Abstract: The "One-Woman Army": Vivien Kellems, Business and the Tax Resistance Movement

Olivier Burtin


Throughout the twentieth century, few members of the business community have been as consistently and harshly critical of the state as Vivien Kellems (1896-1975). This paper investigates her activity as the chief opponent of the income tax in the mid-1940s-early 1950s United States. An iconic figure among right-wing tax resisters, her example illustrates the ebb and flow of the movement in a period where it remains relatively under-documented by historians. Raised in a religious, middle-class family, she founded her own cable grips company in New York City in 1927 and quickly became rich. As a vocal representative of small businesses and an occasional opponent of larger corporations, she illustrated the diversity of opinions inside this community. Already a staunch Republican but not yet a full-fledged conservative, she had her political opinions and her opposition to taxation distinctly hardened by the frustrating experience of war production. In January 1944, she made herself famous nationwide for the first time by refusing to pay the income tax, a move that provoked widespread outrage. In 1948, she refused to withhold income taxes from her employees' wages, and used the trial that followed to gather political momentum and form a national grassroots movement.