An Amusingly-Written Tale of Suffragette Tax Resistance

The Vote

From the issue of The Vote comes this amusingly-written tale of tax resistance:

Government Rests Upon the Consent of the Governed.

They had decided not to insure; they attended great gatherings at the Albert Hall and passed resolutions with fervour, and clapped and cheered the incitements to rebellion, and when the fatal Bill went through and July 1 came, they formed a conspiracy to defraud — the little mistress, and the cook, and the housemaid, who was also her daughter. “Nothing,” said the little mistress, who was developing unsuspected powers as a street-corner orator, “nothing will induce me to pay a fresh tax levied on women without their consent. I will not lick stamps at the bidding of Mr. Lloyd George; I will go to gaol as a protest against such an unconstitutional Government.”

“’Ear, ’ear ma’am,” said the cook; “I ’ate that ole Lloyd George; I’d do anything to spite ’im. I always did ’ate Radicals, and as my ’usband says, they always do leave a mess for other folks to red up. They takes us poor people’s money and pays theirselves salaries out of it: Gladys read that out of the paper to me the other day. Old John Burns is ’aving thousands a year, and when we lived in Battersea I remember his saying as no man weren’t worth five ’undred, and quite enough, too, I says. Conservative gentlemen are rich and knows about governing the working classes, but this ’ere set of Radicals don’t know nothing abou it; they aren’t no better than us, and just on the make for a bit of money. What’s the good of the Insurance Act to folks as aren’t never ill? I never ailed nothing in my life except when I was upstairs with the children. No more ain’t my old Dad, and he’s just on ninety. When he broke his leg two years ago and the doctor wanted ’im to swallow some nice-looking red medicine, he just took it for to be perlite, and then spat it out and said ’is stummick had lasted him eighty-seven year and ’e weren’t going to start a-poisoning of it then.

“Silly talk I call it. I ’ate men — I ’ate the sight of them! and me, a married woman with eight, having to turn out and keep ’im and the little ones as I can’t do with the paltry pittance of my wages and Gladys, and now sixpence a week out of our wages and them children’s stummicks — taking to-day’s bread to pay for to-morrow’s medecine I calls it,” and the cook grasped the scrubbing-brush and viciously attacked the speckless kitchen table.

The month of July came and the husband, whose business took him abroad for long periods, returned to his revolting family, and what Gladys reported as a “few words” were spoken at the dining-table. He would not dream of resisting the Insurance tax. He was the master of the house and the women would please obey. He was not going to be summoned for any silly fad of his wife’s; besides, he had a vote and would look a fool in dock.

The wife replied that she had made inquiries, and her Suffrage Society considered she would be liable to be summoned as the servants were in her employ. They were ready all three to go to gaol like John Hampden for what they considered an unjust and unconstitutional tax.

The newspapers were consulted, and Mr. Masterman’s great and illuminating answer to a questioner in the House on that point of responsibility was quoted by the wife to show they might settle between them: “It is a purely domestic matter.” Then a brother, who was also a solicitor, was questioned, and deprecated such an evasive reply from a Cabinet Minister, stirring up domestic quarrels in many a home. In his opinion the husband only was responsible for all payments; a wife, of course, was under coverture and had no civic existence: she acted as her husband’s agent only.

“I am allowed to have my money, though, under the Married Women’s Property Act, ,” said the little mistress, angrily.

“That has nothing to do with it. I understand you pay the servants out of your husband’s money.”

“Then you may stamp-lick yourself, Claude,” said the little mistress. “I will not defile my tongue with Government gum.” Then she went upstairs and cried bitterly. The master sent for the servants and reduced them, as he thought, to submission. The housemaid became one year and a-half younger than the age at which she was engaged over a year ago; and though it seemed incredible, her statement was accepted, for the master knew that “to think a girl sixteen” is a valid excuse before any magistrate, and argued that the converse would also hold good, and no man with any chivalry could contradict a lady.

The cook procured a card as she was bidden, and because she quoted the Truck Act and the illegality of stopping wages, the master paid the lot, licked Government gum till his tongue was sore, and then, his house in order, departed to his business in far countries.

Then the revolt burst out once more. In spite of her boast of good health, the cook, finding six shillings paid down for ill-health and medical attendance, immediately developed the usual domestic ailments, swimmings here and sinkings there, pains in various regions, which, with the assistance of advertisements for quack medicines, she scientifically diagnosed as liver, kidney, “tisis,” and “pneumonia.”

