David Gross's Reviews > Beatrice the Cadbury Heiress Who Gave Away Her Fortune

Beatrice the Cadbury Heiress Who Gave Away Her Fortune by Fiona Joseph
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bookshelves: non-fiction, direct-action

I research tax resistance, particularly conscientious tax resistance, and so I learned about Beatrice and Kees Boeke through the war tax resistance they practiced as part of their pacifist activism. This book taught me more about their lives and work.

Fiona Joseph’s story of the Boekes is a fascinating look at a quest for purity and righteousness – both in its pitfalls and its promises – and would be a good and humbling meditation for anyone who has ever considered “going all in” and uncompromisingly living by the standard of their most idealistic hopes.

The Boekes came from a Quaker tradition that promoted service, international missionary work, charity, and pacifism. In addition, Beatrice had financial independence because of her inheritance of part of the Cadbury chocolates company. The couple gave away a lot of money to international charity, and also helped to nurture the international peace movement – both War Resisters International and the International Fellowship of Reconciliation had their founding meetings at the Boeke home in Holland (where the couple settled after Kees was expelled from England during World War Ⅰ for preaching pacifism and for his suspicious contacts with pacifists on the other side of enemy lines).

Another major figure in the international peace movement at the time, and a major influence on the Boekes, was Swiss pacifist Pierre Cérésole. He was present at the 1919 meetings of international war resisters at the Boeke home, and soon afterwards the Boekes began to contemplate war tax resistance, which Cérésole had already been practicing for several years.

Cérésole, like Beatrice Cadbury, had inherited shares of stock. He, however, refused to accept them, not being willing to live on unearned wealth while trying to maintain solidarity with the working class. “To live on one’s invested income is as debasing as to own slaves,” he wrote, “in fact it is the same thing.” He believed that the best thing rich Christians could buy with their money was freedom from possessing it: relinquish it, give it away, and remove the barriers it puts up between them and other people.

This made for a challenge to the Boekes, who were sensitive to charges of hypocrisy while being very public in their idealistic (and increasingly revolutionary Marxist) proclamations. In 1920 the couple were imprisoned for refusing to pay their fines after being arrested for unlicensed street preaching — Beatrice while in the last month of pregnancy.

Later that year Beatrice decided that she would give away her Cadbury shares to the workers at Cadbury. It was harder than she expected. Her family were opposed to the move and there were legal obstacles. It was not until 1922 that she was able to construct a Boeke Trust that satisfied her wishes to relinquish control of the shares and also seemed to cover the legal bases.

By that time the Boekes had adopted a forthright anarchism. Kees published a pamphlet entitled “Break with the State” and, following its advice, the couple began resisting taxes. The Boekes felt that in order for their tax resistance to be consistent, they must also refuse to use state-run monopolies like the postal service and railways, relinquish their passports, stop contributing to retirement accounts, and renounce any claim to the protection of the police, courts, and military. The following year, Kees stopped handling money, and Beatrice joined him in this a year later.

They had also adopted an “open door” policy at their home – anyone was welcome at any time, no need to knock, and the doors were never locked. This led to frequent thefts – even of the family’s food (though sympathetic friends would sometime sneak in food in the same way) – and eventually to the occupation of the family home by vagrants. Being unwilling to either kick out their new guests themselves or to apply to the police to do it for them, the family – including seven children – abandoned their home and left to live in tents elsewhere.

The Cadbury family, concerned for the welfare of the Boekes and especially for their children, devoted a lot of time and energy to figuring out ways of providing for the Boekes without appearing to do so. While the Boekes would have angrily rejected any blatant Cadbury family charity, Joseph notes that “[a]lthough Beatrice had relieved herself of the burden of her inheritance, the Boeke family were now dependent on their friends to help and support them.”

In addition, at the Boeke Trust that Beatrice had established to relinquish any claim on the Cadbury fortune and to give control to the workers to pursue their agendas, the welfare of the Boeke children was in fact a top concern. “Every meeting” of the Trust, Joseph writes, “started with the same agenda item: ‘Care of the Boeke Family.’” The trust voted in 1926 to pay the Boekes’ 1923–5 back taxes without their knowledge.

The family had also become increasingly isolated. Their refusal to use the railways or the postal service, and their relinquishing of their passports, meant that they were no longer as able to participate in the international peace movement – and the occupation of their property by ne’er-d’ye-wells meant that they could no longer host gatherings themselves.

Meanwhile their children were living in squalor, and visits from their family resembled interventions from social workers – for instance, taking the children aside out of view to look them over for signs of malnutrition.

They eventually realized that they had gone too far and that in their attempts to patch up any hints of hypocrisy and inconsistency in their lifestyle, much common sense had slipped through the cracks. Joseph: “They had wanted to humble themselves before God, to prove that He would provide their daily bread. All they had actually done was to cause hardship for the children and put the responsibility for their welfare onto the shoulders of other people…”

Finally they gave in. They accepted some help from the Cadbury family in setting up a modest new home, and they began to compromise with some of their earlier-drawn lines in the sand. By 1935 they were using money again and had reapplied for passports.

Among the steps they had taken over the years was to withdraw their children from school when the government took over private schools and made them tax-funded. They homeschooled their children, and Kees in particular discovered a talent for teaching and an interest in the reform of education. What had begun as homeschooling blossomed into a small school that attracted parents enthused by Kees’s methods or theories and also orphaned Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied countries.

This enabled the Boekes’ to shelter some of these children during the Nazi occupation of Holland (for which the couple were later enshrined in the “Righteous Among the Nations” list of the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority).

The school they founded was so well-considered that after the war, Dutch Princess Juliana sent her children there (including now-Queen Beatrix).
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Reading Progress

May 16, 2012 – Shelved
May 16, 2012 – Shelved as: non-fiction
May 19, 2012 – Started Reading
May 19, 2012 – Shelved as: direct-action
May 19, 2012 – Finished Reading
May 20, 2012 –

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