Suffragette Profile

// 24 November 2005

The Independent today runs an overview of the life of prominent suffragette Kate Harvey, after a medal given to her for the time she spent in Holloway Prison for refusing to pay tax sold at action for £840.

When her husband died early, Harvey took the route of good works, opening a home for disabled children. But as a "professional woman in what was very much the man’s world of late Victorian Britain", Harvey was a pioneering physiotherapist and romantic novelist as well as a key activist in the Women’s Freedom League. This was a more radical wing of the suffrage movement which carried on campaigning for votes for women after the beginning of World War I, when most women called off their activities and buckled down to the war effort.

But Harvey was jailed for refusing to pay a tax on domestic servants, not during protests for women\x92s rights: "Some 10,000 women declined to pay the new tax. They were not all suffragettes; several were simply women who ignored or disliked the business of buying a weekly stamp for servants. A few, who were self-employed, refused to buy their own stamps, and some were bankrupted by the Inland Revenue for their protest. Around 100 women were sent to prison for refusing to pay.

"The most notorious of these was Mrs Harvey. After many months of refusing to buy a stamp for her servant, in 1912 the authorities issued a warrant for the seizure of goods in lieu of payment. She responded by barricading herself into her house. An eight month stand-off passed before bailiffs finally broke in using a crowbar. But a year later she still refused to pay, declaring “I would rather die first”. She set about building better barricades. This time the bailiffs needed battering rams to get in."

Paul Vallely also gives us an incite into her personal life, through her relationship with Charlotte Despard. From Despard\x92s diary entries during Harvey\x92s imprisonment: "The miss of my darling always greater … I think of her first at noon and latest at night … sad and first thoughts always of her, my darling … feelings of deep depression. The days are dragging, very hard to realise she has not been in for a fortnight.”

Have Your say

Comments are closed on this post

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds