Women's Tax Resistance League

Suffragists pointed to the unfairness of a system in which women were liable to pay tax but were not enfranchised, thus having no say in how their taxes were spent. As Amelia Scott put it: ‘Equality is only recognised by this State when the tax-collector comes around!’
Formed in 1909, the Women’s Tax Resistance League (WTRL) positioned itself within a long liberal tradition that linked taxation with representation, pointing out that women paid over twenty million pounds a year towards the revenue of the country yet enjoyed no form of representation. It accused the Liberal Government of abandoning its traditional rallying cry ‘Taxation without representation is tyranny!’ Members were drawn from all branches of the suffrage movement; they believed that refusing to pay taxes was more constitutional than to submit to an ‘unconstitutional tyranny’. Over the five years of the WTRL’s existence, 220 women took part in tax refusal.

WTRL Banner source: Museum of London

From 1909, a series of distraint sales took place across the country, after the goods of resisters had been seized by bailiffs. These events took place in village halls, country inns and public auction rooms and in the open air on viallage greens. The Tax Resisters whose goods had been seized were encouraged to attract as much publicity for the cause as possible by advertising their sales and inviting the press to attend. In this way, it was hoped to get their message to many people who would not have attended a women’s suffrage meeting.

In May 1913 Maud Roll and Honor Morten of Rotherfield refused to submit to what they considered “unconstitutional taxation”'. The Kent & Sussex Courier reported the seizure of their goods - a silver salver and a ring. These articles were sold at the crossroads, Mark Cross. Following the sale a crowd gathered to listen to a speech made by Mrs Cobden Sanderson of the WTRL. She said that the Government ‘called itself Liberal and yet refused the right of citizenship to half the citizens of this “free born"' country. Ladies such as Miss Morten and Miss Roll, the crowd was told, ‘would continue to suffer the discomfort of having their goods distrained until they got the vote’.

WTRL badge

source: Museum of London

The following year Maud Roll’s ’s refusal once more to ‘submit to Imperial taxation’ led to the seizure of another silver dish which was this time offered at a sale held at The Pantiles Assembly Rooms in June 1914, attracting a price of £5 5s.
Following the sale, a large meeting was held on the common at which Roll addressed the crowd, saying that she wanted to know what she would receive in return for paying taxes – she wanted a voice in spending the money she paid.
The meeting ended with the adoption of the motion ‘We protest against the seizure and sale of Miss Roll’s goods and consider the women tax-payers of this country are justified in refusing to pay all Imperial taxes until they have the same control over Imperial expenditure as the male tax-payers possess’ with only one vote against.

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