Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s by Kathleen M. Blee provides a startling picture of the role of women in the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The racist movement of this time included white people, both men and women, who held views that the white race was far superior to the black race. Blee’s argument that the KKK appealed to ordinary people is presented using research and interviews based on this time period (Blee, 1992). The main strength of her argument is that human beings have a tendency to follow the pack and internalize ideals outlined by other people of similar race. Women became indoctrinated to the ideas of their white husbands and fathers and began to hold the ideals of the superior white race about the equal rights of the black race (Blee, 1992). Ordinary women of all ages began to join in the cause of the KKK in order to preserve white Protestantism (Blee, 1992).
However, there is one main weakness to this argument. First, the term ordinary can mean many different things. Second, women were not necessarily considered ordinary people by the white men. Instead, they were seen as a group of people that needed protection from the Negro men (Blee, 1992). In addition, with the founding of the Women of the Ku Klux Klan (WKKK), women were only allowed membership if they were over eighteen years of age and if they were considered Gentile (Blee, 1992). This is only one definition of ordinary. For example, Catholic women were not permitted membership into the WKKK because Catholicism was considered to be an allegiance to a foreign government or sect (Blee, 1992). However, technically, Catholic people are considered Gentiles and Catholicism is often considered a pretty ordinary religion. Finally, the primary members of the WKKK were women from the Midwest and Ozarks regions of the country (Blee, 1992). The attitudes of the white women in these areas were certainly appropriate for membership but were not ordinary attitudes of white women throughout the United States.
The issue of women’s rights pervades this book. After the Civil War, white men preached about the sanctity of “white womanhood” (DadsNow, 1). White men felt that it was their duty to protect white women from the sexual desires and natures of the black men. In this way, the widespread violence and discrimination by the KKK against the black race came to acceptable for many white people (DadsNow, 1). In this way, the WKKK may have been one component that drove the women’s rights movement. White women were no longer content to raise children and tend to the home. They wanted to fight alongside the white men for preservation of white Protestantism (DadsNow, 1). This view supports Blee’s suggestion that ordinary women were becoming members of the KKK. Mothers and homemakers can be considered ordinary women because this was their primary duty during the 1920s.
The attitude of many WKKK members was that women were better than men and they capitalized on the weaknesses of men through the sexual power that they held over them (DadsNow, 1).White women began to use their newfound power over the black race to simultaneously promote women’s rights (Blee, 1992). The hateful actions that white women participated in against the black race had the power to give women more power outside of the home and raising children. In addition, according to feminist ideals, white women using sexual images with black men to motivate white men to protect white women. In essence, the WKKK served two distinct feminist purposes. First, women found new strength and power outside of the home through discrimination against the black people. Second, they were allowed to pursue their views of women’s rights because the white KKK men were busy protecting “white womanhood” which gave women time to fight for their rights. It’s ironic that WKKK feminism has its roots in the KKK whose main goal was to protect “white womanhood.” This principle goes against the very nature of feminists – that women are powerful and can think for themselves.
Blee, Kathleen M. (1992). Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s. Berkeley, CA:
University of California Press.
DadsNow. (2008). History of the WKKK, Racism and Sexism in America. Retrieved on
November 12, 2008 from http://www.dadsnow.org/index2.html,