In the 1890’s a proposed ‘tax on bachelors’ caused the very first MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way) and Men’s Rights group to form.1 At that time a group of bachelors banded together in response to the tax and to fight for their freedom from gynocentric slavery. They can also be considered the first Men’s Rights group to fight against patently misandric laws.
In 1896 a Mrs. Charlotte Smith, feminist activist and President of the Women’s Rescue League, spearheaded an anti-bachelor campaign based on her concerns about the increasing numbers of women who could not find husbands — a surprising development considering men outnumbered women in the United States then by 1.5 million.2 Her solution to the “problem” was to denigrate, malign, and ultimately punish bachelors in order to pressure them into marrying any women unlucky enough to remain unwed.
Mr’s Smith’s malignment of bachelors began with attacks on public servants and officials, saying that bachelors have always been failures, and that bachelor politicians, especially, were “narrow minded, selfish, egotistical, and cowardly.” She further claimed that, “It’s about time to organize antibachelor clubs in this state. It should be the purpose of every young woman to look up the record of each and every man who is looking for votes and, should his moral character be such would make him unfit for office, then his shortcoming should be the point of attack by the antibachelor women of Massachusetts. There are 47,000 girls between the ages of 20 and 29 years in this state who cannot find husbands… [and] the bachelor politicians, they do not dare discuss the social evil question.”3 She states:
Part of her remedy was to have bachelors excluded from employment in prominent public sector positions. Her second punishment proposed a universal bachelor tax of $10 per year be applied,5 amounting to between 1-4 weeks of the average wage, with the proceeds to provide living standards for ‘unmarried maidens’ orphans and the poor. In 1911, Mrs. Smith was still spruiking the tax on bachelors, claiming statistics showed that 60% of eligible men in Massachusetts never married, especially men of “small means” because “in order to be popular at the club now it is necessary for a man to have one or two automobiles a yacht, and two or three mistresses, but no marriage.”6
Many proponents of the tax believed that it would encourage marriage and thereby reduce the state’s burden to care for those who did not financially support themselves. Perhaps most importantly Mrs. Smith felt that the tax would lower the number of men “who go around making love to young girls.”6
The bachelor band of 1898
The bachelor tax proposed by Smith was by no means the first. For example, in 1827 a “highly numerous and respectable” group of men met in a New York City hotel to organize a protest against a bill before the New York legislature that replaced a current tax on dogs with one on bachelors. The bill, they claimed, was “onerous and in direct violation of the great charter of their liberties.”7
In 1854, in Connecticut a legislator argued in the House of Representatives against a proposed bill to tax bachelors: such a bill was unnecessary, he claimed, because “There was a tax laid already upon a goose, and any man who had lived 25 years without being married could be taxed under that section.”8 These two bills were not unique, as bachelor taxes have existed around the globe and throughout the millennia, dating back at least to ancient Greece and Rome.9
The culmination of attacks on both the finances and character of bachelors resulted (in 1898) in the formation of a small resistance group in Atlanta Georgia, known variously as the Bachelor Band, The Bachelor League, or famously the ‘Anti-Bardell Bachelor Band.’
The latter takes its name from the case of Bardell vs Pickwick in Charles Dickins 1836 classic novel The Pickwick Papers in which the character Mr. Pickwick is forced to defend himself against a corrupt lawsuit brought by his landlady, Mrs. Bardell, who is suing him for breach of promise, and which ultimately results in his incarceration at Fleet Prison for his stubborn refusal to pay the compensation to her. Thus ‘Anti-Bardell’ in the title refers to men’s struggle against corruption, greed and bigotry, with the bachelor band publicly claiming that “One of its main objects is the suppression of Mrs. Bardell’s large army of female followers today.”10
The Bachelor Band undertook political activism on behalf of men’s rights, including articles in numerous mainstream newspapers, letters to politicians, and public petitions to raise both awareness and support for men against misandric laws and practices. In response to Mrs. Smith’s campaign for what she termed “compulsory marriage,” the Bachelor Band held an emergency meeting chaired by Al Mather, a prominent real-estate dealer.
At the meeting a member cried out, “We are pledged to celibacy, and we must remain true to our resolve!” Another member, Henry Miller stated “It is an outrage to attempt a tax on bachelors. The next thing, I suppose, will be to put tags on us or make us get out licenses as is now requires for dogs.”11 The meeting then moved into a secret session where the proposed bachelor tax was discussed, with attendees concluding that is was not the tax per-se that was the problem, but the spirit of the thing. The members, one and all, declared the tax was an attempt to place bachelors under a ban, and by doing so force them into matrimony. With all members of the same opinion a resolution was passed as follows:
“We hereby ask and request that the Senator and the Assemblymen from this district, namely Mr. Daly, Allen, and marshal exert themselves to the best of their ability and means to defeat the bill now before the Legislature to tax bachelors; and it is further resolved that the Secretary be authorized to forward a copy of the above resolution to each of the gentlemen mentioned, and further to notify the proposer of the bill, Assemblyman Weller, and the governor of our action.”11
Another group, the Hoboken Bachelor Club, discussed the merits of drafting a petition protesting against the bill and circulating it for signatures. As can be seen from the political action taken, the assault on men was not going to be taken lying down, with the bachelors forming a resistance movement headed by Lawyer John A. Hynds who not only resisted pressure to marry but challenged the bachelor tax and the cultural misandry that accompanied it. According to one media account the bachelor group was still active four years after the date of the above controversy, making it a successful long-term organisation.12
One of the more humorous, but effective examples of the group’s media activism was this piece in the New York World:
BACHELOR’S LEAGUE AGAINST THE FAIR
Twelve bachelors have formed a league against marriage under the name of the “Anti-Bardell Bachelor Band,” a name which recalls the woes of Mr. Pickwick, of immortal fame. The motto of the club is Solomon’s proverb: “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than with a brawling woman in a wide house.” The objects of the club are to oppose matrimony, to fight for the liberty of man, to encourage the manufacture of all such devices as bachelor buttons and to check the movement inaugurated by Mrs. Charlotte Smith “and other disgruntled females” to require bachelors to wed.
