Tax Resistance League

The Tax Resistance League (TRL) was formed in October 1909. Founder members of the organisation included Louisa Garrett Anderson, Margaret Nevinson, Cicely Hamilton, Edith How-Martyn, Sime Seruya, Anne Cobden Sanderson, Maud Arncliffe Sennett, Lena Ashwell, Minnie Turner , Margory Lees, Dora Montefiore, Beatrice Harraden, Evelyn Sharp and Eveline Haverfield. The TRL remained under the auspices of the Women's Freedom League.

The motto adopted by the Tax Resistance League was "No Vote No Tax". According to Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999): "When bailiffs seized goods belonging to women in lieu of tax, the TRL made the ensuing sale the occasion for a public or open-air meeting in order to spread the principles of women's suffrage and to rouse public opinion to the injustice of non-representation meted out on tax-paying women."

Dora Montefiore, who lived in Hammersmith, was one of the first members of the Tax Resistance League to have her goods seized: "As is well known, bailiffs are only allowed to enter through the ordinary doors. They may not climb in at a window and at certain hours they may not even attempt an entrance. These hours are from sunset to sunrise, and from sunset on Saturday evening till sunrise on Monday morning. During these hours the besieged resister to income tax can rest in peace. From the day of this simple act of closing my door against the bailiff, an extraordinary change came over the publicity department of daily and weekly journalism towards this demonstration of passive resistance on my part."

Evelyn Sharp was one of the last to suffer at the hands of the authorities: "So I came home one day, early in 1917, to find a bailiff sitting in my flat. The bailiff was a real gentleman. He obviously hated his job, and since he must have retired long ago I shall do him no harm here by saying that he let me discover this by asking me not to let them know in Carey Street that he was at all friendly with me. It was not easy for either of us to remain enemies, boxed up as we were in the same room all day - I had let my largest room to a war worker - and very soon he was telling me about his son in the Army and I was converting him to votes for women."

Primary Sources

(1) Dora Montefiore, From a Victorian to a Modern (1927)

