Kellems, Vivien, 1896-1975

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Vivien Kellems was born 7 June 1896 in Des Moines, Iowa. In 1927 Ms. Kellems founded Kellems Cable Grips, Inc. based on a patent for an improvement in the cable grip developed by her brother. She remained president of the company, based in Stonington, Conn., for over thirty years. In her private life, she campaigned for women's equality, equal suffrage along party lines and tax reform. She died in 1975, while in the process of appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court in protest of unequal tax rates for singles.

From the description of Vivien Kellems papers, n.d., 1883-1976. (University of Connecticut). WorldCat record id: 319638172

Vivien Kellems was born 7 June 1896 in Des Moines, Iowa, to David Clinton and Louisa Flint Kellems . Shortly after her birth, her parents, both Christian Ministers, moved their family to the west coast and settled in Eugene, Oregon . Being the only girl of a family with seven children, Vivien developed a rugged and competitive personality from a young age. Attending the University of Oregon, she participated as the only female on the debate team. Vivien Kellems obtained a bachelors degree in 1918 and a masters degree in economics shortly there after. Following graduation, she moved east to New York City in pursuit of a doctorate from Columbia University and the University of Edinburgh .

While in New York, an improvement on an existing cable grip was made by her older brother, Edgar E. Kellems, which he patented in the late 1920s. Using the patent as the focal point, Ms. Kellems founded Kellems Cable Grips, Inc. in 1927 and eventually moved her plant to Stonington, Connecticut . Successfully operating the company as president for over thirty years, the company's devices were used most notably during the construction of the Chrysler Building, George Washington Bridge, and also played an important role in production of wire and artillery shell grips used during World War II.

In her personal life, Vivien Kellems encountered various struggles for justice as she fought for women's equality, equal suffrage along party lines and tax reform. As a member of the Liberty Belles, Vivien led by example as the group encouraged equality of women in the home, workplace and society. Running as an independent candidate for senate, Ms. Kellems protested strict party line voting that only required a single lever pull rather than voting individually by candidate. Through civil disobedience, Vivien Kellems made her position known as she sat in a voting booth for nine hours straight before she fainted from exhaustion. With a degree in economics, unfair taxation by the government was at the forefront of Vivien Kellems ' battles. In 1948, alongside of her business partner and brother David Kellems, she protested against withholding taxes from her employees' checks claiming, "if they wanted me to be their (tax) agent, they'd have to pay me, and I want a badge." After a lengthy court battle ensued, it was found that the Kellems Co. would go bankrupt if they continued to not withhold taxes. Admitting defeat, Vivien would later fight against the singles income tax law that was enacted after World War II. In the law, citizens who were not married paid twice the amount of income tax than did those citizens of equal earnings who were married. In protest, from 1965 until her death, Vivien Kellems would merely send in tax forms with no pertinent information instead sending a blank form with her signature. Coming close to victory many times in the United States Supreme Court during the first half of the 1970s, Ms. Kellems' fight in this case ended in vain, as she died before her final appeal was heard in 1975.

From the guide to the Vivien Kellems Papers, undated, 1879-1976., (Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Kellems, Vivien, 1896-1975. Vivien Kellems papers, n.d., 1883-1976. University of Connecticut, Homer Babbidge Library
creatorOf Swanson, Gloria. Papers. Series IV. Other Interests, 1923-1983. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn G. J. Stillson MacDonnell Papers MS 70., 1970-1987 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Polly Ruhtenberg papers, 1946-1983 Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries
referencedIn White House Central Files (Eisenhower Administration). 1953 - 1961. Official Files. 1953 - 1961. OF 158 Women. 1953 - 1961. Letter from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Vivien Kellems
referencedIn White House Central Files (Eisenhower Administration). 1953 - 1961. Official Files. 1953 - 1961. OF 158 Women. 1953 - 1961. Letter from James Murphy to Clifford Roberts
creatorOf Vivien Kellems Papers, undated, 1879-1976. Archives and Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries
referencedIn Herman Wolf Papers, undated, 1926-1981. Archives and Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries
referencedIn MacDonnell, G.J. Stillson. G.J. Stillson MacDonnell Papers, 1970-1987 Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Thomas J. Dodd Papers, undated, 1919-1971. Archives and Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries
referencedIn White House Central Files (Eisenhower Administration). 1953 - 1961. Official Files. 1953 - 1961. OF 158 Women. 1953 - 1961. Letter from Mrs. J. Ramsay Harris to James Murphy
referencedIn White House Central Files (Eisenhower Administration). 1953 - 1961. Official Files. 1953 - 1961. OF 158 Women. 1953 - 1961. Letter from Vivien Kellems to Dwight D. Eisenhower
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Place Name Admin Code Country
Stonington (Conn.)
Stonington (Conn.)
United States
Electric wire and cable industry--Connecticut--Stonington
Women's rights
Suffrage--United States
Taxation--United States
Women's rights--United States
Women chief executive officers--United States--Biography
Electric wire and cable industry
Women chief executive officers--Biography


Birth 1896-06-07

Death 1975




Ark ID: w65q5pkd

SNAC ID: 28383674