Women's History in the Collections

Ku Klux Klan materials
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Women of the Ku Klux Klan: Constitution and Bylaws; Outline of Principles and Teachings; recruitment card.

This ephemera c. 1927 from the Women of the Ku Klux Klan was found in Coxsackie, New York, and was part of a museum accession that also included Klan robes and hoods. These artifacts are representative of widespread KKK activity in New York State in the 1920s. An estimated 80,000 New Yorkers belonged to the Klan. In fact, New York had the seventh highest membership in the nation. The Albany-Schenectady-Troy area had an estimated 11,000 members, but Klan rallies, parades, and burning crosses were reported statewide, from the state headquarters in Binghamton to Long Island, from Buffalo to the Catskills. As opposed to the anti-black animus in the South, the primary targets of the Klan in New York were Roman Catholics, Jews, immigrants generally, and "Bolsheviks" (the common 1920s name for communists).

Nationwide, as many as half a million women were members of Women of the Ku Klux Klan (WKKK). The Tri-K for Girls was the female youth group. It may seem surprising that women were involved in the Klan, but many elements of the Klan's platform were intended to appeal to women. Although Klanswomen did not enjoy equality with Klansmen, Klan rhetoric glorified the purity of womanhood and the sanctity of the home. Enforcing Prohibition was a cornerstone of the KKK's "reform" agenda. In this the Klan shared a position held by many progressive reformers, including many suffragists and feminists, who condemned the use of alcohol as detrimental to society. (For a similar view, see the Women's Christian Temperance Union quilt also on this web site.) The Klan opposed "vice" in all forms, including prostitution and gambling. The Klan in the 1920s was active in electoral politics to achieve some of its objectives, and therefore it supported women's right to vote--that is, it supported Klan women voting for Klan-endorsed candidates. Klanswomen also participated in boycotts of businesses owned by Jews and others who were not considered "100% American" (anyone not native-born, white, and Protestant).

Christine Kleinegger, Senior Historian

For questions and comments, contact Christine Kleinegger, Senior Historian ckleineg@mail.nysed.gov
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