Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s

Kathleen M. Blee

Excerpts: pages 33-35

THE WOMEN'S KLAN

To understand the nature of the new women's Klan, we need to examine the beliefs, organizations, rituals, and activities of the WKKK in comparison with those of the men's order. But we must use caution in our comparison. When Klanswomen swore to uphold the "sanctity of the home and chastity of womanhood" they echoed the words, but not necessarily the sentiments, of their male Klan counterparts. Although a simple listing of WKKK and KKK principles and rituals would suggest that there was little difference between the two organizations, we must understand how these were interpreted and justified by each organization.

BELIEFS

On one level, many principles of the new women's Klan appear identical to the racist and xenophobic politics of the first and second men's Klans. The WKKK supported militant patriotism, national quotas for immigration, racial segregation, and anti miscegenation laws. Klanswomen cited the need to safeguard the "eternal supremacy" of the white race against a "rising tide of color" and decried Catholic and Jewish influence in politics, the schools, the media, and the business world. Markwell herself saw the mission of the women's Klan as "fighting for the same principles as the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan," although she reserved for the WKKK a special interest in "work peculiar to women's organization, such as social welfare work [and] the prevention of juvenile delinquency.""

Like the men's Klan, the WKKK often used politically palatable symbols to present its agenda of nativism and racial hatred to the public. It called for separation of church from state when crusading| against Roman Catholic political influence, for free public schools when seeking to destroy parochial schools, and for the purity of race when seeking racial segregation and restricted immigration. In private, the racial bigotry of the WKKK was fully as vicious as that of the KKK, as in Klanswomen's condemnation of "mulatto leaders forced to remain members of the negro group [who] aspire to white association because of their white blood [thus] boldly preaching racial equality."

But if many of the WKKK's basic principles followed existing doctrines of the men's Klan, women and men did not always have a common perception of the problems that required Klan action. Klansmen of the 1920s denounced interracial marriage for its destructive genetic outcomes; their Klan forefathers fought interracial sexuality to maintain white men's sexual access to white and black women. Klanswomen, however, saw a different danger in miscegenation: the destruction of white marriages by untrustworthy white men who "betray their own kind."

In many cases, women and men in the Klan took different messages from common symbols. Klansmen praised womanhood to underscore the correctness of male supremacy; Klanswomen used the symbol to point out the inequities that women faced in society and politics. Klansmen sought political inspiration in the "great achievements" of white American Protestantism, but Klanswomen read history differently. Rather than mimicking the men's empty gestures of praise for "true American women" in the past, the WKKK complained that women had been excluded from public politics throughout most of this glorious history, even though "our mothers have ever been Klanswomen at heart, sharing with our fathers the progress and development of our country." Klan women embraced the KKK's racist, antiCatholic, and anti-Semitic agenda and symbols of American womanhood but they used these to argue as well for equality for white Protestant women.


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The Politics of Sex, 1923


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