An Early Example of Suffragette Tax Resistance

The Vote

The earliest mention of tax resistance I was able to find in The Vote is this one from its issue:

No Vote, No Tax.

On a sale was held at 45, Parker Street, Kingsway, of jewellery seized in distraint for income-tax, which Miss Marie Lawson, managing director of the Minerva Publishing Co. and member of the National Executive Women’s Freedom League, had refused to pay. Members of the W.F.L. and Mrs. [Edith] How Martyn (Hon. Sec.) assembled to protest against the proceedings, and the usual policeman kept a dreary vigil at the open door. The day had been specially chosen by the authorities, who wished to prevent a demonstration, and the auctioneer, on his arrival, appeared to treat the whole affair as a joke, gently rallying the women on what he was pleased to term “the trouble they had given him in coming there.” Mrs. How Martyn pointed out to him that the Government through its officials had shown itself at all times quite ready to go to an infinitude of trouble to appropriate the women’s money, but had taken none to give them any voice in the expenditure of that money. These protests were being made with a special purpose to show the Government that taxes on earned income would not be paid by women workers unless the same return was made to them as to men, i.e., representation by means of votes.

In refusing to pay income tax women have a strong weapon against the Government, and the more protests of this kind and the more trouble the authorities are put to in collecting the money, the sooner will politicians realise the power that is behind the movement. If Suffragists would consider for a moment that in paying income-tax they are in a measure acquiescing in their present unfranchised condition there would be a greater number of refusals to pay. Mr. Winston Churchill himself impressed on the passive resisters, in a speech at Dundee, the great value of this form of protest and what this astute man regarded as likely to be successful in the hands of passive resisters is surely good enough for suffragists.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, suffragists were much more tentative about incorporating tax resistance into their strategy (from the issue of The [New London, Connecticut] Day):

Women to Fight New Income Tax

Suffragists Plan to Oppose Taxation Without Representation of Their Sex

Resistance on the part of women of the country to the federal income tax law, despite the government’s announced intention to impose fines of $1,000 for each failure to report incomes will receive the encouragement of the Suffragists’s Congressional union, it is announced in a statement issued by the organization headquarters here. Resistance to the law, it is declared, would be thoroughly justified from a moral standpoint.

The statement coming as it does upon the heels of the suggestion of the Rev. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, president of the National Woman’s Suffrage association, that the “unfranchised” women of the country decline to aid the government in collecting taxes upon their incomes, caused a mild sensation today in congressional, treasury and suffragist circles.

The statement issued by the Congressional union declares that it does not plan to organize a widespread resistance to the income tax law, but adds: “If any society or individual, however, should refuse to pay income tax or to give information as to amount of income, the Congressional Union would have every sympathy with such action.”

Imposition of an income tax on women, the statement says, has made them realize afresh their helplessness under the government. To tax the women without granting them representation, the statement asserts, would be an act of “intolerable injustice.” “Resistance to the income tax law,” the statement further says, “would have excellent educational value, and would be thoroughly justified morally.”

It is stated in conclusion, however, that the union will not undertake to organize a protest against the law.

Mrs. Ellen Spencer Mussey, honorary dean of the Washington College of law, in a statement today takes issue with suffragists who would accept Dr. Shaw’s advice of “passive resistance.”

“Women should remember that they receive the protection of the government,” said Mrs. Mussey, “and it is only right that they should contribute to the support of a system of law and order in which they share the benefit. In addition to this reason, the income tax was enacted by the aid of legislators from equal suffrage states, and therefore suffragists should not hinder its operation.”

To Offer Passive Resistance Only

Militancy is not involved in the appeal by Anna Howard Shaw, president of the National Woman’s Suffrage association, to suffragists to refuse to pay income taxes until they are given the right to vote. Dr. Shaw asserted that she advocated only a passive resistance to the government’s agents. Dr. Shaw declared that she would refuse to make returns to her tax assessor, and if fined by a court would refuse to pay the fine. If sent to jail she will not start a hunger strike, she said, adding: “I should not thus destroy my health. I’m of more worth to the suffrage cause while I’m in good health than I would be if I was starved.”