24 June 2019

Rachel Gillett in History Today about the women of the Ku Klux Klan

A Hidden Chapter: Women of the Klan

Ku Klux Klan members / family
Ku Klux Klan members / family (Flickr.com, RV1864, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The role of women in the Ku Klux Klan has often been ignored. However, women have had an important role in the organisation of the Klan. Dr Rachel Gillett (Cultural History) wrote about the role of women in the KKK for History Today

Dr. Rachel Gillett
Dr Rachel Gillett

central role in imagination and rhetoric

The Klan has known three important phases: the periods between 1860-70, 1915-30 and 1950-70. In each of these phases, women have played a cenral role in different ways. At the end of the nineteenth century, women were not yet officially admitted to the Klan. However, they did support the male Klan by making uniforms, providing food and shelter and emotional support. In addition, women also played a central role in the Klan's imagination and rhetoric: "The notion that white women were at risk from the unwanted sexual advances of black men was one of the group’s founding myths", according to Gillett.

dissemination Klan ideology

During the second phase of the Klan between 1915 and 1930, women contributed highly to the dissemination of the Klan ideology in American mainstream media and society. Women founded their own branch of the Ku Klux Klan (the Women of the Ku Klux Klan, WKKK), where 500,000 women signed up. Within that branch, women also fought for their own rights and for leadership positions in the Klan. 

highly competent and progressive women

From 1950 onwards, women were allowed to formally enter the Klan without having to organise their own auxiliary. They were, however, still excluded from leadership positions. The history of women in the Klan is nonetheless "one of large numbers of highly competent and progressive women, who have shored up racism and countered immigration", Gillett writes.