Today in Feminist History: “No Vote, No Tax!” (May 20, 1903)

Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.

May 20, 1903: “No Vote, No Tax!”

Ably aided by Reverend Olympia Brown, who has lived in Wisconsin since 1878, and been president of the Wisconsin Woman Suffrage Association since 1884, Colby’s main objective is to establish a bipartisan women’s organization that will endorse candidates of either major party who declare themselves in favor of woman suffrage.

After this new group is activated, the next step will be to make a list of Wisconsin women who pay taxes, as a way of showing how widespread “taxation without representation” is today, and use this as a means of lobbying the State Legislature to grant suffrage to women.

Until such legislation is passed, the State’s non-voting women will be asked to pledge both individually and as a group to become non-taxpayers. When 10,000 women have made such a pledge, legal action will be instituted in the courts on their behalf demanding the voting rights that should go along with taxpaying responsibilities.

Clara Bewick Colby has been an advocate of equality for women ever since she became a student at the University of Wisconsin in 1865, and had to fight for the right to take Classical courses that were for men only. She succeeded, and was Valedictorian of the first class of women to receive bachelor’s degrees there in 1869. After being hired to teach Latin and History, she left because they refused to pay her the same salary as a similarly qualified man.

After moving to Beatrice, Nebraska in 1872 with her husband, she organized the free public library there, and brought in women’s rights speakers such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to lecture.

She helped organize the Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association in 1881, and served multiple terms as its president between 1885 and 1898.

She is best known for publishing The Woman’s Tribune, launched in 1883. From March 27 to April 3, 1888—during the International Council of Women—she published daily, the first time a newspaper run by a woman had done so. By 1898, she and the Tribune had become so prestigious that during the Spanish-American War she received the first War Correspondent’s Pass ever issued to a woman. She now lives in Washington, D.C., and publishes her paper there.

Let’s hope this new project is as successful as all her previous efforts, and that “taxation without representation” will seem just as outrageous to Americans today as it did in Revolutionary times!


David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.