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Vivien Kellems Papers

Identifier: 1992-0033

Scope and Content

The collection contains extensive materials from Vivien Kellems' personal life, business career, extended family, real estate endeavors and various activist movements of which she was an advocate. As the collection spans all of Ms. Kellems' adult life, it provides an in-depth and thorough into how each component of her life was handled. Included are legal documents, speeches, photographs, agendas, itineraries, minutes, payroll, business records, business checks, personal checks, notes, advertisements, newspaper clippings, memorabilia and correspondence to and from business associates, colleagues, fans of her cause, and family members.


  • undated, 1879-1976


The collection is open and available for research.

Restrictions on Use

Permission to publish from these Papers must be obtained in writing from the owner(s) of the copyright.


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 U. S. 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 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.


82.75 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Vivien Kellems, Connecticut businesswoman and activist, served as president of the Kellems Cable Grip Company into the early 1960s. She also devoted herself to challenging the United States Government on issues such as personal rights during war time, business tax withholding from employees, inflated singles income tax and fair voting procedures.


As best as possible the arrangement follows that established by Ms. Kellems. Ms. Kellems received considerable correspondence throughout her life and an attempt has been made to maintain those associations with appropriate activities as it was established while she lived. Researchers are recommended to review all correspondence that may be pertinent to their research by date or topic, regardless of its placement in the arrangement of the collection.

Series I: Family Papers (undated, 1883-1975) is composed of correspondence and personal materials relating to the extended family of Vivien Kellems. Arranged alphabetically by family member, contents include correspondence, legal documents, and memorabilia. The series includes correspondence with Vivien Kellems' mother, father, four of six brothers (one died in infancy, one died in World War I), four sisters-in-law, four aunts, one uncle, six nephews, two nieces, and ten distant relatives. (Please see attached genealogical chart to identify specific individuals or family names. Due to software incapabilities, genealogical information cannot be displayed electronically, please contact the curator for a copy.)

Series II: Personal Papers and Correspondence (undated, 1928-1975) contains letters to and from friends, business aquitances, employees and fans of Ms. Kellems and her work. The series is arranged chronologically and alphabetically therein. Although some files are topical in nature, others contain correspondence between Ms. Kellems and the residents of a particular state. It also appears that sometime in the mid-1950s, the arrangement shifted from alphabetical by correspondents last name, to alphabetical by state.

Series III: Activism (undated, 1879-1975) contains correspondence, studies, publications, clippings, scrapbooks and similar materials related to Ms. Kellems' involvement in politics, Equal Rights Amendment, tax issues among other topics.

Series IV: Real Estate (undated, 1872-1976) includes correspondence and financial records pertaining to various pieces of property.

Series V: Business Records (undated, 1905-1963 (all dates noted are circa) this portion of the collection contains materials pertaining to the activities, issues, functions and the workings of the various Kellems companies. It contains predominantly correspondence and legal records. Also to be found in the collection is information about patents, publicity, advertising and associated businesses.

Series VI: Artifacts, Audio Recordings and Photographs

Custodial History

Inherited by nephew, Vangelder Kellems, from the estate of Vivien Kellems.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Vangelder Kellems in 1992.

Separated Material

The following materials have been separated from the collection and cataloged:

Autobiography of a Catholic Anarchist Dodd C 10196

Life and Times of John Birch Dodd A 9721

Meditations of Joseph Stalin Dodd A 9719

None dare call it conspiracy Dodd A 9720

Our invisible Government made visible Dodd A 9725

Russia and the Big Red Lie Dodd C 10192

General note

Published Works:

Missing Title

  1. Toil, Taxes and Troubles. E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc.,1952.
Vivien Kellems Papers
Under Revision
Archives & Special Collections staff
2008 July
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, University of Connecticut Library Repository

University of Connecticut Library
405 Babbidge Road Unit 1205
Storrs Connecticut 06269-1205 USA US