Death and taxes


Death and taxes


Was suffrage a legitimate charitable cause? "501c3" refers to a section of the tax code. Tax exempt status for voluntary, religious & educational orgs took its current form between 1894-1913. But before that, trusts & estates law was where the question was argued. Thread.

In 1861, a Boston abolitionist named Francis Jackson bequeathed $5,000 to Susan B Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Wendell Phillips, “in secure the passage of laws granting women, whether married or unmarried, the right to vote, to hold hold, manage and devise property, and all other civil rights enjoyed by men. My desire is that they may become a permanent organization, until the rights of women shall be established equal with those of men.”

A Massachusetts court invalidated the gift.

The court noted that it had no comment on whether the stated goals were wise or desirable. But accomplishing them would require changing the law - the Constitution, even! It held that overthrowing or changing laws is not a charitable use.

The movement got the money anyway. Francis Jackson anticipated this would happen, and had given the $5,000 to Wendell Phillips while alive. Plenty of abolitionists didn’t care much about women’s rights. So why did Jackson?

Sally Roesch Wagner @Swagner711 explains that watching his daughter suffer awakened him to the injustice women faced. His daughter Eliza lost custody of her young children when her husband absconded with them. In 1850s Boston, she was powerless.

When Eliza herself died more than 20 years later, she left $50,000 to the movement. Just as her father had, she divided the funds between Lucy Stone and Susan B Anthony - now the leaders of two separate suffrage associations.

Susan B Anthony, an unmarried woman, could inherit outright. For a married woman the will had to be more specific: “to Lucy Stone, wife of Henry B. Blackwell, as her own absolute separate property, free from any control by him.”

Disappointed relatives challenged the will, arguing that Eliza was trying to do just what her father’s will couldn’t: create an unlawful charity. But Wendell Phillips - to whom Francis Jackson entrusted the original $5,000 gift - had written the will himself.

The highest court in Massachusetts - 7 men, including Oliver Wendell Holmes - held in 1885 that Eliza's will was airtight. Lucy Stone and Susan B each got almost $25,000. Even after legal fees, it was the largest gift a woman had yet given to the cause. #Suffrage100


Daily Suffragist






Daily Suffragist, “Death and taxes,” Daily Suffragist, accessed September 21, 2021,

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