Sunday 10 April 2011

Census Day Tales from 1911: Suffragette Tactics

Excerpt from Freeman's Journal, April 3 1911.



"No Vote, No Census"

Were it not for the fact that the Suffragettes, by which title the Militant Suffragists have come to be known, have announced their intention of refusing to comply with the Census regulations, or of evading compliance with them, the happenings of Census Night and the succeeding days would be of the most prosaic character. Heads of households and officials of public institutions would simply fill in the forms which enumerators had supplied them with; the enumerators would call for them in due course, would make such inquiries as they might be advised, and fill in the special form supplied to themselves for that purpose, and the papers would be forwarded to Charlemont House to be dealt with there, in preparation for the reports of which they will form the basis. 

But the campaign planned by the Suffragettes has imported an element of mild excitement into the undertaking, and there is a considerable amount of curiosity, as to the devices which they will adopt, and as to the measure of success or failure which awaits the evasion movement. So far as the Dublin Suffragettes are concerned, it is an open secret that they have been mapping out their plan of campaign for a considerable time past; but, in refutation of the popular belief that a lady cannot keep a secret, they seem to have guarded their plans very successfully. It is understood that the police have had some of the leaders under observation. 

On Saturday*, while a meeting of the Committee of the Irish Women's Franchise League was in progress in the Antient Concert Buildings, a policeman knocked at the door, and, on it being opened, he asked if they intended holding a meeting on Sunday night. He was told that the ladies did not intend to hold a meeting there, but that they had requisitioned a number of aeroplanes and submarines.

It is understood that the plan of open refusal, as well as that of evasion, will be adopted in Dublin and in other parts of the country. A certain number of ladies who are householders, instead of filling in the Census Papers will write on them "No vote, no Census", and return them to the enumerators with this concise statement of their attitude. It may be taken for granted prosecutions will follow this frank defiance.

But, in addition to the limited number who will adopt this attitude, there is a very much larger number who will seek to evade being included in the returns, and at the same time avoid incurring any penalty of fine or imprisonment, and it may be taken that an interesting contest in wits will be waged between these and the enumerators. Obviously the first step in the evasion movement was to take care not to have spent last night in any house in respect of which the head of the household intended making a return, and another obvious step was that the absentees should pass the night in the house of a lady householder who had determined to make open resistence in the manner already indicated.

We understand that this plan was adopted in Dublin, and it proved a more comfortable method of attempting evasion than night motor drives or picnicing in the Dublin Mountains. No doubt the hospitality of the houses of refuge will be continued during today.

But even if this device should succeed for the time being in baffling the enumerators, the latter have other resources to fall back upon - they can ask questions.  And in this respect, the enumerators of Ireland seem to have a distinct advantage, as compared with the officials in England who may be engaged in the task of attempting to defeat efforts at successful evasion, because it appears that, while in England it is only the occupier of the house who can be penalised for refusing to give the information which the enumerator is entitled to ask, the liability in Ireland is extended to individuals other than the occupier. Section 7 of the Census (Ireland) Act, 1910, says: -

If any person refuses to answer or wilfully gives a false answer to any question necessary for obtaining the information required to be obtained under this Act, he shall for each offence be liable on conviction under the Summary Jurisdiction (Ireland) Acts to a fine not exceeding five pounds, provided that no person shall be subject to any such penalty for refusing to state his religious profession.

The enumerator whose duty it will be to addresss questions ot the ladies who have taken up arms in the evasion movement is not exactly to be envied.

*April 2nd, the eve of Census Day 1911