First Woman to sue the IRS, Business owner Vivien Kellems is guest on Today With Mrs. Roosevelt, the weekly Sunday chat show featuring Kellems, Mrs. Roosevelt, Gloria Swanson, Roy Blau and Leo Chern all discussing taxes. Rather apt, considering the day and the season.
April 15, 2011

Vivien Kellems and The Kellems Grip. A bit like wrestling.

Vivien Kellems is a name probably not rolling off the tongues of many people these days, but she is a figure of some renown in the Tax Revolt movement. A very successful Business Woman who sought to take on the IRS over their system of Withholding Tax, she waged a running war with the IRS from 1950 well into the 1960's.

Here she is, appearing on the weekly Sunday talk show Today With Mrs. Roosevelt, discussing the Tax system in the U.S. with Eleanor Roosevelt, along with screen legend Gloria Swanson, who also has a few words about the Tax Laws. Defending the IRS (more or less) are Roy Blough, then-Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago and Leo Chern, Executive Secretary of the Research Institute. The program was first broadcast on March 3, 1950 and since this was an early television program, the likelihood that any film of it surviving is doubtful (but you never know). But the audio is here and it's a lively discussion.

Vivian Kellems: “As you know, Congress can pass all of the laws it wishes to. The President may sign all of the laws that he wishes to. But no law is a valid law in our country, until it has been declared constitutional by the Supreme Court. Any citizen doubting the constitutionality of a law has the right, and in my opinion the duty, to break the law in order to provide a test case. That is all I did. At the same time that I broke the Withholding Tax Law, and asked for a test case, Mister Philip Murray broke the Taft-Hartley Law, the publicity provision of the Taft-Hartley Law you remember. He was immediately indicted and rushed through the lower courts so fast that Justice Felix Frankfurter accused the lower courts of collusion. I broke the law and asked for a test case, but Secretary Snyder has refused to indict me. Although he has been told that if he does, I will immediately start collecting the taxes, pending the outcome of the suit.”

In later life, Kellems was a huge supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment and credited with being one of the early figures in the Feminist Movement. Listening to this program and hearing Blough and Chern twist themselves in knots in a "don't-worry-your-pretty-little-head" sort of way, you get the idea she had a battle on her hands.

Yes, it was a lot different then.

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