British Internal Revenue vs. Suffragette Tax Resisters

The Vote

From the issue of The Vote:

Somerset House and Its Ways.

The morals of Somerset House [the offices of Inland Revenue] are like those of the much abused “heathen Chinee.” The Department has a very simple and convenient maxim by which it regulates its conduct, and that is, Never be aware of anything unless it pays. So long as money could be easily obtained by annexing Mrs. Wilks’ furniture and effects, the Inland Revenue authorities shut their eyes to the fact that she was Mrs. Wilks, living with Mr. Wilks, and therefore might be assumed by any intelligent person to be married. Their excuse is that she never “told” them she was married until recently, and so they assumed she was not! Presumably they thought Mr. Wilks was her father-in-law or her grandfather-in-law, or that she called herself Mrs. Wilks by way of a joke. So soon as they found no more money would be obtainable from her, they conveniently realised that she had a husband, from whom they demand the tax. “But a great many excuses must be made for a Department which has only become officially alive to woman’s existence during the current year,” writes Mrs. [Ethel] Ayres Purdie to us. “Hitherto all official letters began with ‘Sir,’ regardless of the fact that women pay taxes, and pay for the official stationery and clerical work. As I objected to having ‘Sir’ hurled at me every time I opened an official letter, I drew up a form letter, in which I observed that ‘business men’ were in the habit of addressing women clients or customers as ‘Madam,’ and I should be much obliged if they would remember this fact, and refrain from the solecism of addressing me as ‘Sir.’ Every public official from the humble clerk up to Departmental secretaries and arrogant Treasury clerks received one of these letters as regularly as clockwork every time they called me ‘Sir.’ At last they have learnt to address women as ‘Madam,’ and this year even the printed forms begin ‘Sir or Madam,’ for all the world like a respectable business firm.

Are you sure you are not paying too much tax to John Bull? We have recovered or saved large sums for women taxpayers. Why not consult us? It will cost you nothing. Women Taxpayer’s Agency (Mrs. E. Ayres Purdie), Hampden House, Kingsway, W.C. Tel 6049 Central.

Some excerpts from another article in the same issue:

“Mostly Fools.”

That “the Law is a Hass” no one has ever seriously attempted to deny; but what one wants to know is what to say of the people who make it? This is an aspect of the case that has been much neglected; but with a little goodwill and concentration, we hope to make up for lost time and direct attention to the real offenders. It is a poor kind of wit or wisdom that breaks its shaft over the suffering head of the Law, and keeps silence on the subject of the Law-maker. The gentlemen who draw salaries large and small, ranging from £10,000 to £400 a year for performing what one might describe as the most highly skilled work required by the country, and who perform that work in such a way as to create such situations as that leading to the arrest of Mr. Mark Wilks for non-payment of taxes not his own and due on an income over which he has no control and whose amount he can only guess at, are surely playing the biggest “bluff” ever put up, on their long-suffering fellow-men. One’s mind wanders between the alternative possibilities, that those in office are knaves while the others are fools, or that they are all knaves together; or that they are “mostly fools,” both in office and out.

…Acts in conflict with each other, such as the Income Tax and Married Women’s Property Acts, the National Insurance and the Truck Acts, should be brought into harmony on some definite ruling; and some attempt should be made by future legislators so to simplify their language as to make their meaning plain without the superfluity of litigation which their unhappy ambiguity at present inflicts on the nation. While waiting for this legislative millennium, we fill in the time by demonstrating on every possible occasion how poor is the workmanship for which we are called upon to pay such preposterous prices, and how entirely logical and correct a fashion of protesting our displeasure and disability is the Tax Resistance policy, of which Mr. Mark Wilks and Dr. Wilks are the latest exponents. All Suffragists will thank them for their spirited action, which from the nature of the case must have been painful and unpleasant for them both. We shall not readily forget such support as that given by Mr. Wilks; and the demonstration on by the W.F.L., the W.T.R.L., the Men’s League and the Men’s Federation, showed how forcible is such action. The position was entirely appreciated by the large crowds which gathered round the Lions in Trafalgar Square; and in spite of a good deal of laughter and “chaff” which was never ill-natured, a large section of the “long-suffering” British public testified to its dissatisfaction with the present state of the law and its approval of the tactics of the Women Tax Resisters.

