Suffragette Tax Resister Ellen C. Sargent

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Pays Her Taxes Under Protest

A Prominent Suffragist Serves Written Notice.



Denies the Obligations of Citizenship Because She Is Refused Its Privileges by Reason of Her Sex.

Because she is deprived of the right to vote Mrs. Ellen C. Sargent has asked that her taxes be refunded to her. In the ordinary routine of business before the Board of Supervisors this may seem a light matter, but the plaint has been embodied in a businesslike document and has been presented, duly formed and signed, by her attorney, George C. Sargent.

Mrs. Sargent is the widow of the late A.A. Sargent, former United States Senator from California. She has been a strong advocate of the rights of woman, and agitation on the privilege of voting has been her specialty. In her petition to the Board of Supervisors regarding her assessment, which amounts to $440.94, she says:

I claim that the whole of the above assessment is void and I paid the same under written protest to the Tax Collector upon the following grounds: First, that all political power is inherent in the people and that government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people, and that they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it. Second, that in spite of the provision aforesaid I am deprived of the right of suffrage by reason of my sex. That the exercise of the right of suffrage is the only manner in which the above inherent political power can be exercised and made effective. Therefore, I petition that your honorable Board make an order directing the Tax Collector to refund me the above amount paid as taxes as aforesaid.

George C. Sargent, the attorney in the case, is the son of Mrs. Sargent. Concerning the petition which has been filed he said last night: "We shall follow this with a test suit, and are prepared to carry the case to the Supreme Court of the State. Ordinarily there can be no repayment of taxes, but the law of California is peculiarly favorable to the interests of justice and provides that any person deeming himself aggrieved may pay taxes under written protest, stating his grounds, and that suit may be brought within six months, and, if the protest be sustained, the taxes shall be repaid. Another section of the Political Code empowers Boards of Supervisors to return taxes if wrongfully collected, and we have therefore presented this petition, so as to lose no points. The ground we shall take in this suit is that the State Constitution in limiting suffrage to males conflicts with another section of its own, in which it declares all powers is inherent in the people.

What happened next? The California Suffrage Association, at its next convention in , unanimously passed a resolution in support of Sargent’s action, and “it was announced that many of the suffragists who were large taxpayers had settled with the municipality before the matter was brought to their attention this year, but that before taxes would be due again, properly worded protests would be ready for distribution.”

The Board of Supervisors denied her petition, and Sargent filed her lawsuit in . In the case went to trial.

Mrs. Sargent’s Tax Case Goes To Trial Before Judge Sloss

A number of suffrage activists attended the trial (and were chastized by the judge for their boisterous applause). By the time of the next California Woman Suffrage Association convention, Sargent had lost her case, and she gave a talk on the subject there.

The real purpose of the suit was to test the constitutionality of the taxation of women without representation, and the decision was adverse to Mrs. Sargent. After reading the decision she commented vigorously upon it and declared the courts construed the Fifteenth Amendment to suit themselves. “But we will never give up the fight,” she concluded, “and there are hosts preparing to take up the struggle when we shall lay it down.”

Rebecca Mead, in How the Vote Was Won says that “she continued to file tax suits long after the courts had rejected this strategy. By the end of her life, Sargent declared herself ‘a homemade anarchist and this Gov. has made me so.’ When she died during the suffrage referendum campaign, the flags of San Francisco flew at half-mast for the first time in honor of a woman.” Women in California were granted the vote, by a majority of male voters, with a constitutional amendment passed as a referendum in the election.