By Philip Koch
Undergraduate, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Teacher, suffrage and equal rights activist
Cora Armstrong Kellam, a leader in the New Mexico campaign for woman's suffrage and equal rights, was born in Kansas in 1872. By 1895, Cora Armstrong worked as a schoolteacher and lived in Albuquerque. In 1896, while New Mexico was still a U.S. territory, she began her engagement in suffrage organization activities. The next year, she married Arthur Kellam, a railroad engineer. Her only child, Lloyd, was born in 1902.
Kellam served in suffrage leadership roles after New Mexico statehood in 1912. The new state constitution granted women suffrage only in local school elections. It included new criteria specifically worded to prevent future women suffrage initiatives, even as it granted suffrage to men who were not literate in English or Spanish. In 1913 and 1914, Kellam served as Albuquerque Women's Club delegate to the New Mexico State Federation annual meeting. In 1914, she was selected as a delegate to the National Federation of Women's Clubs. Two years later, she served as legislative chairman of the state branch of the Congressional Union, forerunner of the National Woman's Party. She also proposed legislation at the Federation of New Mexico Woman's Clubs Convention supporting a juvenile court and delinquency bill to present to the state legislature.
After the U.S. entered World War I, Kellam shifted much of her attention to the war effort. She drew on her experiences in organizing women's clubs and serving on the local school board to help mobilize her community. Kellam assisted in draft registration and recruiting for the New Mexico National Guard. As an officer in the state Women of the American Army (W.A.A.), she led a Liberty Bond drive and helped the National Federation of Women's Clubs promote measures to combat food shortages.
Yet, Kellam promoted woman's suffrage and support for the war effort concurrently. In 1917, aided by a Congressional Union organizer, she worked on legislation for the state Federation of Women's Clubs to add a suffrage amendment to the New Mexico State Constitution. Introduced in February, it was narrowly defeated in March. The next year, she traveled to Washington, D.C. to visit President Wilson as a delegate from the Women's Committee on the Council of National Defense (while also New Mexico National Woman's Party Legislative Chairman). She used this opportunity to advocate for passage of the constitutional amendment for woman suffrage. During this visit, Kellam also lobbied several cabinet members (such as the Secretary of Labor and Secretary of War) to support woman's suffrage.
In early 1919, Kellam resigned as chairman of the Legislative Department of the State Federation of Woman's clubs to accept the leadership as State Chairman of the National Woman's Party (NWP), a position she held for over six years. In 1920, she worked with the Washington, D.C. NWP leadership in the fight for ratification of the woman's suffrage amendment. Together, they foiled a last minute attempt by Washington opponents to subvert the New Mexico ratification vote. In August 1920, Kellam was named delegate to the New Mexico state Democratic party.
Following ratification of the 19th Amendment, Kellam shifted attention to promote burgeoning equal rights legislation for women, both nationally and in New Mexico. She hosted a tea at the National Woman's Party (NWP) International Equal Rights Conference in Washington, D.C. in 1921. In 1923, the same year that the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced into the U.S. Congress, Kellam engineered the submission of thirteen separate equal rights bill to the New Mexico Legislature. While the state bills did not pass, they would have expanded women's rights to include community property, jury duty, and divorce and employment equality.
Kellam's work on behalf of the ERA took her outside of New Mexico. While attending the 1923 Western Rights Conference in Colorado, she chaired a regional National Woman's Party Equal Rights Pageant that commemorated the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Seneca Falls, N.Y. convention. In 1924, she lobbied the Republican Platform committee at their Cleveland, Ohio convention on the subject of equal rights. The following year, she took a fact- finding trip to learn more about the status of women in Europe. On the way home she shared her experiences with the NWP headquarters in Washington, D. C. In January 1926, Kellam, as NWP state chairman, helped represent the National Woman's Party women's rights advocacy efforts at the Women's Industrial Conference in Washington, D.C. This U.S. Labor Department- sponsored conference proved contentious when the Women's Bureau promoted protective labor legislation for women. In opposition, Kellam promoted the National Woman's Party position of equal rights for all. The debate further polarized women's factions at the conference.
