On August 17, 1923, the Ku Klux Klan held its first-ever open-air initiation ceremony in New Jersey, in Allenwood, in Wall Township. With 900 men and 700 women in robes and hoods looking on, 434 women were welcomed into the “Ladies of the Invisible Empire” (aka “Loties”), the women’s wing of the Klan. The ceremony was held in an open field, illuminated by the headlights of hundreds of cars formed in a circle.
According to the Asbury Park Press, “First came a Lotie carrying a fiery cross, next came two members attired in red, white and blue capes, and then followed a lady similarly attired, carrying a Bible. They swore an oath, and a 60-foot cross was then lit and burst into flames,” as onlookers cheered and automobile horns blared in applause.
This was the second iteration of the Ku Klux Klan. The first Klan flourished in the Southern U.S. in the late 1860s during Reconstruction, then petered out by the early 1870s.
The second Klan started in Georgia in 1915. It grew after 1920 and flourished nationwide in the early and mid-1920s, including urban areas of the Midwest and West. Taking inspiration from D. W. Griffith’s 1915 silent film “The Birth of a Nation,” which mythologized the founding of the first Klan, it employed marketing techniques and a popular fraternal organization structure. The new Klan had a wider program than its forerunner, for it added to “white supremacy,” an intense nativism, and anti-Catholicism to its existing commitment to “white supremacy” and anti-Semitism. It grew rapidly throughout northern and southern states, stressing religious fundamentalism, and providing an outlet for the militant patriotism aroused by World War I.
This second Klan was funded by initiation fees and selling its members a standard white costume. The chapters did not have dues. It used K-words which were similar to those used by the first Klan, while adding cross burning and mass parades to intimidate others.
The national Women of the Ku Klux Klan (WKKK) was formed on June 10, 1923, as a result of the exclusively male Klan’s desire to create a like-minded women’s auxiliary that would bring together the existing informal pro-Klan women’s groups, including the Grand League of Protestant Women, the White American Protestants (WAP), and the Ladies of the Invisible Empire (LOTIEs).
To qualify for membership, one had to be a native-born, white, Protestant woman; membership signaled a Klanswoman’s belief in Christianity “as practiced by enlightened Protestant churches,” the separation of church and state, the home as society’s foundation, free public schooling, the “supremacy of the Constitution of the United States,” freedom of speech and worship, impartial justice, no racial mixing, and immigration restriction. The WKKK viewed racial mixing as an offense parallel to treason, stating that “intermingling” was “opposed to the laws of God and man.” Promoting a nativist ideology of “America First,” the WKKK denounced immigrants and Catholics as “un-American,” claiming Protestantism as the birthright of Americans and that the United States was a country founded “not for the refuse population of other lands.” Klanswomen understood themselves as emancipated women whose role as voters—a right obtained only three years prior to the WKKK’s founding—was essential for the protection and purification of the country’s political, social, and moral fabrics.
Over the course of 1923, the Klan paid a number of visits to churches in Monmouth County. Some churches refused to allow them to speak, but permitted attendance by robed and hooded Knights and Loties. Others rolled out the red carpet and warmly welcomed the Klansmen, sometimes cordoning off large sections so they could sit together as a group for services. The first formal public appearance of the Loties in Monmouth County is believe to be a parade in Mantoloking on July 15, 1923, when they marched to a church to attend a wedding.
The second KKK rapidly declined in the later half of the 1920s. At its peak in the mid-1920s, its membership was estimated at 4 million to 5 million. Although the actual figures were probably much smaller, the Klan nevertheless declined to an estimated 30,000 members by 1930. State and local ordinances outlawing masks, removing the cloak of anonymity, was one of the forces at work that led to the decline in membership.
Women of Klan Hold Initiation. (1923). Asbury Park Press, August 18, 1923, P. 1.
Lady Klansmen Parade to Church. (1923). Asbury Park Press, July 16, 1923, P. 1.
Ku Klux Klan: The Second Ku Klux Klan. (2012). The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed., 2012, Columbia University Press. Available: https://www.infoplease.com/encyclopedia/history/north-america/us/ku-klux-klan/the-second-ku-klux-klan
Women of the Ku Klux Klan (WKKK). (20012). Encyclopedia of Arkansas, September 20, 2012. Available: https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/women-of-the-ku-klux-klan-4220/.
Featured image: First public appearance of women of the KKK on Long Island. Triangle Studio, photographer, created / published c1924. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Public Domain.