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Women of the Far Right: The Mothers’ Movement and World War II
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997
Women of the Far Right delves into a fascinating subject: the mothers’ movement, the loosely organized and often internally divided groups of women opposed to America’s involvement in World War II. Some of the women were vehemently anti-Semitic. Others started off as anti-communists. One female pilot was secretly employed by the German government. All were united as women and mothers opposed to American boys being killed in a foreign war. During the peak of the mothers’ movement, millions of American women were counted as members.
Glen Jeansonne, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is clear that the women he describes are “extremists” and “bigots,” and he expresses such opinions throughout the book. Given that many of his sources are reports compiled by the federal government, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the American Jewish Congress, I didn’t expect to read anything positive about the women of the far right. However, the women’s bravery shines through in their stories despite the author’s own bigotry.
Women of the Far Right details the various mothers’ movement organizations, their publications, and activism. This review does not follow the chapters of the book, but instead focuses on several leaders.
Elizabeth Dilling, ‘Female Führer’: A Christian Against Communism
Elizabeth Dilling was the most famous “mother” of the 1930s and ’40s. An adamant Christian since her youth, her friends expected her to be an evangelist. She studied at the University of Chicago and became a housewife after marriage. Her husband did well financially as a lawyer, but was repeatedly unfaithful. During one early affair, Dilling and her mother drove to the woman’s house, “shattered the front window with a bullet, forced their way in at gunpoint, [and] warned the woman to stop seeing Albert,” who later gave his wife $100,000 to not divorce him.
Dilling and her husband traveled extensively. A month-long tour of the Soviet Union in 1931 made her adamantly opposed to communism, particularly its rejection of Christianity, and she vowed to speak out against it when she returned to the U.S. In Palestine in 1938, she filmed Jewish immigrants “ruining” the Holy Land, and thought England had betrayed the Arabs by allowing the Jews to steal their land. It is reported that the German government paid Dilling’s expenses on her second trip to Germany, where she attended Nazi party meetings. She found that “the German people under Hitler are contented and happy. . . . don’t believe the stories you hear that this man has not done a great good for this country.”
Dilling took two trips to Spain, where Francisco Franco’s officers allowed her to visit the front and take video and photographs of “churches ruined by the Reds with the same satanic Jewish glee shown in Russia.” When she returned to the U.S., Dilling gave film and slide presentations of her footage to women’s groups.
Dilling had a healthy interpretation of Christianity, in that she viewed it not as a faith of meekness, but one of fighting. She believed that Jesus had commanded Christians to fight infidels and quoted Matt. 10:34: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I come not to send peace, but a sword.” She spoke of “Satan’s Red pits of Bolshevism disguised as humanitarianism” and how Christians were vulnerable to humanist propaganda.
After a doctor told her she was close to a nervous breakdown, Dilling took up activism as a remedy to calm her nerves. She threw herself into her work, staying up till midnight and dropping friends who didn’t believe in or wouldn’t contribute money to her cause. Her initial efforts were anti-communist, and she saw communists everywhere—in the YMCA and YWCA, the NAACP, and the ACLU. All were undermining families, promoting birth control, and encouraging integration between blacks and whites. Meanwhile, university textbooks written by Jewish communists taught students about free love, masturbation, and homosexuality.
As Dilling’s activism grew, she became a popular speaker, lecturing as often as five times a week and composing anti-communist songs. She often faked a Yiddish accent, which “her audiences found hilarious,” Jeansonne reports. Her audience was often moved to a frenzy, shouting out about the need to kill communists.
For a while, her efforts centered on investigating colleges, making lists of books on Marxism and by Freud in the libraries. Henry Ford (who paid for her office furniture and had her on his payroll for six months) paid her $5,000 to investigate the University of Michigan, and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce paid her to investigate UCLA. In 1933, she started compiling a list of communists and related subversives, working 12 to 14 hours a day for a more than a year. The result was the self-published, 352-page book The Red Network: A Who’s Who and Handbook of Radicalism for Patriots. Tens of thousands of copies were sold or given away over the next few years, with assistance from the KKK, the German-American Bund, and Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Some chemical and ammunition companies bought and distributed copies, with hopes that the Red Scare would increase sales of tear gas and ammo to use on the communists. A German magazine titled Dilling the “female führer” of the U.S.
Her next book, The Roosevelt Red Record and Its Background, was published two weeks before the 1936 presidential election. She spoke out against FDR’s “Jew Deal,” the centralization of banking, the progressive income tax, abolishing private property, restrictions on inheritances, welfare, and laws against private possession of firearms. She also was critical of Eleanor Roosevelt, claiming FDR was too weak a man to control his own wife.
In 1940, she published a book on the Jewish Question called The Octopus under the pseudonym the Rev. Frank Woodruff Johnson. The “octopus” was the ADL, which was trying to stage a communist coup in the U.S. and undermine Christianity. She discussed how Marxism and Bolshevism were Jewish movements, and labeled New York City as the world’s “Jew-communist” capital. She noted that communists used blacks to do their dirty work while seeking to enslave them. At one point, she told her husband that she wished communists would start shooting businessmen to wake people up from their lethargy. She blamed WWII on communists and Jews and said that, just like the first world war, Americans had to “fight the Jews’ battles all over again.”
Albert’s infidelity continued throughout their marriage, leading her to file for divorce in 1941 in a case that made news throughout the country. Her husband said Dilling’s reputation as a bigot had ruined his career as a lawyer, and he accused her of drunkenness, drug addiction, profanity, and abuse. Dilling’s two grown children testified for her, while her husband and his attorney, Maurice Weinshenk, called upon Dilling’s many enemies to testify against her. Dilling’s son ended up in fights with his mother’s detractors outside the courtroom, and fought inside the courtroom with his father’s attorney. Weinshenk demanded lists of names of participants in her organizations, and copies of correspondence between Dilling and fascist sympathizers. Albert eventually fired Weinshenk, the latter claiming because the investigation was about to implicate Albert himself. Later that year, the couple dropped the divorce proceedings. Meanwhile, Albert tried to get Weinshenk disbarred.
The Dilling’s reconciliation lasted long enough for Albert to defend his wife in the Great Sedition Trial of 1944. During the trial, so many people were found in contempt by Judge Edward C. Eicher that Albert formed an “Eicher Contempt Club.” Members wore a white ribbon badge, and one star was added each time they were held in contempt. The club brought discussions in court, publicity in The New York Times, and much-needed morale. A mistrial was declared after Eicher’s death late that year.
The next year, Albert moved to Reno and obtained a quick divorce. Dilling claimed that their home was happy until “organized Jewry” planted a “bleached gold digger” in their life to ruin her family “through [her] weak husband.” Dilling appears to have let her husband act as the head of the family while she focused on child-rearing and household management. Outside of the home, however, Dilling thought she was better able to run the country than most of the men in charge. According to Jeansonne, Dilling saw “less threat to families in divorce, child or spousal abuse, and poverty than in alleged plots to destroy Christianity and enslave Gentiles.”
Dilling remained an activist after the war, and was critical of Eisenhower, JFK, Barry Goldwater, the Vietnam War, and “kosher conservative” William F. Buckley Jr. She became an avid reader of the Talmud, and began signing her name “Elizabeth Dilling, D.D.T.,” which stood for “Doctor of Damned Talmud.” In 1964, she and her second husband published The Plot Against Christianity. She died two years later.
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