Any member who marries will be fined $1000. The club will attend the “funeral” in a body dressed in black, wearing long, mournful faces, with an abundant supply of crepe. In addition to this they will emit groans during the whole ceremony. When the fine is paid the member shall be declared legally dead.
Another offense is “getting the mitten.” If a member is “mittened” by a widow or old maid the fine is doubled. Among other offenses are calling a woman “sweetheart,” “dearest,” “sugar lump,” “dovie,” “tootsie-wootsie,” “honey,” “lamb” or any such kindred nonsensical, absurd and disgraceful terms, and “walking with the female in the moonlight, speaking of the stars or the weather, quoting poetry –original or otherwise- riding through a tunnel in a car when any female occupies a contiguous seat, getting down on his knees before or at the side of a woman, carrying a girl’s picture in his watch, hat or pocketbook, staying later than 12 o’clock at night, sending cologne, cinnamon drops or other kinds of perfumed liquids or shopping in a dry-goods store with any one of the fair sex.”
The chief officers of the club are: John A. Hynds, chief marble heart; E. C. Brown, junior marble heart; Mark J. McCord, freezer; J. D. Allen, iceberg.
Mr. E. C. Brown, the junior marble heart, was tried recently on the charge of deserting the Atlanta charmers and visiting a Marietta widow and sending the widow flowers and candles. He was forbidden to visit Marietta for two months and fined twenty-four theatre tickets.13
Penalties against bachelors as enticements to marry are seen as far back as classical Roman times and, as with Eliza and Mariana who in 1707 AD proposed harsh penalties for unwed men, women are the most passionate advocates of bachelor punishments.
The Anti-Bardell Bachelor Band represents possibly the earliest MGTOW and MHRA group we know of, with men fighting for the basic right to determine their own lives and liberty, including the right to not marry. The stacked deck against men is not new, nor is an organized reaction to it. The only thing these poor chaps needed was the internet, and a mind for rebellion. With this in mind let’s make sure we milk the internet for all we can squeeze out of it… it’s our best chance yet.
 Specifically, the earliest MGTOW and Men’s Rights groups currently known by this author. If an earlier MGTOW or MR group is brought to my attention this page will be updated accordingly.
 The Crusade Against Bachelors, The Norfolk Virginian. (Norfolk, Va.), 02 Sept. 1897.
 Antibachelor Clubs: Mr’s Charlotte Smith Starts New Political Crusade, Rock Island Argus. (Rock Island, Ill.), 28 Aug. 1897
 No offices for Bachelors, Kansas City StarThursday, August 19, 1897, Kansas City, Kansas
 Massachusetts Bachelors Taxed $10 a Year, The Salt Lake herald. (Salt Lake City [Utah), 01 March 1898
 Tax on Bachelors, Boston Globe, Feb.15, 1911, 1. (Smith was also campaigning against women riding bicycles, which she considered immoral).
 Editorial, Connecticut Courant, February 5, 1827
 Connecticut Legislature, Senate, House of Representatives, Hartford Courant, June 26, 1854
 Taxing Bachelors in America: 1895-1939, by Marjorie E. Kornhauser
 Evening star, February 15, 1898, Page 13, Image 13
 Bachelor Tax Feb 12 1898 New York World
 The Times 19 January 1902 › Page 4, “Allison Mather, former president of the Hoboken Bachelors’ Club, and who for many years was proud of the distinction or being a confirmed woman hater, is suing for divorce. When he married last year the members of the club went into mourning.”
 New York World, 1898 [Note: “mittened” or “getting the mitten” is an old-time New England expression, meaning to have your offer of marriage rejected by your “best girl,” and has an origin in the customs of the earlier days. Two hundred years ago, gloves were unknown in the country towns, and mittens were knitted and worn in all families. If a young man, going home from singing school with the girl of his choice, was holding her mittened hand to keep it from getting cold, and took that opportunity to urge his suit, if the offer proved acceptable, the hand would remain; if taken by surprise, an effort to withdraw the hand would leave the mitten. So the suitor would “get the mitten, but would not get the hand.”
4 thoughts on “1896: Mrs. Charlotte Smith proposes a “Bachelor Tax””
Glad you were able to make use of the stuff I sent |m/
So glad for gay rights in many states. I can get married to avoid a bachelor tax and still not have to deal with the complications of being attached to a woman.
i love their sense of humor! makes me happy they made a silly ad like that.
i suspect many of these “bachelors” in the late 1800’s were gay. i have a great uncle who i believe would have been born around the WWI era. he’s surely in his 80’s. he’s always been known to be a “bachelor” all his life, as if such a thing is a permanent state – it used to be a common term (why isn’t it any more?). in his time, and the fact that he grew up in a tiny town in Louisiana, there was no such thing as “gay” and he would have surely been hung from a tree if he’d expressed it. a few generations later we all know he’s gay, though he’s never said it, and he may have even have secretly had relationships through his life, but he will go to his grave in the closet. i’m going to guess that a reasonable amount of these guys too were gay. NOT that it would be the only reason to be a Bachelor but still…
this is an amazing site btw!