. Was it not logical, therefore, that they should say, “Very well; citizens we are not, and we shall not register ourselves as citizens?” That was logical, as a protest should be, and it would be effective.
Speaking of the preparations for the census, Mrs. Despard asserted that the officials were trying to get cheap labor: little girls from the schools at six and seven shillings a week. Mrs. Despard added that the members were going to obstruct other Government business and make other protests, and they would stop the census boycott only when they had the promise of the Prime Minister that a Woman’s Suffrage Bill would be introduced this session.
Tax resistance is to be another method of obstruction, and Mrs. Despard, who has already been “sold up” twice for refusing to pay taxes, produced a third summons to which she intimated that she would pay no attention.
From the Hobart, Tasmania Mercury:
A diamond ring, the property of the Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, seized because she refused to pay fines inflicted for failing to take out licenses for five dogs, a male servant, and a carriage, was sold by auction at Ashford (Middlesex) lately. It was explained that the princess, as a member of the Women’s Tax Resistance league, refused to pay money to a Government which failed to give women representation in Parliament. The ring was sold for £10, and was subsequently, on behalf of the league, returned to the princess.
From the Utica Herald-Dispatch:
Suffragist Sent to Prison.
London, — The first instance of a suffragist being committed to prison for non-payment of taxes as a protest against the disfranchisement of women occurred when Miss Clemence Housman, an authoress, and sister of Lawrence Houseman, was taken to Holloway Gaol by the Sheriff’s officer.
Similar protests have previously ended in distraint but Miss Houseman had no distrainable goods and was accordingly committed.
Miss Houseman, who belongs to the Women’s Social and Political Union and is on the committee of the Women’s Tax Resistance League, refused to pay for the taxicab in which she was taken to prison and the Sheriff’s officer paid the fare of $2,50, which curiously enough was the amount of the tax she originally declined to pay.
Houseman was back in the news a few months later. From the Brisbane Courier:
The monotony of purely educational work for woman suffrage has been enlivened by the arrest, imprisonment, and release of Miss Clemence Housman, writes an English correspondent, for non payment of the habitation tax. Miss Housman a year ago refused to pay this tax, which was only 4/6 (1.10 dollar), and during the year has had sundry notices served upon her, the cost of which brought the amount up to between twenty five and thirty dollars. The Government offered to compromise, but Miss Housman remained firm. At length she received notice that she would be arrested on a certain day. This was made the occasion by the Tax Resistance League of a protest meeting and a tea at the home of Miss Housman’s brother, Lawrence Housman, the noted dramatist and noted suffragist, for Mr. Housman is always speaking and writing for this cause and has thoroughly identified himself with it as his own.
From the Sydney Morning Herald:
The “John Hampden” dinner was the name under which the members of the “Women’s Tax Resistance League” gave a dinner recently in London. At the end of the dining hall hung a picture of the hero, who resisted the ship money imposition, and on the menu cards appeared the legend, “No vote, no tax.” The guests included many well-known people interested in woman suffrage, and the speakers, Earl Russell, Mrs. Despard, Sir Thomas Barclay, and Mr. Laurence Houseman, all upheld the right of women in refusing to pay taxes while they had no voice in the government of the country.
Miss Green, a member of the New Constitutional Society, and honorary treasurer to the Women’s Tax Resistance League, London, having again refused to pay inhabited house duty for 14 Warwick Crescent, Paddington, her bookcase was sold at Messrs. Gill’s auction rooms in Kilburn. Many sympathisers attended the sale, and the usual speech of protest having been made, three cheers were raised for Miss Green before the party left the auction room. A procession then formed up, headed by a waggon decorated with the colours of the Women’s Tax Resistance League, and an open air meeting was held on the High-road, Kilburn. Dr. Helen Hanson, who presided, spoke of the special injustice under which the voteless taxpaying women are suffering, and expressed her satisfaction in finding that they are now combining to protest in this way.
I’ve encountered “Miss Green” in the archives a couple of times before, but never with enough information for me to be able to attach a first name to her.