C. Nina Boyle

From the same issue:

Trafalgar-Square Demonstration.


True “Queen’s weather” favoured the opening of our autumn campaign on , when the Freedom League, in conjunction with the Tax Resistance League, the Men’s League, the Free Church League, and the Men’s Federation for Women’s Suffrage met in the Trafalgar-square to demand the enfranchisement of women and to protest against the imprisonment of Mr. Mark Wilks for the non-payment of his wife’s taxes. Mme. Mirovitch and Mr. Herbert Jacobs were among those who supported the speakers.

The large crowd, which gathered half an hour before the meeting began and remained throughout the two hours of its duration, showed the widespread interest in votes for women. Both before and during the speeches members of the Tax Resistance League paraded the Square, carrying sandwich-boards bearing the words in bold letters, “We demand the immediate release of Mark Wilks.”

There were two platforms on the plinth, one presided over by Miss Anna Munro and the other by Mrs. [Isabel] Tippett. At both of these the following resolution was put and carried by a large majority:— “That this meeting demands from the Government the political enfranchisement of women this Session, and the immediate release of Mr. Mark Wilks.”

Ridiculous Position of the Government.

Mrs. Tippett, in opening the meeting, pointed out the extraordinary and ridiculous position in which the Government has placed itself by the arrest of Mr. Wilks. The crowd was intensely interested while she read a statement of Mr. Wilks with regard to his position. Mr. Futvoye, of the Men’s Federation, in moving the resolution, said how glad he was to be on a common platform with so many suffrage societies. The women’s movement had drawn together people of different parties, religions and sexes. He emphasised the fact that women will be unable to get fair conditions of life and labour until they get the vote. As long as they are unrepresented the Government will take no notice of their demand for a living wage. Mrs. Merivale Mayer, seconding the resolution, said there was much talk about progress in these days, but when women talked of it it seemed to be thought that she required man’s permission to rise. This was not progress. Miss Boyle, in supporting the resolution, showed the ridiculous situation brought about by the incompatibility of the laws with regard to Income-tax and the Married Women’s Property Act. Members of Parliament are the servants of the people, paid, whether they be ministers or ordinary members, out of the pockets of both men and women. Though paid to make laws, they did their job so badly that other people then had to be paid to find out what the law meant. Women wanted better value for their money, especially when it was taken from them under compulsion. Suffragists had found that Tax Resistance was very effective; but though Government was spending public money in trying to put down the Suffrage movement, they would not succeed. In being so blind as to the strength and significance of the movement, and in their treatment of the women of this country, they were obliged to look either fools or brutes, and as they were not afraid to look either they succeeded in looking both.

An Appeal to Business Men.

Mr. Simpson supported the resolution. He appealed to the practical business men in the crowd, who had the vote because others had fought for it for them. After long years of legislation of the people for the people by the people they wanted less of Party politics and more improvement in social conditions. In the Labour market, what had been done to raise wages was neutralised by the cheap labour of women. Votes for women was the only remedy for this. Miss [Margaret] Kineton Parkes, of the Tax Resistance League, explained that Mrs. Wilks refused to pay her taxes because she realised that such a refusal was the most logical protest a woman could make against a Liberal Government whose cry had been that with taxation must go representation. The Government was bound either to remove the burden of taxation, or give women the vote. She thought men ought to make the protest, for the Government had imprisoned a man, while Mrs. [Charlotte] Despard, Mrs. Pankhurst, and many other women who had not paid taxes for years, were still at large.

Worse than Ancient Rome.

