Women’s Freedom League Asks: “Why Pay Taxes?”

The Vote

From the issue of The Vote:

Why Pay Taxes?

The employment of tax-resistance as a method of protest against disenfranchisement appears to be due, in the first instance, to Miss Charlotte Babb, whose goods were distrained upon in the early days of the suffrage agitation thirteen times because she refused to pay Imperial taxes. Following her heroic persistence, there was a series of isolated resistances to taxation by unrepresented women, of whom the best known are Miss Henrietta Müller and the Misses [Anna Maria and Mary] Priestman, of Bristol, who resisted taxation about , and Mrs. [Dora] Montefiore, whose final resistance in gave occasion for the famous six weeks’ siege of her house at Hammersmith. There were other individual instances as well as these, but the Women’s Freedom League in made the first organised attempt to run a definite tax-resistance campaign. Instead of isolated instances we have now got a steadily-increasing body of yearly resisters, and the action of these women has been made use of to drive home to the public the concrete injustice of taxation without representation.

a Tax-Resistance League came into existence, confining itself to the development of this one line of protest. This year, as a sign of further growth, the sister militant society has decided to adopt the tax-resistance policy as a means of bringing additional pressure upon the Government. These signs of the progress of this very practical anti-Government action are good to see; but just at this moment they are particularly to be welcomed, for the National Executive of the League has just decided to adopt and develop a further line of tax-resistance, in which we hope all the societies approving this general policy will concur.

So far, the strength of the tax-resistance movement has rested with the women who were spinsters or widows; but the new line of action will make the married women a more effective agent of protest. The most that can be done by the widow and spinster is to enter her protest, and thus delay the passing of her money into the Treasury. Except in the case of Mrs. [Charlotte] Despard — which is exceptional — no widow or spinster has successfully withheld the contribution demanded of her by the State; but with married women this is possible. She is enabled by the state of our present law not only to enter her protest, but actually to withhold her moneys, and so to deplete the Treasury coffers.

There are many anomalies with regard to married women upon our Statute Book, and a large number of them are due to the basic wrong done by our Common Law assumption that a married woman is the subject and property of her husband, having no independent existence apart from him. In spite of the Married Woman’s Property Acts this assumption is still acted upon to-day, old laws that ought to have been rendered null and void by the passing of the Acts, which gave the married woman the control of her own property still remaining on the Statute Book, are being applied by the authorities. The Income Tax Commissioners provide a case in point. This legal inconsistency places the woman at a disadvantage, sometimes the man, but if it is dealt with in the right way in this case of Income Tax the Government itself can be made to bear the burden.

It is our duty as suffragists to take advantage of every opportunity which may offer. Even when the initial cause of the opportunity is an insulting denial of the woman’s independence, we must still employ it. We must make this very insult to us a means of attack upon the Government which denies us liberty. We must turn the ridiculous survivals of coverture into weapons of enfranchisement. The existing law so stands that married women can escape the payment of Imperial taxes. Then let them take advantage of the law. Let them organise a depletion of the Treasury. Let them go tax free until women are enfranchised. This is the new tax-resistance policy which we have adopted, and which we mean to spread throughout the land.

Let us examine the position. The standard of Income Tax law is the Finance Act of , upon which all our present Inland Revenue procedure is based. Section 45 of this Act deals with the position of married women, and declares that the income of a married woman living with her husband shall be deemed the income of the husband, and the same shall be charged in the name of the husband, and not in her name or of her trustee. So stands the law for the protection of the wife. The Income Tax authorities cannot legally apply to a married woman for the payment of any Imperial tax; they cannot cite her for non-payment, they cannot levy distraint upon her. She is not liable to Income Tax in any form whatsoever while living with her husband.