From the Syracuse Daily Journal:
Will Sacrifice Hubby on Votes to Women Altar
Discovery by Mrs. Mark Wilks Gives Suffragets Brilliant Idea.
Campaign of Sympathy
Wilks in Jail Because His Wife Refused to Pay Her Taxes.
London, . — Mrs. Mark Wilks, whose husband is in jail because she refuses to pay her taxes, is entitled to immense credit for discovering a new and very formidable weapon for suffragets, members of the Women’s Social and Political Union said . Suffragets are very generally women of property and will follow Mrs. Wilks’ example. Their husbands in turn will follow Wilks’ example — go to jail, because they can’t help themselves.
It is not, of course, that the suffragets have anything against their husbands. Many of these husbands are themselves suffraget sympathizers. Indeed, suffragets are campaigning to create sympathy for Wilks. Mrs. Wilks’ discovery is too valuable not to be utilised, however. Husbands will have to be sacrificed on the altar of votes for women.
The plan will work only in the case of husbands whose wives have independent incomes. Nor will it work in cases where husbands pay taxes on their wives’ incomes. Some husbands, like Wilks, have not enough money to pay the taxes. Suffraget-sympathizing husbands, who can pay, are counted on to refuse to do so. Thus will a large proportion of Englishmen with suffraget wives be in jail shortly.
The suffragets think the scandal and injustice of it will be a big thing, for them. Under the married women’s property act a husband has no control over his wife’s property or income. Under the income tax act, he is responsible for the taxes. If the taxes are not paid the husband — not the wife — is imprisoned.
Mrs. Wilks refused to pay her income tax, $185, and her husband was locked up. He will spend the rest of his life in prison unless his wife says otherwise or the law is changed. When at liberty, he is a teacher in the suburb of Clapton.
From the West Gippsland Gazette:
History of Curious Case.
The arrest and imprisonment “during the King’s pleasure” of Mr. Mark Wilks, the Clapton schoolmaster, who is unable to pay the tax on his wife’s income, is to be the subject of numerous protest meetings, organised by the Women’s Tax Resistance League, during the next few days (said the “Daily News and Leader” on ).
the Wilks campaign opens with a demonstration in Trafalgar Square. On there will be another mass meeting in Hyde Park, and on a procession will march from Kennington Church to Brixton Gaol, where the central figure in the fight is detained. In addition, a protest meeting is to be held outside the gaol every morning, and on Mr. Bernard Shaw will address a similar gathering in the Caxton Hall.
Under Two Acts.
A clear and humorous account of the affair was given to a “Daily News and Leader” representative by Mrs. Charles Stansfield; a sister of Mrs. Wilks.
“Mr. Wilks is in prison,” she said, “because he has not got £37 to pay a tax on property he does not own and cannot control. That is really the whole case. Under the Income Tax Act the property of his wife is his property for the purposes of taxation, but under the Married Women’s Property Act it is entirely out of his control.
“Every man who is married to a woman with an income of her own is in that position; and if he cannot pay his wife’s taxes he is liable to imprisonment. It seems to place an enormous weapon in the hands of rich wives.”
It seems that in and Mrs. Wilks refused to make any return of her income either to the Inland Revenue authorities or to her husband, and, in consequence, the furniture, which is hers, was seized and sold.
The Schoolmaster’s Plight.
“In ,” her sister explained, “she claimed that such distraint was illegal, asserting that under the Income Tax Act she, as a married woman, was exempt from taxation. As a consequence, all taxes charged upon her were withdrawn, and the authorities contented themselves afterwards with making their claim, sometimes on Mr. Wilks, sometimes on both conjointly, and, finally, on him alone.
“All this is interesting,” she added, “as showing the ridiculous position that arises through the operation of the two Acts. But the serious side of the matter is that Mr. Wilks is in prison for debt, and his position as a master in a London County Council school must be endangered. He does not know for what period he will be in prison, and he has no possible way of settling the debt.”
Which prompted George Bernard Shaw to wax wittily (from the Barrier Miner):
“The Revolt of Man.”
Against Paying Wife’s Income Tax.
