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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lucy Somerville Howorth, June 20, 22, and 23, 1975. Interview G-0028. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Cloaking post-World War II women's organizations with patriotic rhetoric

Here, Howorth compares the efforts of women's organizations after World War I with those of World War II. Remarking that many women's organizations were devoted to peace causes after the First World War, Howorth explains that because of the rise of McCarthyism after World War II, some women's organizations, such as the American Association of University Women, cloaked their activities with the rhetoric of patriotism. Howorth argues that this type of "counter propaganda" was necessary for women's organizations to continue to pursue gender equality without suspicion of ties to leftist groups.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lucy Somerville Howorth, June 20, 22, and 23, 1975. Interview G-0028. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Why do you think the assembly in 1950 of those women's organizations with the theme, "Mobilize" was significant? Or is this a different organization from the. . . .
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
I don't recall the language that we used, but it was an assembly of women's organizations for national security and this is the background: following World War I, the peace movement which had been flourishing before World War I began to recover its forces and the American Association of University Women and the General Federation of Women's Clubs, the then young National Federation of Business and Professional Women and the Society of Friends and the this, that and the other, all began to resume certain peace and international relations activities. Judge Florence Allen, whom I told you I introduced at the YWCA convention in 1922, she made there the speech that she was making all over the country, of "law, not war." Billboards over the country were plastered with that slogan and Mrs. Catt and a group got their heads. . . .
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Yes. They got their heads together and they formed what they called The Conference on the Cause and Cure of War and all of these organizations coalesced to meet in that conference annually in Washington. And to directly or indirectly press on Congress the importance of something, if we couldn't join the League of Nations, something of that nature, the Kellogg Peace Pact and this, that and the other. Now, that annual conference and coalescence of these organizations began to have some weight, so the people who were for a big navy and stronger defense and this, that and the other, they began to get nervous and they went, they didn't do it directly, but they persuaded the DAR and the American Legion Auxillary and a few others of what I call the "genelogical organizations", they call themselves "patriotic," but I think that I as a member of the American Association of University Women am as patrioticas any member of the DAR.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Or as the UDC and the Colonial Dames and so forth?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
That's right. So, they all got together, but they called it The Coalition of Patriotic Organizations and that just riled the others. That is the beginning of the sniping between the DAR and these other organizations. I read that book, The Daughters and it is a very well written book and a fine book, but it doesn't pick that up. It says that but it didn't explain. . . .
CONSTANCE MYERS:
It didn't explain the basis of that feeling.
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
No. Then, of course, came Hitler and it began to be seen what was happening. So, Mrs. Catt, who really was a statesman, she said that it was time to dissolve The Conference on the Cause and Cure of War and I think the last one was in '36, maybe it was '35. Anyhow, I attended the last of that conference and Mrs. Catt made the closing speech and it was a wonderful speech. Her words were prophetic. She said, "Do not tell me that the future of humanity is a figure huddled in a scholar's gown with a Phi Beta Kappa key gleaming in the dim light in the deep recesses of a cavern trying to be protected from the bombs." Well, that pretty near came to be true and it may be true yet. It was dissolved. We went into the war and everybody was helping win and the Patriotic Coalition went along helping, too. Then after the war, here was the United Nations and these same women's groups were all supporting it and doing what they could and they were interested in the Marshall Plan and so on and the Patriotic Coalition began to reassemble again and we began the beginnings of the McCarthy era. Now, none of those groups, the General Federation or the AAUW or any of them, were willing to have any truck whatsoever with this Patriotic Coalition. So, the Patriotic Coalition began to smear them and put out statements. I met the wife of a Senator one day in the late '40s and she said, "I've been back visiting some relatives at (some place in the Midwest) and one of my relatives asked me if the AAUW was a Communist organization. I (the Senator's wife) said, 'Indeed no. I know Mrs. Howorth very well and she is on the board and she wouldn't be if it was.' " Well, it got so bad that the AAUW sent someone to talk to the DAR and I for one was promoting the idea of suing them for slander, although I didn't mean to really go through with it, because that would just be hay raking season for the press. But you see, it was getting to be a very critical situation in that these charges that the General Federation had been taken over by subversive groups and that the AAUW and Business and Professional Women were. . . .
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Was the principal issue support for the United Nations?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
That was one of the major issues and it . . . you know, it's hard to pin down these things. They get kind of amorphous, but then, you see, came the McCarthy hearings and Dorothy Kenyon, who was vice-president of the AAUW was called up there and of course, that was as foolish as hauling you, but that didn't make any difference. The papers beat you, "Judge Kenyon, vice-president of the AAUW will be testifying today." Esther Brunauer, who had been our international relations staff associate, her husband, Commander Brunauer, he was as loyal as anybody, I think, but he had acted foolishly. He was a Hungarian or something like that by birth and he was so proud of being a Commander in the Navy that he went to see his relatives shortly after the war, who were in that country, and wearing his uniform and it was a Communist country. So, he got reprimanded and all this stuff. So, we had to do something. So, Margaret Hickey and four or five others, Mrs. Dorothy Houghton was president of the General Federation . . .I ran into her on the street one day and she stopped and said, "I just don't know what is going on. I get these letters asking me questions about our loyalty and all." We set up . . . I didn't go to it much because I had too much to do, but we set up a conference of the League of Women Voters, the B and PW, the AAUW, and the General Federation top office and staff in Washington to exchange notes and to see if they could sense what was coming up. So, we got our heads together and decided we would just put on our own patriotic show and that's how this originated and that's why I said that it was very important at the time. Now, this didn't last more than six years or something like that. It took all the influence I had to keep the AAUW in, because you can imagine that most of those college professors who were on the board, not the membership, couldn't see why they should be mixing in any such triviality from their standpoint. I couldn't tell them that their organization was going to be destroyed and they were going to all lose their jobs all over the country unless they put a counter propaganda in motion. Without saying it in plain words, although I did to some of them, it was our need.