Quakers & The Klan: The Real Thing, Not The Rumor

Quakers & The Klan: The Real Thing, Not The Rumor

There’s a report out there today from hackers claiming to be part of the “Anonymous” network, naming a batch of current American politicians as secret Ku Klux Klan members.

The list’s credibility is unclear, and without solid confirmation we won’t repost any of the names from it here. But whether or not anyone on the list in fact has ties to the KKK, what is beyond doubt is that the spirit of the Klan is still very much alive and active in American society. It rarely shows up in the old robes nowadays; it has found more sophisticated (and effective) means of manifestation, especially via politics.

And while the Klan is back in the news, it’s worth mentioning that there’s a  major chapter in Ku Klux Klan history that involves many Quakers. This one is real, solid, and verified — yet Quaker historians have been almost totally silent about it:

Say Hello to Friend Daisy Douglass Barr, Quaker pastor, and “Queen” of the Indiana Women’s Ku Klux Klan in the early 1920s.


(If thee is tempted to snicker, don’t. The Klan was a very big deal in the 1920s; it made Barr famous and rich. Not to mention its racism and violence, which she evidently ignored.)

There’s a fine substantial article about Friend Barr and her eye-popping career online here, by a Hoosier historian, Steven Taylor. Don’t miss it.

I’ve borrowed some info and old photos from it. And another scholar, Leonard J. Moore, has added substantially to what we know in his book, Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928.  

A Klan seal from 1918.

Moore builds on the fact that the membership list of the Indiana Klan was preserved (most others were lost or destroyed); and the Hoosier Klan was the nation’s biggest and most powerful in its 1920s heyday.

Moore’s analysis of the KKK list for Wayne County — home of the city of Richmond, numerous Quakers, and the Quaker  Earlham College — offers a startling (to modern  Friends) disclosure:

The religious affiliations of the Klans­men also closely approximated the city’s Protestant spectrum . .  . . The large, traditionally evangelical de­nominations (Methodist, Baptist, Disciples of Christ, and Presbyte­rian) were strongly represented, but so too were the equally con­sequential German (Lutheran and United Brethren) and Quaker churches. (Emphasis added.)

That is, Indiana Quakers were just as likely to join the 1920s Indiana Klan as members of other churches; and many did. 

Daisy Douglass Barr was their star.  She served as pastor in at least two prominent Friends churches, and preached in many more, over many years.

Daisy Douglass Barr in a 1922 newsclip (her maiden name was spelled Douglass, not Douglas, as here.)

She also used her notoriety and her Klan office to make money. The profit came mainly from selling Klan women’s robes and other paraphernalia. When the Indiana Klan could boast several hundred thousand members, and draw tens of thousands to its (white) family-friendly mass rallies, the paraphernalia business was good; nay, it was a goldmine.

By and large, according to Moore, the 1920s Indiana Klan, while committed to white supremacy, was not much into the racial terrorism of the group’s original Reconstruction-era incarnation.

Well, “not much” is a relative term. On August 7, 1930, one of the iconic lynchings of the era occurred in Marion, Indiana, near Daisy Barr’s birthplace. Two black men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, were dragged from jail and left hanging from a tree, surrounded by a festive mob numbered at 5000, unashamed of the camera’s eye.  Despite the thousands of eyewitnesses, no one was ever prosecuted for the lynchings; a grand jury refused to issue any indictments.

Lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, Marion Indiana 1930.


Did I mention that Marion was home then to a large Friends Church? Still is.

Despite such savage incidents, it is still fair to say that even more than race, the Klan’s main “theme” was “Americanism.” That’s what its Indiana Grand Dragon, D.C. Stephenson, who was a political kingmaker for several years, droned on about ad nauseam in his speeches. For that matter, it was even stressed above race in the Klan’s “Kreed”:

The KKK “Kreed” from a 1916 Handbook.

Further, its “Qualifying Interrogatories for new applicants,” #5 asked:
“Do you esteem the United states of America and its institutions above any other government, civil, political or ecclesiastical, in the whole world?”

Quaker Daisy  Barr was all in on this. To quote historian Taylor:

In July 1923, Barr — the only woman on the program — addressed the assembled Grand Dragons of the Klan in Asheville, North Carolina, where she read a poem she’d written.  Starting out in first-person, Barr spoke about my “all-seeing” eye and revelations and “the love of Christ.”  Chillingly, it becomes clear that the “I” of the poem is “the Spirit of Righteousness”: 

“They call me the Ku Klux Klan.  
I am more than the uncouth robe and hood
With which I am clothed. 