Mr. G.B. Shaw was the chief speaker at a meeting held in Caxton Hall, London, by the Women’s Tax Resistance League last month, “to protest against the imprisonment of Mr. Mark Wilks for his inability to pay the taxes on his wife’s earned income.” Sir John Cockburn was in the chair.
Mr. Shaw said that this was the beginning of the revolt of his own unfortunate sex against the intolerable henpecking which had been brought upon them by the refusal by the Government to bring about a reform which everybody knew was going to come, and the delay of which was a mere piece of senseless stupidity. From the unfortunate Prime Minister downwards no man was safe.
He know of cases in his boyhood where women managed to make homes for their children and themselves, and then their husbands sold the furniture, turned the wife and children out, and got drunk. The Married Women’s Property Act was then carried, under which the husband retained the responsibility of the property and the woman had the property to herself. As Mrs. Wilks would not pay the tax on her own income Mr. Wilks went to gaol. “If my wife did that to me,” said Mr. Shaw, “the very moment I came out of prison I would get another wife. (Laughter.) It is indefensible.”
Women, he went on, had got completely beyond the law at the present time. Mrs. [Mary] Leigh had been let out, but he presumed that after a brief interval for refreshments she would set fire to another theatre. He got his living by the theatre, and very probably when she read the report of that speech she would set fire to a theatre where his plays were being performed. The other day he practically challenged the Government to starve Mrs. Leigh, and in the course of the last fortnight he had received the most abusive letters which had ever reached him in his life. The Government should put an end to the difficulty at once by giving women the votes. As he resumed his seat Mr. Shaw said — “I feel glad I have been allowed to say the things I have, here to-night without being lynched.”
A resolution protesting against the imprisonment of Mr. Wilks was unanimously carried. Mr. Zangwill wrote, expressing sympathy with the protest, and said, “Marrying an heiress may be the ruin of a man.”
Anna Stout, wife of the former New Zealand prime minister Robert Stout, gave her opinions of the suffrage movement (as found in the Perth Western Mail), including these remarks:
…the Tax-Resistance League… secured hundreds of converts to the cause. “Twenty-six million pounds” Lady Stout said, “are paid annually in taxes into the Treasury by English women, and naturally there is much resentment created when the injustice of their not having a voice in the expenditure of it is pointed out to them. We appeal to their pockets first, but almost invariably find hearts and brains behind them.”
From the New York Sun:
Dog Tax Strike Is Mrs. Snowden’s Plea
Urges This Method of Getting Jailed for Non-Militant Suffragettes.
The non-militant suffragettes of Britain have decided to “let slip the dogs of war” to help win the cause that window smashing, red pepper distribution, mall destruction, and other gentle forms of militant protest have been ineffective in promoting.
Mrs. [Ethel] Philip Snowden, whose husband is an M.P. for Blackburn, announced on in a talk before the Equal Franchise Society how the dogs were going to be utilized. Any old dog will do. Mrs. Snowden herself has a dog, the breed of which she did not mention, and Philip Snowden, M.P., is not responsible for the dog. Mrs. Snowden herself must pay the license for the dog.
Mr. Snowden, as a Member of Parliament, is responsible for the other taxes of Mrs. Snowden, which she has refused to pay, declaring that taxation without representation is unjustifiable, a sentiment that has been uttered on this continent, but they cannot put Mr. Snowden in jail for the refusal of Mrs. Snowden to pay her taxes, as he is exempted as an M.P..
The proposition of Mrs. Snowden seems to squint at the acquisition by all British maids and matrons of dogs and the refusal of the owners to pay the dog license. Mr. Snowden, M.P., may not even know that Mrs. Snowden, N.M.S. — non-militant suffragette — has a dog; but she has.
By buying up dogs of all sorts and refusing to pay the licenses the suffragettes may get into jail with facility and honor. Why place a bomb on the front porch or spread carbolic acid in a mail box, when you may get jugged just as well merely by refusing to pay your dog tax?
Mrs. Snowden commented on the “outrageous incompetence of the Liberal Government” and said she felt that her party no longer could trust its affairs with the Liberals. The physical force party, Mrs. Snowden said, might destroy the sympathy of the British public. Mrs. Pankhurst had started a crusade that she could not control. The doctrine that the end justified the means might wind up with the blowing off of [Prime Minister H.H.] Asquith’s head.