At the other platform, presided over by Miss Munro, the mover of the resolution was Mrs. [Margaret] Nevinson, who kept her audience in a ripple of laughter. She thought it was high time to alter the laws of this country, which in some respects were worse than those of ancient Rome, when in the twentieth century a man could be put in prison for doing nothing. She told several very amusing and yet pathetic stories of cases she had known before the passing of the Married Women’s Property Act, but said that the passing of that Act had brought about such anomalies as the present one, when a man could be arrested for not paying his wife’s taxes when he didn’t even know her income.

Mr. Lawrence Housman, in seconding the resolution, said that as a member of the Tax Resistance League he would like first to thank the Women’s Freedom League for allowing them to share in this meeting and to state a man’s grievance. He found women always ready to help men, and felt that if men had been as ready to help women they would not be in the position they are to-day. According to the Anti-Suffragists, the sending of a man to prison for his wife’s default is an example of the wife’s privileges under the law. All honest women want to get rid of this privilege. At the mention of Mrs. [Mary] Leigh’s release there was loud applause. Mr. Housman said the Government dare not kill her because, whatever she had done, they knew she was fighting for a just cause. Here was a case where physical force, so beloved by the Anti-Suffragists was defeated.

Man and Woman Standing Together.

Mrs. Despard, who was received with loud applause, said it gave her peculiar satisfaction to support the resolution, particularly the last part of it, for in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Wilks she saw coming true an old dream of hers, the dream of men and women standing together, not only in the family, but in that larger family — the State. She was proud that these were her personal friends. It was difficult to understand the actions of the Government with regard to tax resistance, for she had not paid taxes for two years, and the Government had done nothing but tell her that she should know their intentions. In Ireland one weak woman had defied them; they had found it useless to coerce; the only possible course was to yield to the just demands of womanhood.

Poetic Justice.

Mrs. Tanner said that although everyone was indignant at the arrest of Mr. Wilks, there was some sort of poetic justice in a man having to suffer through the muddle made by men. It showed how incapable men were of legislating by themselves. Women asked for a share in the Government in order to try and prevent such muddles occurring in the future. Mr. Kennedy supported the resolution as a member of the Men’s League. He reminded his audience that the poet Whittier, in writing of Women’s Suffrage, had said that it was right because it was just, and although the consequences were not known, it was the safest thing, the truest expediency, to do right.…

Mrs. [Anne] Cobden Sanderson, of the Tax-Resistance League, also very briefly supported the resolution. She begged for sympathy and support of Mr. Wilks and announced how this could be publicly shown.

Enthusiasm for Dr. Wilks.

At the end of the meeting Dr. Wilks spoke a few words from each platform. She was received with great applause, which was redoubled when she announced that neither she nor her husband intended to pay the tax.

A. Mitchell.

Also from the same issue:

The Government in a Knot.

Statements by Mr. and Mrs. Wilks.

Mr. Mark Wilks, of 47, Upper Clapton-road, N.E., was arrested on while on his way to the school of which he is headmaster, and removed to Brixton Prison, for the non-payment of his wife’s Income-tax. He is the husband of Dr. Elizabeth Wilks, suffragist and upholder of the principle “No vote, no tax.” Her goods have been distrained upon on two occasions for non-payment of taxes. In a “manifesto” he has issued Mr. Wilks says:—

In my wife claimed that such distraint was illegal, asserting that under the Income-tax Act she, as a married woman, was exempt from taxation. The authorities then wavered in their claim, making it sometimes on her, sometimes on me, sometimes on us both conjointly, finally on me alone. On my pointing out that her liability had already been established by forcible distraint upon her property, I was informed that for the future I should be held liable, as that by the Income-tax Act the “wife’s property for purposes of taxation is the husband’s,” although by the Married Women’s Property Act it is entirely out of his control. Thus I am to be held liable for a tax on property which does not belong to me. I am now told I am to be committed to prison until such time as I shall pay the “duty and costs” — over £37.

Dr. Wilks’s Statement.

