Upper-middle-class, college-educated, the Mothers were neither socially deprived nor impoverished. Rather they were alienated and frightened, manipulated by leaders who were ambitious, angry, energised and charismatic. The women were motivated by super-patriotism, love for sons and husbands who might be conscripted and virulent hatred of Jews, Communists and F.D Roosevelt
Women of the Far Right
by Glen Jeansonne
Waters’ verbal explosions overflowed with bigotry. She claimed that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had invited Hitler to attack Britain, specifically so that Chamberlain could raise taxes on the British. She believed that the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin also needed an outside threat, so he invited Hitler to attack the USSR and to massacre Russian citizens. Furthermore Roosevelt and the Jews had conspired to restore the USA to the British Empire, merge it with the Soviet Union, eliminate Christianity and create a world government ruled by Roosevelt and Hitler. Hitler would finally declare himself a Bolshevik only at the end of the war. [The Protocols of the Elders of Zion springs to mind].
Waters conceived of an ingenious plan to thwart the conspiracy. First impeach Roosevelt and make Henry Ford commander-in-chief. Then abolish conscription for ordinary citizens, instead conscripting convicts to fight. If convict soldiers were insufficient, take Central and South America so Latin Americans could be impressed to fight.
One can certainly imagine committed women being anti-war. After all the National Legion of Mothers of America was perhaps the largest women’s peace group ever organised in the USA. The NLMA created a network of pressure groups designed to force changes in Roosevelt’s foreign policies. And while the NLMA extolled women’s supposedly superior judgement in moral matters, and praised their influence in purifying politics, the organisation under Kathleen Norris was chiefly pragmatic. She dispatched women to deliver speeches and lobby Congress. Their crusade was a peace-based political campaign.
Only when the far right wingers took over from the moderates in the NLMA did Norris lose control. The New York branch created a women’s rifle corps to shoot invading paratroopers; they sponsored campaigns to ‘Buy Christian, Employ Christian’ and to ‘Boycott all Sponsors on the English Jew Controlled Radio!’ Blacks were allowed in the new NLMA, but segregated to their own groups. Unable to stop such extremism, Norris resigned as NLMA president in April 1941.
The revised National Legion of Mothers of America was said to be inspired by William Randolph Hearst; he used his newspapers to promote the group, and thus, his preference for isolationism.
The forceful and manipulative Lyrl Van Hyning mixed anti-Semitism and maternalism in her efforts to keep America out of the war. Jesus and his disciples were Gentiles, she claimed, except for Judas, who was a Jew. Jews had inspired the American Civil War, the assassination of President Lincoln, the First World War, the election of FDR, and the Second World War. "Woodrow Wohlson", president during the First World War, was a Jew. Communism was Judaism. Women’s participation would render politics moral and humane, building upon the experience of motherhood.
In February 1941 Lyrl Clark Van Hyning co-founded We, the Mothers, Mobilise for America, a group organised to prevent American participation in WW2. The group started a newsletter Women’s Voice which grew into a major newspaper representing ultra-nationalist views.
Unlike most non-interventionist organisations, the Mothers’ groups did not disband after Pearl Harbour but continued to oppose the war. They sought to persuade women to disobey rationing and refused to cooperate with efforts to organise the home front for war. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Mothers’ malice toward the Allies intensified. Pearl Harbour was not the fault of the Japanese but of the British.
What a mixture! The true believers extolled motherhood and women’s solidarity and believed men had wrecked politics, yet only liberal men were their enemies. They championed patriarchy and found Christianity liberating. The mothers’ real failure was their inability to convert their passion into votes. Working primarily through the Republican Party, they failed to elect supporters. Their crude approach failed in light of the dazzling political finesse of their arch-enemy Roosevelt.
Jeansonne's summary was powerful. The Mothers’ groups constituted a massive women’s movement that was not feminist, and an anti-war movement that was not a peace movement. Up to 10 million Mothers believed the USA simply was fighting the wrong enemy. If their passion for neutrality was shared by many Americans, their hate-mongering was not. Only the most deluded souls really believed that Hitler was a devout Christian and Roosevelt a devout Bolshevik.
Still, the persistence of similar beliefs in contemporary society is one good reason not to dismiss the Mothers as irrelevant.
Readers might like to read:
Glen Jeansonne, Women of the Far Right: The Mothers’ Movement and World War II, Chicago UP 1997 and "The Right-Wing Mothers of Wartime America", in History Today, 49, 12, 1999.