The dodging of the dog tax seemed to Mrs. Snowden the lever with which the non-militants might pry themselves into prison. The possibilities were large. Every male member of the audience admitted this. Think of a lady who had accumulated a pack of hounds refusing to pay the licenses thereon and thus making herself liable to a life sentence!
If one dog sent you to prison for one month, how many months would you be forced to serve if you owned 100 or 200 dogs? Meanwhile you might put on all the dogs blankets inscribed “Votes for Women” and turn them loose in the Strand to the confusion of the bobbies and Parliament.
From the Melbourne Argus:
Duchess as Tax Resister
Destraint has been levied upon [Mary Russell] the Duchess of Bedford, who, as a protest against the non-enfranchisement of women refuses to pay property tax for the Prince’s Skating Rink, which is owned by her. The tax is eight months overdue.
(When she first announced that she would resist payment of the tax the Duchess of Bedford said:— “I am very strongly opposed to the militant tactics adopted by a portion of those who are in favour of women’s franchise, and I have therefore taken this, the only course open to me, which appears justifiable, of protesting against the way in which the question of woman suffrage has been treated by the Government.)
This is an interesting example of how the violent tactics of the most militant wing of the British women’s suffrage movement (which make today’s “black bloc” look like the kumbaya chorus) gave the tax resistance movement space to present themselves as the reasonable non-militant alternative. At this time in the United States, by contrast, tax resistance was considered a far-out militant tactic only adopted by the most radical fringe of the suffragist movement.
Here is another note on Russell’s resistance, from the Hobart, Tasmania Mercury:
Distraint was levied on the Duchess of Bedford for non-payment of taxes due in respect of Prince’s Skating Rink. A silver cup was taken to satisfy the claim. The Duchess, who refused to pay the taxes on suffrage grounds, has instructed the Women’s Tax Resistance League to point out that the distraint is quite out of order, because as a married woman she is not liable to taxation. The assessment or demand not should have been served not upon her, but upon the Duke of Bedford. “Obviously,” she adds, “it was not my business to point out the law to those duty it should be to understand it.”
Carrie Chapman Catt was an American suffrage activist who felt the need to distance herself from the militant tactics of some of her fellow-strugglers across the pond. But she had kinder words to say about the tax resisters. From the New York Sun:
“The non-militant organization that interested me most was the Tax Resistance League, which has an enormous influence in England just now. I went to the sale of the Duchess of Bedford’s curios, on which she had refused to pay taxes. A member of the league made a speech along the lines of no taxation without representation which had a familiar Fourth of July sound. It was expressly stated that this was the Duchess’s manner of protesting against militancy, though I fancy we should have considered it rather militant here.”
From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
Militants Now Say They Won’t Be Taxed
“No Vote, No Helping Government,” Is Suffragettes Latest Slogan.
Homes Sold Over Women.
One Firm Soldier of “The Cause” Calm While Husband Languishes in Jail for Her.
London, — The suffrage impasse in England is to be solved by a new and startling campaign. This is to take the form of resistance to paying taxes — and is to be run by all the militant suffragettes in the kingdom who have homes but no votes. The militants themselves are already jubilant at the prospect of their success, and are asking what Mr. Lloyd-George can possibly do to make up for this leakage in the revenues of England.
This movement is seriously worrying Lloyd-George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and those unfortunate and always unwelcome officials — the tax collectors of England.
The women are either going to jail or having their jewelry and furniture distrained upon and sold by public auction, for the settlement of the Government’s claims.
Everyone of these public auction sales, too, is made the occasion for a grand procession of women tax resisters. They march to the scene of the fray with drums beating and banners and pennons flying. Some of the best suffrage speakers in the country are rallying to their aid. Frequently thousands of people surround the auction halls and when the sale is over the “victim of distraint” mounts a platform outside the hall and addresses the multitude on the text “No Vote, No Tax.” The suggestion that “taxation and representation should go together” and that “taxation without representation is tyranny” evidently appeals to the sense of fair play in a British crowd, so that converts are easily made, money comes rolling in, and propaganda goes merrily on.