In March 1926, Kellam redeployed her attention to New Mexico. She accompanied other state leaders as they generated support from prominent women throughout the state to identify women congressional candidates. Their "Women for Congress" campaign was an effort to increase the participation of women in national government. After stepping down as NWP state chairman, Kellam relocated to Santa Fe and continued public speaking. In August 1928, she was severely injured in an automobile accident which curtailed her physical activities. One year later, her only child, 27-year-old Lloyd, died from a heart attack in Chicago. Cora Kellam's death, at age 58, came in March of 1930. Her husband Arthur, sharing her loss and depression from their son's death, shot and killed Cora before killing himself. It was a tragic ending to Cora Armstrong Kellam, who worked tirelessly for the cause of woman suffrage and equal rights.
US Census 1920 - https://familysearch.org/search/collection/results?count=20&query=%2Bgivenname%3Acora~%20%2Bsurname%3Akellam~%20%2Bresidence_place%3A%22new%20mexico%22~%20%2Bbirth_place%3Akansas~%20%2Bspouse_givenname%3Aarthur~%20%2Bspouse_surname%3Akellam~%20%2Bgender%3AF&collection_id=1488411
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"Suffrage Convention," Las Vegas (NM) Daily Optic, April 21, 1896, 2.
"Albuquerque Notes," Santa Fe Daily New Mexican November 24, 1897, 1.
Ida H. Harper, ed., HISTORY OF WOMAN SUFFRAGE VOL 6, 1922, 439. http://chswg.binghamton.edu/docs/historyofwomansuffrage_vol6.pdf
"Extent of Women's Work in New Mexico," Santa Fe Daily New Mexican, October 11, 1913, 3.
"The Woman's Club," Albuquerque Evening Herald, May 23, 1914. 5.
Ida H. Harper, ed., HISTORY OF WOMAN SUFFRAGE VOL 6, 1922, 436.
Federation of Woman's Clubs of New Mexico is Working Well, October 16, 1916, City Edition, 3.
"Suffrage Clerks Offers Clerks to Help With Draft," Albuquerque The Evening Herald, May 17, 1917,8.
Albuquerque The Evening Herald, October 8, 1917, 8.
"Launch Campaign for Statutory Suffrage Bill." Albuquerque Morning Journal. February 9,1917, City Edition, 6.
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Inez Haynes Gilmore Irwin, The Story of the Woman's Party, (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1921), 345. https://books.google.com/books?id=HRdgL0Or2vYC&pg=PA345&lpg=PA345&dq=ARTHUR+KELLUM,+NEW+MEXICO&source=bl&ots=yBhm5GO6-T&sig=8BCaUV-EgSH9EmKxkQXzOfQa_CE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi049L9-IXQAhUGKCYKHdb8BIUQ6AEISTAJ#v=onepage&q&f=false
"Mrs.Kellam Returns from an Eastern Trip," Albuquerque Morning Journal June 16,1918, 4.
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"International Tea by Woman's Party...," Santa Fe Daily New Mexican December 2, 1921, 1.
Anonymous : Mrs. Arthur Kellam, New Mexico State chairman, confers on Equal Rights Bill in Washington; Equal rights. Vol. 1, Iss. 6 (1923), 46. (INCLUDES PHOTO)
"National Woman's Party..Pageant..," Santa Fe Daily New Mexican August 20, 1923,2
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Equal Rights, XII (30 January 1926), pp. 402-3 (Gerritsen Collection of Women's History, microfilm (1980)). Equal Rights at the Industrial Conference, by Ruby A. Black. In Equal Rights at the Industrial Conference Included in Who Won the Debate over the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1920s?, by Kathryn Kish Sklar.
"News From The Field," Thrilling Days in New Mexico, Equal rights. Vol. 13, Iss. 11 (1926), 83.
"People Coming and Going in Santa Fe," Santa Fe Daily New Mexican August 21, 1928, 6.
"Santa Fe Man Kills Wife..," Albuquerque Journal March 20, 1930, 1. source Newspapers.com