02 February 2013

Right wing Mothers in war time USA

Glen Jeansonne 's book Women of the Far Right is powerful. When World War Two broke out in Sept 1939, a mass movement of American women was outraged not by Hitler’s atrocities, but by the possibility of the American government aiding those in peril in Europe. A confederation of groups coalesced into the Mothers’ Movement. These mothers fervently combined the great themes of their age: maternalism, anti-Semitism, love of Jesus and hatred of Franklin D Roosevelt, President of the USA from 1933–1945. They were powerful, claiming up to 10 million members at their peak. And they were part of an even larger isolationist movement, making common cause with men of the anti-Semitic extreme right in print and on radio.

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

It's important to note that the leaders were actively pro-Hitler: they applauded the Nazi leader as a barrier to Communism. Their world was filled with conspiracies and plots eg the viciously anti-Semitic Agnes Waters became convinced that FDR wanted to rule the world as a communist dictator in league with Jews. Possibly a Jew himself, Waters alleged, Roosevelt was duping America into fighting Germany, the only nation capable of defeating Communism. Waters testified before congressional committees to oppose conscription, repeal of the arms embargo, Lend-Lease, the use of the Navy to convoy British vessels and the admission of Jewish refugees to the USA.

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.


Andrew said...

One can't help but draw parallels with today's Tea Party.

Hels said...


*nod* interesting comparison! The WW2 Mothers were often upper-middle-class, college-educated women, not socially deprived at all. Do we know if Tea Party people are a] middle class and busy, b] exploited workers or c] totally marginalised and unemployed?

Auriel Ragmon said...

Strange that I never heard of this!
One of my earlier memories (I was born in 1935) was the announcement at our breakfast table on Dec. 7, 1941 that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor (my dad was born and raised in Hawai'i!). As a child I never met anyone who wasn't working for the 'war effort' against Japan and Germany. History brings out some interesting bypaths, eh?

Jim of Olym

Deb said...

When we looked at the New Deal in lectures, FD Roosevelt looked progressive and committed to improving life in for ordinary Americans. So why did the Mothers despise Roosevelt so much?

jeronimus said...

Ironic, isn't it, that these so-called loyal Christians would denounce Jesus as a "commie Jew" if they encountered him in their own lifetime.

Hels said...


sometimes monumental events from our childhood aren't familiar any longer because our parents or historians have rewritten history and blotted out that event. The Sharpeville massacre in South Africa is crystal clear to me still - my family talked about it all the time in 1960. But my husband doesn't remember it EVER being discussed at his place.

So we need to read historical records in our old age, to see what was really happening back in the time leading up to 1942. A lot of people were working _against_ the war effort!

Hels said...


The New Deal, which started post-Depression in the middle 1930s, included successful programmes like Works Progress Administration. Working class families and unemployed professionals were delighted as unemployment fell and the economy grew. Right wingers became more and more horrified at Roosevelt’s “socialism”, thinking he was pro-workers, anti-business and was supporting Britain and France militarily. They wanted him dead.

Hels said...


the accusations were loud, repetitive and totally insane. "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 was a devout Christian and Roosevelt a devout Bolshevik." Insane *sigh* !

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, It is amazing the intensity of hatred that people can work themselves into. In the case of these "ladies", a real example of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

I was reading a book on Harvard, and although both Roosevelts were Harvard men, they were hated (especially FDR) by the typical Republican Harvard graduate, who even wanted to remove FDR's portrait from the Harvard Club.
--Road to Parnassus

Hels said...


FDR seems to have inspired great passion and intense loathing, all at the same time. Does your book explain this extreme polarisation of the community?

I imagine that most women were terrified that their husbands and sons would be conscripted and sent off to die thousands of ks from home. I can also imagine that some women were true pacifists and would have opposed the concept of war in general.

But this movement wasn't pacifist. It was a movement of hatred, fear, bigotry and the attempted destruction of a presidency. If men did that, we wouldn't be pleased. If women did that in the name of devotion to family morality and Christianity, we are horrified.