Tax Resistance Three Years Old.
The Women’s Tax Resistance League started as a small cloud — no bigger than a man’s hand — in Lloyd-George’s financial sky, about three years ago. That it has been growing steadily ever since is probably due to the fact that it is continually stirring the imagination and touching the sense of humor of the “man in the street.” The society has been able to attain such proportions that shortly it will give a preconcerted “signal” to the women householders in every large city and town in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, causing a general “tax strike.” Every sympathizer who is a householder will, at a given moment, openly refuse to pay any more imperial taxes until political representation is accorded her. Some startling developments are likely to follow.
Among the important and extremely active members of the league are the Duchess of Bedford, whose husband owns over 84,000 acres of land and whose collection of pictures at Woburn Abbey is one of the finest and most historic in the world; Princess Sophia Dhulep Sing, an Indian lady, at present in residence in England; Beatrice Harraden, author of “Ships That Pass in the Night,” and Miss Clemence Housman, sister of Laurence Housman, whose fame as an author and artist are recognized in America as well as in his own country. His “Englishwoman’s Love Letters” made quite a sensation over here some years ago.
All London was agog when it became known that the Duchess of Bedford, aided and abetted by the Women’s Tax Resistance League, had definitely and emphatically refused to pay property tax and house duty on one of her own houses. People who were not versed in the law speculated as to whether Mr. Lloyd-George would have the courage to order the Duchess to be arrested like an ordinary commoner and dragged off to Holloway Jail, there to endure the rigors of a plank bed and jail fare or to win her freedom by resorting to the hunger strike.
Fortunately, however, such indignities are not necessary in collecting the King’s taxes in England if tax-resisting rebels possess furniture, plate, or jewelry upon which distraint can be made. Mr. Lloyd-George’s emissaries were therefore able to seize and carry off a beautiful silver trophy cup from the Duchess’ collection of plate, and sell it by public auction.
The auction sale of the Duchess of Bedford’s silver cup proved, perhaps, the best advertisement the Women’s Tax Resistance League ever had. It was made the occasion for widespread propaganda. The newspapers gave columns of space to the event, while at the big mass meeting, held outside the auction room, Mrs. [Margaret] Kineton Parkes, the secretary of the league; Mrs. Lilian Hicks, the honorary treasurer, and other Suffrage speakers held forth on the advisability and necessity of every self-respecting woman householder in Great Britain following the Duchess of Bedford’s lead.
Miss Clemence Housman’s Case a Poser.
The case of Miss Clemence Housman was really a “poser” for Mr. Lloyd-George. It led to a long struggle between the woman and the authorities, and a denouement which was of the nature of an anti-climax for the Government. The amount in question was an exceedingly small one — about $1 — but Miss Housman, incited and encouraged by the belligerent Tax Resistance League, refused on principle to pay. As she had no goods on which to distrain, she was herself seized and thrown into Holloway Jail, there to remain until the tax was paid. When it became evident that Miss Housman was a woman of determination and was quite prepared to spend the rest of her natural existence within the grim walls of Holloway Castle, the authorities reflected that the maintenance of a prisoner thirty or forty years in jail, and the public excitement this would involve, was too expensive and troublesome a method of collecting $1, so the doors of her cell were, after five days, thrown open and Miss Housman emerged a free and triumphant woman.
The most important and sensational event in the history of the tax-resistance movement, however, was the capture by the Government of the unfortunate husband of a woman tax-resister. The case arose through the refusal of Dr. Elizabeth Wilks, as a Suffragist and tax-resister, to pay the tax levied on her earned income. On two previous occasions this refusal had been followed by a distraint on her goods, but one of the peculiar anomalies of the income tax law, as distinct from the property tax in England is that, in spite of the Married Woman’s Property Act, a husband can be made liable for his wife’s income tax.
