Women and the KKK

 

These images of women — and sometimes even children — in full Klan regalia provide compelling information for revisionist historians who viewed the motivations of the Second KKK as different from the original KKK.  Extensive images of women Klansmen — also referred to as the Auxiliary Klan (Loucks, 1936) — exist and were regularly seen in newspapers.   Interesting items to note about women’s participation in the Klan:

  • The women’s Klan existed separately from the mens and had its own unique characteristics.
  • Klanswomen were most often the wives and sisters of Klansmen.
  • “The women’s Klaverns [local Klan units] generally, in proportion to their numbers, were more active in distributing food and raising money for needy people than were the men” (MacLean, 1994, p. 113).
  • While women played traditional supporting roles — preparing food and drinks for rallies and other functions, their political significance is worthy of mention.  Through the Klan, they were using their newly won suffrage to try to influence political decisions regarding morality (Jenkins, 1990).
  • The presence of women in the organization “provided additional opportunities for the Klan to present itself as a respectable community group” (Blee, 1991, p. 58).  In this way, women humanized and legitimized the Klan.  The extensive images of women, and the images that were often found in local papers, supports this assertion.
  • Like other women’s groups, the Auxiliary Klan supported charities, participated in volunteer work, and supported schools and the traditional values of home life (Blee, 1991).
  • Women joined for similar reasons as did men, but “it was in terms of the effect of these on women, children, and family” (Blee, 1991, p. 67).  They were primarily concerned with protecting the home, and they were able to assert themselves in moral and civic affairs through participation in the Klan.  They worked against liquor and prostitution, while distributing food baskets, raising money for hospitals, and distributing Bibles in public schools.  For women, working actively in the community was essential to protecting their homes, because strong communities produced strong homes, and strong homes in turn strengthened communities.
  • The Klan purported itself as a protector of white womanhood and traditional femininity, combined with a strong opposition to the emerging sexual revolution.  The Klan objected to suggestive clothing, petting parties, and parking in cars.  They were “implacably opposed … to all the amatory and erotic tendencies of modern degeneracy” (MacLean, 1994, p. 109).

What is peculiarly interesting about images of Klanswomen is that pictures of women in full Klan regalia do not fit with most connotations people have of the Klan, their membership, and their activities.  The historical lens through which we view Klan images makes it difficult for us to time appropriately filter these images and meanings.  When we read that women used the Klan to organize charity drives, distribute Bibles, and protect societal morality and see these striking images, it is difficult to rectify the opposing meanings present in our own experience and that which is presented in the photographs.

 

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