Women's Tax Resistance League
The Women’s Tax Resistance League (WTRL) was from 1909 to 1918 a direct action group associated with the Women's Freedom League that used tax resistance to protest against the disenfranchisement of women during the British women’s suffrage movement.
Dora Montefiore proposed the formation of the league in 1897, and it was formally established on 22 October 1909. The league’s activities peaked in the years before World War I but were largely deflated in 1914 by the onset of that war, when the league membership passed a resolution to temporarily suspend their tax resistance.
Members saw themselves in a tradition of British tax resistance that included John Hampden. According to one source: “Tax resistance proved to be the longest-lived form of militancy, and the most difficult to prosecute. More than 220 women, mostly middle-class, participated in tax resistance between 1906 and 1918, some continuing to resist through the First World War, despite a general suspension of militancy.”
League member and author Beatrice Harraden said in 1913:
The least any woman can do is to refuse to pay taxes, especially the tax on actually earned income. This is certainly the most logical phase of the fight for suffrage. It is a culmination of the Government’s injustice and stupidity to ask that we pay an income tax on income earned by brains, when they are refusing to consider us eligible to vote.
The league was formed three years ago with the slogan: “No vote, no tax.” It is non-partisan—an association of constitutional and militant suffragists, recruited from various suffrage societies for the purpose of resisting taxes.
In several cases, the government seized and sold at auction items owned by the resisters. The League used these occasions as opportunities for demonstrations and publicity, for instance the “Siege of Montefiore” in 1906:
The house, surrounded by a wall, could be reached only through an arched doorway, which Montefiore and her maid barred against the bailiffs. For six weeks, Montefiore resisted payment of her taxes, addressing the frequent crowds through the upper windows of the house.
Elizabeth Wilks who was the treasurer of the league refused to pay her tax in 1908. Actually married women were not required to pay tax in Britain at that time. According to the law the joint income of a couple was added together and the husband paid the tax. However Elizabeth who earned more than her husband refused to tell her husband how much she earned. This put the authorities into a quandary as Elizabeth was not liable to pay tax and her husband said he was willing to pay the tax but he said that he had no idea how much to pay. In 1910 the authorities illegally seized some of Elizabeth's goods in an attempt to levy the tax on her income. The authorities then tried to claim the tax either from the Wilks or by her husband alone. This was legally unsatisfactory as Mark was being asked for tax on an income of about £600 per annum that he was nominally unaware of. 3,000 teachers signed a petition when Mark Wilks was placed in Brixton jail and there was a demonstration in Trafalgar Square to protest at his treatment. He was released after a fortnight to a celebrations from the supporters of the Women's Tax Resistance League which included George Bernard Shaw. Despite a debate in the House of Lords where it was realised that the law was unfair, British law did not get amended until 1972.
Among the members were Lilian Hicks, Beatrice Harraden, Dora Montefiore, Flora Annie Steel, Edith Zangwill, Cicely Hamilton, Anne Cobden-Sanderson, Mary Russell, Duchess of Bedford, Elizabeth Wilkes, Winifred Patch, Kate Harvey, Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, Charlotte Despard, Clemence Housman, Kate Haslam, Amy Hicks, Mrs. Darent Harrison, Mrs. How Martyn, Mary Sargant Florence, Louisa Matilda Fagan, Margaret Kineton Parkes, Mrs. Bormann Wells, Garrett Anderson, and Stanton Coit (a member of “the men’s branch”).
Women's Tax Resistance in the United States
The women’s suffrage movement in the United States came to adopt some of the same techniques. Anna Howard Shaw said “I hold it is unfair to the women of this country to have taxation without representation, and I have urged [members of the National Woman Suffrage Association] to adopt a course of passive resistance like the Quakers instead of aggressive resistance. I say to the Government, ‘you may pick my pocket because you are stronger than I, but I’m not going to turn my pockets wrongside out for you.’ … I believe that the spirit of ‘no taxation without representation’ that resulted in the Revolutionary War is inherent and just as actual in the women of the country as it was then in the men of the country.”
- Gross, David M. (2014). 99 Tactics of Successful Tax Resistance Campaigns. Picket Line Press. p. 67. ISBN 978-1490572741.
- Nym Mayhall, Laura E. The Militant Suffrage Movement: Citizenship and Resistance in Britain, 1860-1930
- “Miss Harraden Hit In Eye: She Accuses London Police of Standing By While Roughs Assailed Her” The New York Times 3 May 1913
- Elizabeth Crawford (2 September 2003). The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928. Routledge. pp. 1966–. ISBN 1-135-43401-8.
- "INCOME TAX ON MARRIED WOMEN'S PROPERTY. (Hansard, 14 October 1912)". hansard.millbanksystems.com. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
- Hilary Frances, ‘Wilks , Elizabeth (1861–1956)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 25 Nov 2017
- “Women’s Tax Fight Will Be Passive” New York Times 30 December 1913
- The Tax Resistance League Part 1: Siege at St Leonards 1912
- The Tax Resistance League Part 2: Women’s procession attacked by men, 1912
- “Women’s suffrage movement: The story of Kate Harvey” The Independent 24 November 2005
- “Lives and Times” The Scotsman 4 February 2006 (Sophia Alexandra Duleep Singh)