Do you know these 5 Marys: Mary Weygandt, Mary King, Mary Goodwin, Mary Edith Turch and Mary Benadum? If not for a Long Beach Public Library Black History Month display, I would not have read about these five Marys during Women’s History Month. What these five Marys have in common is they were all Women of the Ku Klux Klan members.
The WKKK is new history to me, which is why the book, Women of the Klan by Kathleen M. Blee caught my eye. The book is subtitled: Racism and Gender In The 1920s. This is not a book review, because I did not read the entire book. Women of the Klan reminded me of a High School History text book and it did not hold my attention.
King, Goodwin and Weygandt were kleages in Pennsylvania and Ohio WKKK organizations. Kleages were paid organizers who worked to increase Klan memberships. The Fiery Cross , a Klan newspaper urged readers to vote for Turch, “a 100% American Christian girl” in a popularity contest run by the Indianapolis News.
Mary Benadum was a college educated public school teacher married to an attorney. She and her husband were both Klan kleages. Mary was a prominent Republican party member serving in various capacities, such vice-chair, president and committeewoman. She was instrumental in organizing Klanswomen to canvas votes for Klan-backed candidates. Mary thought it “wonderful” that women now had the power to affect politics by voting.
White Protestants eagerly joined groups such as the WKKK, feeling the American way of life was being corrupted by Jewish and Catholic immigrants. By creating voting blocs and electing like-thinking individuals they were able to force the government to instill quotas on the numbers of immigrants allowed into the U.S.A. Fear of black men retaliating for slave holders rapes of black women by being free to rape white women was also motivation for white men to join the KKK. White women did not like being considered property of their Klansmen husbands, which motivated them to form their own groups.
The WKKK died out by the late 1920s when KKK membership rapidly declined. The WKKK did not make a comeback in the 1950s and 1980s when the KKK reared its ugly head again. By that time in history women were allowed to play supportive roles in the male fraternal organization.
If you want to learn more about these five Marys or are interested in Women’s history relating to the Ku Klux Klan check out www.ucpress.edu, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California for purchase information on Women of The Klan.