Dr. Elizabeth Wilks, realizing, therefore, that as a married woman she was not really liable to this taxation, informed the authorities that the claim should be sent not to her, but to her husband. The government fell into the trap and sent the claim to Mark Wilks, a schoolmaster, who immediately declined to pay on the grounds that he had no legal means of ascertaining his wife’s income. The treasury refused to accept this plea, and after a long correspondence decided to seize the person of Wilks and throw him into jail. A public agitation was immediately started, among those who made strong protests on the platform and in the press being George Bernard Shaw, Sir John Cockburn, K.C.M.G., the Rt. Hon. Thomas Lough, M.P., and Laurence Housman, with the result that Wilks, after being several weeks in jail, was suddenly released, no reason being given by the British Home Secretary for this act of clemency and wisdom.
The incident formed excellent subject for jest by all the humorous papers in England, and one of them suggested that now that husbands could be placed in durance vile for the non-payment of their wives’ income tax, it would be an excellent way for women who held the purse strings not only to get rid of lazy and troublesome husbands, but to have them maintained at the expense of the state!
Another ingenious form of protest adopted by women tax-resisters has been to refuse admission to the officials of the Inland Revenue who came to seize the goods, barricading their homes against the intruders. Mrs. Dora Montefiore, a well-known Australian Socialist, was the first to adopt this novel method, and several others have since followed her example, the last being Mrs. [Kate] Harvey, whose house has been barricaded for months past.
Mrs. Harvey decided to resist Mr. Lloyd George’s insurance tax, and also refused to pay her gardener’s license. In the meantime she took the precaution of getting a bill of sale on her furniture, so that the authorities, balked in every direction of their prey, have now seized the lady herself and committed her to jail for two months. A vigorous agitation for her release is going on, and it is confidently expected that within a few days Halloway’s portals will again open wide and that a huge mass meeting already being organized, in Trafalgar Square, will publicly welcome her back to the arms of her fellow tax-resisters.
More on the Harvey case from the Melbourne Argus:
Siege of Suffragette’s House.
Bailiff Uses Battering-Ram.
Primitive but effective means were resorted to by a bailiff, who, acting on a distraint order, sought to enter the house of a leading suffragette.
The lady in question was Mrs. Kate Harvey, of the Women’s Freedom League. She had declined to pay taxes, and was being supported in her resolve by Mrs. Charlotte Despard, the well-known president of the league.
Mrs. Harvey resides in “Brackenhill,” a large mansion in Highland road, Bromley (Kent).
Failing to gain an entrance to the house, the bailiffs procured a battering ram, and, with the assistance of the police, accomplished his purpose at the end of two hours by smashing in the front door.
[Mrs. Harvey has for years been an ardent exponent of tax resistance. In her goods were seized and sold for inhabited house duty, and her residence was barricaded against the King’s officers for eight months, entry by force being a last effected under a warrant. On the same date Mrs. Harvey was sentenced to distraint or seven day’s imprisonment for a tax unpaid on a male servant. Her companion, Mrs. Despard, has served two terms of imprisonment.]
And a bit more, from the Adelaide Register:
Battering Ram Used.
Considerable difficulty attended the levying of a distress upon the goods of Mrs. Harvey, of the Tax Resistance League; at Bromley, Kent, on Tuesday. Upon the arrival of a tax collector, a bailiff, and a police sergeant, they found the outer gate locked and the doors of the house barricaded. The gate offered little obstruction, but to get the door of the house open was a difficult matter. Finally, after a heavy beam was used as a battering ram, the door went in with a crash. The door, however, led only to a narrow passage, where a still more obstinate door barred the way. A crowbar, battering ram, and a small jemmy were here brought into use, but even with those it was nearly half an hour before the door, almost splintered, gave way. Later, the hall was entered, where the tax collector was met by Mrs. Harvey and Mrs. Despard. Here was little furniture visible, and it was not until a locksmith had forced the door of the dining room that the bailiff was able to place his levy upon goods. The amount of the tax, it is understood, is about £15.
The remaining articles concern the resistance of Sophia Duleep Singh. First, from the New York Herald:
Princess’ Jewels Are Seized for Fines
Sophia Duleep Singh, of Woman’s Tax Resistance League, Refusing to Pay, Loses Gems.
