The New Woman

The Ku Klux Klan

Klansmen burning a crossLike all the iterations of the KKK, the second Klan was marked by a hatred of African Americans. The Klan, especially in the South, was wedded to the ideals of white supremacy and the maintenance of racial purity. Klan members in northern states also became alarmed when thousands of African Americans migrated to northern industrial cities in search of work and competed with white workers there. Furthermore, the experience of black veterans during World War I had a galvanizing effect on African Americans and made them less likely to accept passively white supremacy after defending the nation against enemies abroad.

One factor that made the Klan of the 1920s unique, however, was its intensified hostility toward immigrants, Catholics, and Jews. The Klan's anti-Catholicism stemmed from the belief that Catholics could not be good Americans if they maintained allegiance to the pope. Furthermore, they believed Catholics sought exclusion from mainstream America by maintaining their own schools. In the Klan's view, priests threatened intact families by exerting greater influence over women and children than the male head of household. Klan propaganda hysterically portrayed Catholics as potentially winnowing their way into government ( la Al Smith) and turning America over to Rome. Klan members were also suspicious of Jewish Americans, charging that they paid allegiance to Palestine and purportedly controlled international banks. Many Americans held (and still hold) such views, and they were abetted in their thinking by anti-Semitic newspapers such as Henry Ford's Dearborn Independent.

Initiation ceremony of the WKKKIn addition, the second Klan was a mass movement with chapters across the entire country, not just in the South. According to some historians, the KKK of the 1920s established one of the largest social movements of the 20th century, enrolling nearly five million of ordinary, "respectable," middle-class Americans, both urban and rural, from coast to coast and from South to North. In fact, Midwestern states harbored the largest number of Klansmen, particularly the state of Indiana. 

Klan members were also dismayed and even appalled by the "new woman" of the 1920s. In 1920, women found new freedom in the public sphere: they showed their independence by voting, working, dressing with "sex appeal," or  smoking and drinking in public spaces such as speakeasies. Mass media—radio, magazines, advertising, and especially movies—portrayed women as sexual beings, and films included nudity that shocked Victorian sensibilities. Committed to protecting the "purity of White Womanhood," the Klan physically punished those who engaged in immoral behavior, public indecency and drunkenness, wife beating, gambling, adultery, and the failure to support one's family. Interestingly, the Klan supported women's suffrage since women could help restore and preserve morality and traditional values by voting for Klan agendas and political candidates.

Read the Klansman's Manual.















Immigration Restriction & The KKK


The Scopes Trial




Immigration Restriction and The Ku Klux Klan
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