The husband is legally liable for the taxes levied upon his wife’s income, whether earned or unearned, and generally, with her co-operation, he has been able to satisfy the Income Tax authorities as to the extent of that income, and to hand over to the same body the taxes with which she provided him in respect of the claim made upon her through him. The authorities have been, as the man in the street would say, having it both ways. They have refused to recognise or deal with the woman, and yet they have insisted upon her husband acting as their agent in levying taxes upon her; but all the time since they and the husband have been acting illegally. The Married Woman’s Property Act took from the husband the old jus mariti by means of which he became possessor of all his wife’s goods and properties; it took away also his old right of administration of his wife’s property, and deprived him of any legal right to control, inquire into, or interfere with, his wife’s economic affairs. Therefore, every time a husband, acting with the compulsion of the law behind him, compelled his wife to reveal the extent and nature of her income he was breaking a bigger law and a more recent law than the one which he was obeying. The husband has no legal right of inquiry, no legal power of control, over the income of his wife. He cannot be forced to do what is illegal. He can make no return for his wife. He cannot be assessed for payment of taxes on an income that he cannot declare.

The plan of campaign is unfolded, and it is only necessary to indicate the details of procedure. These are simple. When the demand for a statement of the wife’s income is made for the Government by the husband, the wife must refuse to supply any information, and must refer her husband to the Married Woman’s Property Act (England, ; Scotland, ). This refusal and reference the husband will convey to the Revenue officials. In all probability the form will be returned once or twice, and, finally, a form will be sent direct to the wife. She will return this, calling the attention of the senders to the fact that she is a married woman living with her husband, and referring them to the Income Tax Act of , section 45. If both husband and wife stick firmly to their guns, the authorities would seem to be able to do nothing.

The law allows everyone who pays Income Tax to claim redress for any undue and illegal levy made during the last three years. Therefore, a married woman’s payment during the last three years can be reclaimed, if she can prove that they were paid by herself or deducted from her personal income. This course should be followed wherever moneys are paid out by trustees and agents, or deducted from interest on investments. By this means not only this year’s taxes, but a portion of previous years’, can be withdrawn from the Treasury. The cumulative effect of this additional development of the tax-resistance campaign and the new impetus given to the old lines of resistance should go some considerable distance towards convincing the Chancellor of the Exchequer that women are preferable as allies and peaceful enfranchised citizens than as an army of sharpshooters interfering constantly with the smooth conduct of his financial army.

This is our plan. Why pay taxes? Married women, respond!

Teresa Billington-Grieg.

Also from the same issue:

Outdoor Meetings

Mrs. [Margaret] Kineton Parkes, Secretary of the Women’s Tax Resistance League, held a very large gathering . A part of her long and interesting speech was taken up in pointing out to the audience how we women could obstruct the Government by refusing to pay the Imperial taxes. She was listened to with deep attention, and many questions were asked.…

“It was mentioned on at the Suffragist demonstration in Alexandria Park, Manchester, that many of the lady Suffragists have refused to fill up their income tax forms, or to answer the urgent notices posted to them in consequence. This plan is to be carried out all over the country as a protest against taxation without representation.” — Manchester Evening Chronicle.

The Vote

From the issue of The Vote:

In Memoriam.

Jessie Margaret Murray, M.B., B.S.Durh.

It is with deep regret that we have to record the death, after a long and painful illness, of Dr. Jessie Murray. All our members and friends who knew Dr. Murray by hearing her speak at protest meetings in Hyde Park and elsewhere, after her Tax Resistance Sales, or as her friends and patients, experienced her sympathetic kindness and infinite pains in bringing cheer and healing, will be grieved to hear of the death of this staunch fighter for women’s freedom.

Of those who took part in the Suffrage struggle some were undoubtedly born fighters, and will spend their lives breaking lances for one case after another. Others had fighting thrust upon them by the conviction that only thus could they be true to principles which they believed to be of vital importance, and Dr. Jessie Murray always gave one the impression of belonging to this class. It was, therefore, not surprising to find her in the ranks of the Tax Resisters, and year after year she was “sold up” because she believed that “taxation without representation is tyranny,” and that to submit to tyranny is to become a consenting party to it. If she was able to do so she always spoke at the Protest Meeting in connection with her sale, and her quiet logical way of stating her case never failed to impress her audience. Dr. Murray studied at the London School of Medicine for Women and Durham University, and qualified in . It was natural that, professionally, she should be attracted by pioneer work, and she was greatly interested in the new psychotherapeutic methods of treating nervous and mental disorders, and here, too, she was a very clear exponent of the views she held. Such women can be ill-spared, but of them all it may be said: “Their works do follow them.” — A Fellow Tax-Resister.