(WOMENSENEWS)–The first wave of white supremacist activity of the Ku Klux Klan came after Reconstruction, rallying the defeated sons of the Confederacy. The second arose at the end of the First World War and this time, it not only spread to the North and Midwest, but included large numbers of recently enfranchised women eager to rid American life of “impurities” like blacks, Catholics and Jews.
In Indiana, an estimated 250,000 white Protestant women belonged to their own Klan organization. Its leader was Daisy Douglas Barr who, allied with the state’s “Grand Wizard,” D.C. Stevenson, was responsible for electing a Klan-friendly Governor in 1924.
Barr was an ordained Quaker preacher, Republican Party leader and active member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which had provided the 19th century women’s rights movement with many charismatic leaders. The founding motto of the WCTU, in 1874, had been “For God and Home and Native Land.”
Like Barr, other prominent Klan women in Indiana were prominent wives and mothers, civic leaders and members of the WCTU. Mary Benadum was a Muncie schoolteacher and president of her county’s Republican Women’s Club. Lillian Sedwick was a school board member and state official in the WCTU. All believed in woman’s right and duty to participate in public life. They also believed in Klan initiation and rituals, white sheets, segregation, restricted immigration, boycotts of Jewish or Catholic-owned businesses, burning crosses and the American flag.
The year 1924 was the Klan’s heyday in Indiana. Soon afterward, it began to crumble. Bernadum was arrested for battling a rival group in Ohio. Barr who had been asked to resign from an Indiana War mothers group, had Benadum physically prevented from attending rallies and Benadum charged Barr with corruption and theft of $50,000 in WKKK assets. In 1925, the “Grand Wizard” himself was arrested for rape and murder. By 1926, he was serving a long jail sentence and Barr was ousted. Sedwick took over in June 1926. By 1930, the Klan, both male and female, had retreated. For the moment.
Louise Bernikow is the author of seven books and numerous magazine articles. She travels to campuses and community groups with a lecture and slide show about activism called “The Shoulders We Stand On: Women as Agents of Change.”