A pearl necklace and a gold bangle studded with pearls and diamonds, belonging to Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, have been seized to satisfy fines and costs of about $80, which she was ordered to pay for keeping a carriage, a groom and two dogs without a license.
The jewels will be sold at a public auction. The Princess is a member of the Woman’s Tax Resistance League.
Next, from the Adelaide Register:
Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, of Faraday House, Hampton Court, made her second appearance at Feltham Police Court, Middlesex, on . She is a member of the Women’s Tax Resistance League, and was summoned for keeping a male servant, a carriage, and two dogs without licences. The Magistrate imposed fines of £5 each in respect of the groom and carriage. and £1 5/ for each of the dogs, with costs amounting, to 18/.
Finally, from the Adelaide Register:
Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, of Faraday House, Hampton Court, saw her jewels seized under a distress warrant rather than pay fines and costs amounting to over £16 for keeping a groom, a carrage, and two dogs without licences. By order of the Justices of the Spelthorne Division of Middlesex, the jewels were offered for sale by public auction at the Twickenham Town Hall on . The auctioneer (Mr. Alaway) explained that the jewels seized by the police consisted of a necklace, with 131 pearls, and a gold bangle. with a heart-shaped pendant, with a diamond centre surrounded with pearls. He was proceeding with the sale when Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, who occupied a seat in the front of the hall, rose, and exclaimed:— “I protest against this sale, seeing it is most unjust to women that they should be compelled to pay unjust taxes, when they have no voice in the government of the country.” The bidding started at £6, and when it had reached £10 the lot was knocked down to Miss Gertrude Eaton, a member of the Women’s Tax Resistance League. Bidding for the gold bangle started at £5. and only two other bids being received, it was sold to the same lady for £7.
In the Washington Herald, Clara Bewick Colby continued her impressions of the British women’s suffrage movement with a note on tax resistance:
There is a league existing for this very purpose to enroll women who are willing to have their property sold for taxes. When a member is to be sold up a number of her comrades accompany her to the auction-room. The auctioneer is usually friendly and stays the proceedings until some one of the league has mounted the table and explained to the crowd what it all means. Here are the banners, and the room full of women carrying them, and it does not take long to impress upon the mind of the people who have come to attend the sale that here is a body of women willing to sacrifice their property for the principle for which John Hampden went to prison — that taxation without representation is tyranny.
Not of American Origin.
I always felt at home on these occasions as I saw the familiar mottoes ranged around. I had supposed they were of American origin, as we had quoted them in our suffrage work; but I found that all the principles embodied in our Declaration of Independence belonged to an earlier struggle for freedom which had been won on British soil, and exactly the same as the women are waging now. The women remain at these auctions until the property of the offender is disposed of. The kindly auctioneer puts the property seized from the suffragists early on his list, or lets them know when it will be called.
The object lesson of the sale and the subsequent meeting on the street corner or in the nearest park carries the message to an outlying part of London, and to a people who otherwise would know nothing of the agitation. The discrimination which the government shows on every hand is apparent in this matter of seizing goods, for some are never annoyed for their delinquent taxes, while others are pounced upon with severity. The league makes resistance systematic and effective so that no effort is lost. Sometimes no one will bid for the sufragist’s property and they carry it home again, but the government cannot seize it for that assessment. Of all forms of militancy this is most logical, and it is one that women might well adopt everywhere, as it was inaugurated in America when the Smith sisters of Glastonbury, Conn., allowed their New Jersey cows to be sold year after year under protest.
Mrs. Despard, sister of Gen. Sir John French, who is president of the Woman’s Freedom League, has been sold out repeatedly, until she has around her only the barest necessaries of life.
