Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Vivian Mills, 1873-1941 (Nana Vivian Robbins Mills)


By Natalie Marine-Street, PhD

Vivian Mills served as the corresponding secretary for the Alpha Suffrage Club in 1916. The Alpha Suffrage Club, founded by Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Belle Squire, was the first black female suffrage club in Chicago and in the state of Illinois.

Born in Cynthiana, Kentucky around 1873, Mills was the daughter of Nelson H. Robbins (or Robins or Robens) and Sallie Becky Jones. Likely born into slavery, Robbins served as a corporal and then a sergeant in Company A of the 44th Regiment U.S. Colored Infantry during the Civil War. His regiment was captured at Dalton, Georgia, in October 1864 and as a prisoner of war he presumably spent time laboring on Confederate fortifications before making his way back to the Union troops. After the war, he worked as a brick molder and drayman. Likely illiterate (he signed his marriage certificate with a mark), Robbins acquired a house and four lots in Cynthiana by the time of his death around 1902.

Vivian Mills's mother, Sallie Becky Jones, was born in Kentucky around 1841. She bore at least four children before succumbing to consumption in January, 1880. Mills's known siblings were Arthur (born circa 1868), Alonzo (born circa 1871), and Jimmy (born circa 1875).

By 1903, Vivian had left Cynthiana behind, migrated to Chicago, Illinois, and married George W. Mills. From 1903 to 1905, they lived at 248 28th Street. Born in Tennessee, George worked as a waiter and later as a porter at the Boston Store. Vivian listed her occupation as a hairdresser. In 1905, the couple had a son whom they named Vinitious. He would go on to work as a Pullman porter and as a mail carrier. George died of heart disease around 1920, and he and Vivian appear to have separated before that time.

Vivian Mills's name appears in connection with the Alpha Suffrage Club as early as December 1915, when she assisted president Ida B. Wells Barnett in hosting a social at Barnett's home on Rhodes Avenue. The event included musical performances and an address by Lenora Z. Meder, former commissioner of Public Welfare. In February, 1916, she was elected corresponding secretary of the Alpha Suffrage Club. In May of the same year, her name appears in the press again as the chairman of a meeting that included a performance by “The Old Maids Association.” During that year, the group also made preparations to march in the June 1916 suffrage parade during the Republican National Convention.

By 1920, Vivian Mills was renting a dwelling on E. 36th Street in Chicago's 2nd Ward. She listed her occupation as “masseur” and was likely working for a larger establishment since she was being paid a wage or salary, as opposed to working on her own account. There with her were

Vinitious and her aunt from Kentucky, Eliza Jones, who at age 73 continued to work in a Chicago factory.

Nana Vivian Mills died on July 28, 1941. She is buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Worth, Cook County, Illinois.


“Alpha Suffrage Club” The Broad Ax, February 12, 1916, page 5

“Alpha Suffrage Club,” The Broad Ax, May 27, 1916, page 4

Nana Vivian Mills in Illinois, Deaths and Stillbirths Index, 1916-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.

National Park Service. U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.

“Nanna Vivian Mills” -- Year: 1920; Census Place: Chicago Ward 2, Cook (Chicago), Illinois; Roll: T625_307; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 95 []

“Vivian Mills” -- Year: 1940; Census Place: Chicago, Cook, Illinois; Roll: m-t0627-00933; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 103-385 []

U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules, 1850-1885 for Sallie Robins at


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