When she was told that these must be endured till January without State assistance, but that if she was really so ill the family doctor should at once be summoned, she replied she would not dream of such a thing, she never did ’old with doctors, but if she paid money down she liked something to show for it, and not a ’alfpenny more would she put on that card.

Then the “Mark Wilkes’ case” happened, and the power of the law of coverture was proved, so the little mistress went down to consult her society. She had been brought up on cricket, and it did not seem fair, as she said, to get her husband into prison in his absence.

“Serve him right,” said the honorary secretary.

“Quite enough women have been to gaol,” said the treasurer; “it is time a few men got there for their own folly in allowing such laws.”

“You know we have your pledge as a passive resister, prepared with your two servants to go to gaol; you cannot go back on your word, Mrs. James.”

“We don’t wish to do so; but if they only fine my husband, who has a vote, our protest falls flat; he won’t be a Mark Wilkes and go to gaol for us.”

“You can, of course, take back your pledge.”

“But then cook won’t, and she is very obstinate.”

“You might dismiss her.”

“Yes, but she can cook, and so few cooks know how.”

“My dear,” said a white-haired woman, “if she can cook give her the best bedroom and anything she desires and go on talking about the Insurance Act when your husband comes home. Discussions on Women’s Liberty are glorious, but disputes over spoilt victuals are degrading.”

As time went on the little mistress, who had both a conscience and a power of attorney, became appalled at the revolt of the women. The little governess who came to teach the children refused to insure. She was a Christian Scientist and did not believe either in illness nor doctors. “Why,” she asked, with unanswerable logic, “should one insure against anything non-existent?” The charwoman said no one would engage her because of “them stamps,” they took up girls under sixteen instead; but now she suddenly posed as a married woman, wife of a wage-earner, her husband, whom she had supported for years, having once found employment as a buckler-on of skates when, at rare intervals, the climate allowed the ponds on the common to be opened to the public for the exhilarating exercise. The little dressmaker, who came to renovate and repair, was not insured. She had been dismissed from her place, she said, in July, and since then no one would employ her because she had not card. As she would probably end shortly in the workhouse, she thought she might as well go there via prison — both supplied board and lodging gratis. The model, who came to pose for the figure of Justice which the little mistress was designing for a Suffrage banner, also said that the ladies of her profession would not dream of insuring; and as, apparently, Mr. Lloyd George had never heard of the trade they were safe.

When October 15 drew nigh the cook, after several exhortations, was given an evening off and money for stamps, and sent to join an Approved Society. She returned very late, having missed a train on the Tube, and very vituperative against the Government; in fact, her command of Limehouse was worthy of the Chancellor himself. The next afternoon she again was granted a holiday, but returned this time depressed and lachrymose. She had heard, she said, of a gentleman at Lilac Cottage on the Common who would make excellent terms with her, and she was going back after tea.

“No,” said the little mistress, “you cannot go out again; I am expecting a friend and you must stop at home and cook the dinner.”

The meal came up as incoherent and confused as the Insurance Act itself, and amongst the rare refreshing fruits of the macédoine a big white onion flaunted so aggressively that the eldest son of the house, who came down to dessert, announced that he “could hear it smell.”

The ladies took refuge in the drawing-room, the little mistress jealous of her reputation as housekeeper quite overcome.

“I can’t think what is the matter with cook, the Insurance Act seems quite to have unhinged her.[”]

“No wonder,” said the honorary secretary, as she lit her cigarette.

Margaret Wynne Nevinson.

Also from the same issue:

Success at Letchworth.

Our enthusiastic member in the Garden City, Miss [Clara] Lee, has been working hard for some time trying to form a Branch of the League there, and now her efforts are to be crowned with success. A meeting was arranged for , at which the speakers were Mrs. [Charlotte] Despard and Mrs. [Margaret] Nevinson. It had been well advertised by Miss Lee in various ways, her poster parade at creating quite a sensation in Letchworth. The result was a splendid meeting; the Howard Hall was full, and in response to Mrs. Despard’s inspiriting appeal, a number of people gave in their names as members of the new Branch. Miss Lee, who, on more than one occasion, has refused to pay taxes, had the joy of learning that, as a result of Mrs. Nevinson’s speech on tax-resistance, she will now be supported by many other tax resisters in the first Garden City. A resolution, moved by Mrs. Tudor, calling upon the Government to include women in the proposed Reform Bill, was carried, one might almost say unanimously, for, though one gentleman dissented, he admitted afterwards that his position was that of “sitting upon the fence.” Miss Lee, who has kindly agreed to be hon. secretary of the new Branch, will be glad to hear from any sympathisers in the district.