Have you ever heard of Vivien Kellems?
I had — vaguely — but I sure couldn’t tell you who she was, or what she did.
Alert — and history-minded — “06880” reader Wendy Crowther recently stumbled upon a story about her.
According to ConnecticutHistory.org, Kellems was a women’s rights activist and suffragist. She earned her main fame though for her battles with the IRS.
The Iowa native, and University of Oregon BA and master’s in economics graduate, partnered with her brother Edgar, who in the late 1920s invented an improved cable grip for electrical wiring. Their Kellems Cable Grip company made equipment used in the New York subway system, Chrysler Building and George Washington Bridge.
In 1942 the firm moved to Westport. Vivian ran for Congress, but lost to Claire Boothe Luce — Connecticut’s first female representative. Kellems also ran for the US Senate in 1950, ’56 and ’62, and governor in 1954. She lost each race.
The history website says:
A year after moving to Westport, Kellems opposed the country’s use of a graduated income tax and publicly announced her decision to abstain from paying federal income taxes. After having her patriotism called into question for withdrawing financial support for her country during time of war, she backed down, but only temporarily.
In 1948 she announced that she would no longer withhold federal income taxes from employees. She became one of the first interviewees on a new TV show, “Meet the Press.”
That same year, she lost a zoning battle with Westport.
According to CourtListener.com — also sent to “06880” by Wendy Crowther —
The defendants’ property consists of an approximate two-acre tract of land situated between Riverside Avenue and Franklin Street in the Saugatuck area of Westport, together with a one-story white frame building housing some fifteen machines including a turret lathe, small lathes, milling machines, welding machines and other experimental and manufacturing equipment.
To the north of this property is located a two-story yellow frame building, leased by the defendants, wherein is conducted a very substantial part of their manufacturing, consisting in fabricating wire into cable grips in sizes from one-half inch to four inches in diameter.
The fabricating process requires the constant use of forming tools, winding lathes and solder pots, and the operation of a variety of machines driven by electric motors. At the time of trial the defendants employed thirty-eight persons in their manufacturing operation; an employee load far below the peak of 150 persons employed during the recent war years.
Judge J. Cullinan noted:
The defendants’ challenge to the town’s zoning regulations, while many-sided, may be summarized in the general contentions that the regulations are not uniform for each class or kind of building or structure in the Saugatuck district since other buildings in that business district are used for manufacturing purposes, either by virtue of the fact that they were thus used when the regulations became effective and thereafter continued as nonconforming uses, or by virtue of the regulation permitting industrial uses in a business district when such uses are clearly incidental to the conduct of a retail business conducted on the premises; that the prohibition of industrial use of the defendants’ premises estops them from making the highest and best use of their property; that the Saugatuck district should be an industrial or manufacturing area and that a restraint on industry creates an arbitrary and unlawful limitation; and that the prohibition against light industry amounts to an unconstitutional taking of property without due process of law.
Saugatuck, the most densely populated area of Westport is, in reality, a community within a community, containing as it does, a very substantial number of moderate and low-priced residences; a number of large and valuable estates, whose assessed valuations exceed half a million dollars; a variety of retail stores, whose right to operate in a business zone is unquestioned; a community coal and lumber yard; and a sprinkling of properties, which, when the zoning regulations were adopted, were devoted to nonconforming industrial and manufacturing uses and which, by law, were permitted to continue without suppression.
Concluding that “zoning legislation is a valid exercise of the police power within proper limitations,” he upheld the town of Westport’s position. The judge then fined Kellems $250.
After that defeat, Kellems moved her company to Stonington. She closed it in 1962, “proclaiming it an end to the era of small business in America.”
Her IRS battles continued. Connecticut History says:
Protesting that tax laws unfairly penalized unmarried individuals, Kellems never filled out another tax return. She, instead, signed blank returns every year and sent them to the IRS. She continued her fight for tax law reform right up until her death in 1975.
Do any “06880” readers remember Vivien Kellems — either personally, or her manufacturing company? Click “Comments” below, to fill out this fascinating piece of history.