I had already, during the Boer War, refused willingly to pay income tax, because payment of such tax went towards financing a war in the making of which I had had no voice. In 1904 and 1905 a bailiff had been put in my house, a levy of my goods had been made, and they had been sold at public auction in Hammersmith. The result as far as publicity was concerned was half a dozen lines in the corner of some daily newspapers, stating the fact that Mrs. Montefiore’s goods had been distrained and sold for payment of income tax; and there the matter ended. When talking this over in 1906 with Theresa Billington and Annie Kenney, I told them that now we had the organisation of the W.S.P.U. to back me up I would, if it were thought advisable, not only refuse to pay income tax, but would shut and bar my doors and keep out the bailiff, so as to give the demonstration more publicity and thus help to educate public opinion about the fight for the political emancipation of women which was going on. They agreed that if I would do my share of passive resistance they would hold daily demonstrations outside the house as long as the bailiff was excluded and do all in their power outside to make the sacrifice I was making of value to the cause. In May of 1906, therefore, when the authorities sent for the third time to distrain on my goods in order to take what was required for income tax, I, aided by my maid, who was a keen suffragist, closed and barred my doors and gates on the bailiff who had appeared outside the gate of my house in Upper Mall, Hammersmith, and what was known as the “siege” of my house began. As is well known, bailiffs are only allowed to enter through the ordinary doors. They may not climb in at a window and at certain hours they may not even attempt an entrance. These hours are from sunset to sunrise, and from sunset on Saturday evening till sunrise on Monday morning. During these hours the besieged resister to income tax can rest in peace. From the day of this simple act of closing my door against the bailiff, an extraordinary change came over the publicity department of daily and weekly journalism towards this demonstration of passive resistance on my part. The tradespeople of the neighbourhood were absolutely loyal to us besieged women, delivering their milk and bread, etc., over the rather high garden wall which divided the small front gardens of Upper Mall from the terraced roadway fronting the river. The weekly wash arrived in the same way and the postman day by day delivered very encouraging budgets of correspondence, so that practically we suffered very little inconvenience, and as we had a small garden at the back we were able to obtain fresh air. On the morning following the inauguration of the siege, Annie Kenney and Theresa Billington, with other members of the W.S.P.U., came round to see how we were getting on and to encourage our resistance. They were still chatting from the pavement outside, while I stood on the steps of No. 32 Upper Mall, when there crept round from all sides men with notebooks and men with cameras, and the publicity stunt began. These men had been watching furtively the coming and going of postmen and tradesmen. Now they posted themselves in front, questioning the suffragists outside and asking for news of us inside. They had come to make a “story” and they did not intend to leave until they had got their “story.” One of them returned soon with a loaf of bread and asked Annie Kenney to hand it up over the wall to my housekeeper, whilst the army of men with cameras “snapped” the incident. Some of them wanted to climb over the wall so as to be able to boast in their descriptions that they had been inside what they pleased to call “The Fort”; but the policeman outside (there was a police man on duty outside during all the six weeks of a siege) warned them that they must not do this so we were relieved in this respect, from the too close attention of eager pressmen. But all through the morning notebooks and cameras came and went, and at one time my housekeeper and I counted no less than twenty-two pressmen outside the house. A woman sympathiser in the neighbourhood brought during the course of the morning, a pot of home-made marmalade, as the story had got abroad that we had no provisions and had difficulty in obtaining food. This was never the case as I am a good housekeeper and have always kept a store cupboard, but we accepted with thanks the pot of marmalade because the intentions of the giver were so excellent; but this incident was also watched and reported by the Press. Annie Kenney and Theresa Billington had really come round to make arrangements for a demonstration on the part of militant women that afternoon and evening in front of the house, so at an opportune moment, when the Press were lunching, the front gate was unbarred and they slipped in. The feeling in the neighbourhood towards my act of passive resistance was so excellent and the publicity being give by the Press in the evening papers was so valuable that we decided to make the Hammersmith “Fort” for the time being the centre of the W.S.P.U. activities, and daily demonstrations were arranged for and eventually carried out. The road in front of the house was not a thoroughfare, as a few doors further down past the late Mr. William Morris’s home of “Kelmscott,” at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Cobden-Sanderson, there occurred one of those quaint alley-ways guarded by iron posts, which one finds constantly on the borders of the Thames and in old seaside villages. The roadway was, therefore, ideal for the holding of a meeting, as no blocking of traffic could take place, and day in, day out the principles for which suffragists were standing we expounded to many who before had never even heard of the words Woman Suffrage. At the evening demonstrations rows of lamps were hung along the top of the wall and against the house, the members of the W.S.P.U. speaking from the steps of the house, while I spoke from one of the upstairs windows. On the little terrace of the front garden hung during the whole time of the siege a red banner with the letters painted in white: “Women should vote for the laws they obey and the taxes they pay.”

(2) Evelyn Sharp, Unfinished Adventure (1933)

So I came home one day, early in 1917, to find a bailiff sitting in my flat. The bailiff was a real gentleman. He obviously hated his job, and since he must have retired long ago I shall do him no harm here by saying that he let me discover this by asking me not to let " them" know in Carey Street that he was at all friendly with me. It was not easy for either of us to remain enemies, boxed up as we were in the same room all day - I had let my largest room to a war worker - and very soon he was telling me about his son in the Army and I was converting him to votes for women. Under the circumstances it was difficult for him to stay the whole twenty-four hours in my apartment, although, when I pointed this out to one of the officials who came round, he replied stiffly, "Everything is proper under the Act," which gave me an idea for a French farce that I have never carried out. But the bailiff had finer feelings, and he made it as pleasant as he could for me by getting his meals elsewhere and going home at night and for weekends. To enable him to do this I promised him that I would remove nothing from the flat, and he was good enough to say that my simple word was enough for him. When at last the day came, quite six weeks later, on which they were to remove my furniture, he arrived in a state of deep distress at his usual hour after breakfast. I asked him if there was anything to be done about it, and he averted his face, as if ashamed to speak.