There is an imperial tax for the non-payment of which the person and not the property is seized. Miss Housman, sister of the distinguished dramatist, Lawrence Houman, lives with him, but owns a little property subject to the imperial tax. It was only a trifle — four and six ($1.05) — but she refused to pay. Various processes were served upon her until the sum had grown to about $15. She was warned repeatedly by the officer that she would be arrested if she did not pay, but she was obdurate. At length the officer arrived to escort Miss Housman to Holloway jail. He was very polite and took her in a taxi, which cost exactly the sum of the original tax. (Here it would have been for that distance the sum of the tax and costs). Miss Housman was from day to day interviewed by various officials to get her to pay her tax, which she declared she had no intention of doing. The government was in a quandary. There was a law to put Miss Housman in prison but there was no law to let her out until she paid the tax and costs. The government offered to knock off the costs and let her off with the original four and six. Miss Housman was still obdurate. To all intents and purposes she was in Holloway for life.
To make capital of the situation and to keep up her courage the Tax Resistance League organized a procession to Holloway. I was extremely glad to be on the spot and able to show that I was not a fair-weather suffragist, for the weather had been perfect on the occasions of the five processions in which I had already taken part in England, and this day was rainy and the streets muddy.
It was a long trudge the four miles to Holloway but many made it, and, lo! when we got in front of the frowning old fortress the meeting that had been planned for protest became one of victory, for the government had weakened and Miss Housman was free. She was a very quiet, delicate woman who had never taken any other part in the movement, and she made her first suffrage speech this day under the walls of Holloway jail.
Miss Housman has just been called upon by the board of inland revenue to pay arrears on her taxes, and she has again expressed her determination to abide by “plain constitutional duty in refusing consent to taxation without representation.” There is a general movement among tax resisters to send their dues to one or other by the national funds for relief labeled “Taxes withheld from the government by voteless women.”
Jail Procession Frequent.
How many times had the women gone to Holloway to welcome out the prisoners on the day of their release! This was before the days of forcible feeding and the hunger strike which has made it necessary to take away the tortured victims in an ambulance and to a nursing home as quickly as possible. In the earlier days they have often been met with bands, sometimes the horses would be taken off the wagon and young girls would draw it in a triumphal procession. Then there was breakfast and speaking, and everything to make it a gala occasion.
I was present at one of these breakfasts in Queen’s Hall decorated with flowers and banners and with tables for hundreds. It was a queer sensation in those days to look upon sweet and ladylike young women — I remember that on this occasion one was the niece of the violinist Joachim — and to know that they had actually been prisoners. It was not long before they were looked upon as something sacred, as those who had made special sacrifices for the cause, and they wore badges to show that they had been prisoners and in every place were given the post of honor until their numbers mounted up to the hundreds. One, of their favorite banners bears the inscription:
“Stone walls do not a prison make.
Nor Iron bars a cage.”
I came across the poem the other day from which this is taken. It contains four stanzas, written by Sir Richard Lovelace in prison in the middle of the seventeenth century. The balance of the stanza quoted is:
“Minds innocent and quiet, take
That for a hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love.
And in my soul am free.
Angels alone, that soar above.
Enjoy such liberty.”
We shall see in the next paper which will deal with Lady Constance Lytton’s two prison experiences, that this is the spirit that animates women in prison even when undergoing tortures. They are upheld by a sense of devotion to a great cause, and they feel that they are enduring this for the sake of all women. With such consecration there often comes to such prisoners a development of spirit that is truly marvelous. All ordinary values have slipped away and the sense of personality is lost in the new sense of solidarity. They are at one with all the suffering women and the wronged women of the past and of the present. I never talked with one who regretted having gone through the tortures of the prison. They are the birth-pangs of the new age.
Rides in the Wagon.
From this wonderful breakfast and the inspiring speaking I was privileged to ride with the group that accompanied the released prisoners to the suffrage headquarters. Notwithstanding that the young girls dressed in white and harnessed to the wagon with their green, white and purple ribbons, had drawn the six women all the way from Holloway, they gaily took up the march and drew the wagon the additional two miles to St. Clement’s Inn.
There was one young woman not released with the rest because she had infringed a prison regulation and had written a letter to her mother. She was to be out a week later, and the same demonstration was made for her, only varied with elaborate use of the Scotch heather which gave the colors of the Union, white, purple and green. Again the girls drew the wagon from Holloway and the young Scotch woman who was being escorted away in triumph bore a banner with the words (warning Mr. Asquith) “Ye mauna meddle with the Scotch thistle, laddie.”