Writing to the Standard (“Woman’s Platform”) Dr. Elizabeth Wilks states the case forcibly and clearly thus:—

Will you allow me a space in your columns to explain as clearly as I can the position my husband and I respectively take in regard to the non-payment of tax on my earned income? The Press misrepresents the case when it speaks of Mr. Wilks’s refusal to pay the tax. I refuse to pay any Imperial tax until the Parliamentary vote is granted to women on the same terms as to men. He does not refuse to pay, but as an assistant-teacher under the London County Council he has not sufficient money to do more than pay the tax on his own income, which he has done. While, however, married women are not recognised as taxable units the claim does not fall on the right person. At present the Income-tax Act still holds a man liable for the tax on his wife’s income, in spite of the fact that a more recent Act, the Married Women’s Property Act, has taken from him all control over that income. Yet we neither of us dreamed that this anachronism would be thus glaringly exposed by the imprisonment sine die of a husband earning a smaller income than his wife.

I am taunted with the fact that while asking for my rights I am unwilling to accept my liabilities. This is untrue. I am asking to be recognised as a person both as regards rights and liabilities. If the State comes to recognise me as a person liable to taxation, but still denies me representation, I, as a voteless tax-resister, shall be in Holloway Prison instead of my husband, a voter and taxpayer, being in Brixton — perhaps a somewhat less absurd position than the present one.

In the meantime the law does indeed press hardly on my husband, and a very striking example is given of the tendency of present-day legislation to penalise those who desire to comply with the marriage laws of the country. Had the tie between us been irregular my husband would have been practically exempt from Income-tax, and for years I could have claimed abatement. Because we are legally married he has had to pay the tax on the whole of his salary.

There is one other point I should like to mention. From the outset of my professional career the authorities have sent the claim on my earned income to me and not to my husband. In , instead of paying, as I had previously done, I wrote across the form, “No vote, no tax.” They then distrained on me for the amount. In I questioned the legality of the threatened distraint, and the authorities then wavered in their claim, making it sometimes on me, sometimes on my husband, sometimes on us both conjointly, finally on him alone. Now after two years’ intermittent correspondence he is in prison for inability to meet it. Manifestly if he is liable I am not, and the distraints executed on my goods were illegal. If I am liable his arrest was illegal and the distraints on me should have been continued.

Certainly it is open to suppose that my husband’s imprisonment is not only unjust but unlawful. A remark made by Mr. Hobhouse in a debate on the Finance Act on , makes this supposition the more probable. On this occasion (Parliamentary Debates, Vol. 20, No. 92) he said, speaking on Mr. Walter Guinness’s amendment: “It may be said by hon. gentlemen opposite, ‘Why don’t you send one of the demand forms to the wife?’ I am not at all sure if that course were taken that the Inland Revenue would not put themselves out of court subsequently in their demand from the husband.” Have they not in this case so put themselves out of court? Mr. Hobhouse was not sure at that time. Have the officials become sure since?

Teachers Sign a Petition

A petition against the arrest of Mr. Mark Wilks, the Clapton headmaster, for the non-payment of his wife’s Income-tax, has been circulated among London County Council teachers. On the first day a thousand signatures were received, and many others are rapidly being obtained.

Protest Meeting.

A public indignation meeting, to protest against the imprisonment of Mark Wilks, will be held on , at the Caxton Hall, Westminster. The chair will be taken by the Hon. Sir John Cockburn, K.C.M.G., and the speakers will be Mr. H[enry].G[eorge]. Chancellor, M.P., Mr. Laurence Housman, Mr. Herbert Jacobs, Rev. Fleming Williams, and Mr. G[eorge]. Bernard Shaw. Tickets: Reserved, 2s. 6d.; unreserved, 1s. To be had from The International Suffrage Shop, Adam-street, Strand; and from The Women’s Tax Resistance League, 10, Talbot House, St. Martin’s-lane, W.C.

And a little more from the same issue:

In Hyde Park and Regent’s Park.

…Mrs. [Marianne] Hyde and Miss Bennett addressed a meeting in Regent’s Park on , and a resolution was passed calling on the Inland Revenue authorities to release Mr. Mark Wilks, who is imprisoned in Brixton Gaol for the non-payment of his wife’s income-tax.