Bermuda Women Refuse to Pay Taxes Until They Can Vote

From the New York Sun:

Sold Out for Taxes — It’s an Old Story to the Women of Bermuda

They’re Still Fighting the Battle for Suffrage Which American and English Women Won Long Ago.

by Hazel Canning.

Along the white coral stone roads of Somerset, Bermuda, and under the flaunting beauty of hibiscus, oleander, and bougainevillea, a Negro bell ringer traveled the other day. His bell pealed out with blatant silver to advertise an auction.

The furniture of Mrs. John C. Morrell [Gladys Misick Morrell] — particularly an antique cedar chest and chair 200 years old, were about to be auctioned by the Bermuda Government because Mrs. Morrell had not paid her taxes.

Now, it soon was announced to all the world, Mrs. Morrell wasn’t in arrears in her taxes because she lacked the money to pay. She was in arrears because the Bermuda Government refused her the right to vote — even — at small parish elections. She was in arrears because her Government, in solemn Supreme Court, had handed down the decision that Mrs. Morrell — and all the other women on the island — were not “persons” and so, couldn’t vote.

Many Refused.

But Mrs. Morrell was not the only bad girl in Bermuda who refused to pay up. It soon appeared that north and south, east and west, the leading women of Bermuda refused to pay, and therefore were putting the Government to a deal of trouble to make them pay. While sheriffs got busy with station wagons to carry property off to police stations for auction; while ringers rang bells, and notices of sales were published, the ladies sat by with a smile and didn’t seem to mind very much at all the bother they were making for certain rather pompous and perspiring males.

Mrs. Hammond Lightbourne, formerly Miss Jennie Cheesborough of Syracuse, New York; Mrs. Henry Lockward, widow of a Member of Parliament and mother of Mrs. Thomas Childs of New York city; Miss May Hutchings whose handsome Paget estate the late President Eliot of Harvard used to visit; Mrs. St. George Butterfield, wife of a Bermuda bank president, and Mrs. W.E. Tucker, wife of Bermuda’s leading surgeon, were a few other prominent women who saw their household goods carried off to be knocked down for taxes.

“Why — when even the women of Spain are voting today — do Bermuda men refuse the ballot to their women?” The most disinterested inquirer might ask this question. Bermuda men and Bermuda women give completely disagreeing answers.

“We don’t want our women to vote, because women’s place is the home,” the men say. (Somewhere, we heard that one before).

“We refuse the ballot, because the women really do not want it.” (Yes, that’s an old one, too.)

“We are protecting our women from all ruder contacts, because we regard them so highly.” (Not original, either).

But the latest and perhaps the most sincere reason was advanced by a Bermuda Member of Parliament after Mrs. John Morrell had sued, in Supreme Court, for the right to vote.

The Reason.

“Let Bermuda women understand now, once and for all,” said the legislator, after the court had decreed that women were not persons, “that this court action settles the matter from now forevermore.”

Well, that was pretty strong language, the ladies thought, particularly as the noble parliamentarian went on — “in refusing women the ballot we do not consider the justice of their petition. We are merely governed by questions of expediency.”

Now, say the women, maybe the gentleman is enough of an optimist to believe that this strong language will send them back to their knitting forever. But again — maybe — he will be surprised. They then go on to explain that “expediency” may be conveniently interpreted as anything the other side wants which may interfere with the ruling power’s selfish interests. And that if suffrage is being withheld merely for expediency, it is time that the Bermuda women got to work for the vote harder and more earnestly than ever. But let these ladies have their turn at explaining the real reasons — other than expediency — which they believe keep the male antis from giving them the vote. Let Mrs. Henrietta Tucker, Dr. Tucker’s wife, do the speaking:

They’re Afraid.

“Our opponents in Parliament refuse us the ballot because they know various matters will not be so easily manipulated, when women vote.

“They are really afraid that, with us voting, they will have to do some real thinking on moral questions.

“They fear we will work for sterner liquor laws.

“They fear we will press for more money for education, social service, hospitals, and that we shall be less favorable to special interests.

“In short, the entire opposition to us is motivated by fear. These men do not know nor understand educated women with twentieth century consciences. They are afraid of what might happen when we press to have some things done differently than they were in the days of dear old grandpa.”

Here you have, in brief, the explanations of why suffrage lingers in Bermuda. In the meantime, Mrs. Tucker goes on:

In the War.

“During the war our Bermuda women worked in hospitals, munition factories, on ambulances and in canteens. Some of our women were under fire in France. We all did our rationing and dieting. Then for the ten years following we watched the women of most of the civilized countries of the world getting the vote, while we were still treated by our Government as children or mentally incompetent.

“The beginning was made by Mrs. Morrell in Somerset parish. She had worked with Mrs. Pankhurst, with Dame Millicent Fawcett. She is a friend of Lady Astor. She offered herself as candidate for a parish office, since our law stated that a “person” with sixty pounds of property was eligible to vote and to be a candidate. But, in Supreme Court, the decision was handed down against Mrs. Morrell and all of us:

“ ‘No person shall vote at any parish election… unless he is a MALE.’

“Well, this seemed to settle the status of a person, and to rule us out. Accordingly, we presented a memorial to Lord Passfield, in England. He sent word to the Bermuda Parliament that he would be ‘gratified if the Bermuda Legislature could see its way clear to consider the advisability of such extension of the local franchise as would bring it into closer conformity with contemporary British institutions elsewhere.’

A New Bill.

“The Hon. Stanley Spurling, accordingly, presented a new suffrage bill. It was cheerfully voted down, 21 to 11. And when we women, individually, tried to reason with our men we were told, almost in chorus:

“ ‘Dear ladies, to give you the suffrage, we would have to change our Constitution. And ladies — ladies — that has been changed only ! [sic]’ ”

“Now,” ask the women of Bermuda, “what are you going to do with men who haven’t yet emerged from the sixteen hundreds? How are we going to prevail upon them?”

Stern Reprisals.

They asked the question. Then they did what they could. They refused to pay up. But this year, it developed, a new and stronger tax resistance was met by sterner reprisals from the Government. The authorities required all the women in arrears to employ lawyers to defend themselves in court. But men in arrears could come in without lawyers, as in the past. In fact, the authorities were particularly severe on two women whom they considered the ringleaders. These were the sisters, Mrs. Henrietta Tucker, and Mrs. Lockward, widow of the Hon. Henry Lockward. Both are large property owners in Paget parish. And, shortly, the sentence was handed down. The women were sentenced to serve a month in jail.

“All right,” they said, “we’ll do nothing. To jail we go.”

It almost looked as if they would. Then the Bishop of Bermuda, the Right Rev. A.H. Brown, and Dr. Tucker, one lady’s husband, interfered. The taxes were paid, and the cells lacked their occupants… Before this story ends, it should be explained that after the property is sold each year, some admirer, or the former owners, buy it back and return it to the homes whence it was seized. But — in the meantime — the Bermuda women suffragists send the question to their sisters all over the world:

“What should we do to modernize the minds of our legislators? How shall we help them to shake off their seventeenth century complexes; to realize that they are living today in an age of invention and science, where woman suffrage is a fact in almost every civilized country of the world except our own Bermuda?”