Hostility to “new” immigrants (those not from northern, Protestant Europe, along with anti-semitism) was integral to this “Americanism.” It is a cry that echoes to this day.

So while no one should overlook the racial, religious and ethnic aspects here, there is yet another which is central to both “Americanism” (in most Klan versions) and to KKK history, namely: making money. For the KKK, when it had a mass membership, took in truckloads of money; and its officials seemed unable to stop quarreling over it,  or accusing each other of stealing it.

Daisy Barr wasn’t accused of theft; just good old-fashioned American profiteering. Which there’s little doubt she actively engaged in. 

Barr-millionaire-Greenfield-Daily-Reporter-March-26-1924-2The Greenfield Reporter (at left) put the question baldly, and the answer was more or less yes, though exact figures are not available.

For several years in the 1920s, the Klan and head man, D.C. Stephenson, ran Indiana, and lived high on the hog. But then in 1925 Stephenson, 34, who had an eye for younger women, was arrested and tried for the rape and murder of Madge Oberholtzer, age 28. He was convicted, spent years in jail, and with his fall, down went the Indiana Klan as a major organization.

Daisy Barr went on til 1938, when she was killed in a car wreck. Her funeral was, unsurprisingly, held in a Friends meeting.

Funeral notice for Daisy Barr, April 1938, Fairmount (Indiana) News.

While the rise and fall of the Indiana Klan (and in the rest of the U.S.) in the 1920s is an epic and gripping story, well worth reading more about, it’s not so much my subject here. Instead I see it more as a parable that has all too much current resonance. For, whether in white robes or (more likely) not; whether put through the Klan’s laughably ridiculous initiation rites (or more likely not), the Klan agenda of unremitting hostility to new immigrants, especially of color; plus its devotion to the Obama-era edition of repackaged and “sanitized” white supremacy; and its focus on one political party, all are very much still with us.

And that is not all. There is in it as well a big chunk of unfinished business for American Quakers: how and why did so many Indiana Friends, custodians of some of the most honored shrines of antislavery witness, and many of whom had relatives lost or wounded in the Civil War to end slavery, get drawn into this openly racist, anti-immigrant group?  And what do we need to learn now from this dreadful history then?

We won’t learn much from Quaker historians; they are still essentially silent about it. The most detailed treatment I’ve yet seen of this episode was not a historical study but a novel for teenage readers, called Mim and the Klan, by Cynthia Stanley Russell. In it  a young Quaker girl stumbles across the fact that her aged grandparents were part of it, and starts digging out why. In one (fictional, but likely “authentic”) passage, her grandmother sums it up:

“It was a social activity to belong to the Klan in Indiana. There were picnics and rallies for America.

The subtitle: “A Hoosier Quaker Farm Family’s Story.”

We had just come out of World War I when everybody needed to be highly patriotic to weather the war together. And the Klan preached Americanism–put the flag on your window and so forth. And some people didn’t see the dark side of the Klan because they didn’t want to.”

Another way to put this is: these Indiana Quaker Klan members were not aliens or monsters; they were otherwise respectable, even “good”  people; and they are our spiritual forebears (as well as many living Quakers’ relatives).

Some may prefer to send all this down the memory hole, and pretend it did not happen. But it did, with echoes that still reverberate. Their story, even that of Daisy Douglass Barr, is connected to ours. How? And what does it mean? 

 And we need no “Anonymous” hackers collective to bring it to light; merely an end to denial.

A pro-KKK cartoon from 1928. The caricatured “immigrants” above are , from left to right: Catholic, Jewish & eastern European (or any “radicals”).


PS. For some additional reading, look into these titles:

Leonard J. Moore, Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928 (1991); Shawn Lay, ed., The Invisible Empire in the West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s (1992); Stanley Coben, Rebellion Against Victorianism: The Impetus for Cultural Change in 1920s America (1991); Kathleen Blee, Women of the Klan: Race and Gender in the 1920s (1991); Nancy MacLean, Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan (1994).

And a 1916 Klan Handbook is reproduced in full online here. 




10 thoughts on “Quakers & The Klan: The Real Thing, Not The Rumor”

  1. Doug, the older I get (after 30-some years as a Quaker), I become more convinced that early Friends really did stumble onto a powerful “tool” for discerning godly living on this Earth. And that is “expectant waiting worship” (sometimes called “unprogrammed worship”). And since I view you as a Quaker historian who has reviewed all sides of Quaker history, I am curious if you think a departure from valuing “expectant waiting” worship has had any negative influences in outward behavior (such as you outline regarding Daisy Barr)? I ask this also knowing full well that even most unprogrammed Quakers do not regularly avail themselves of unprogrammed worship. Has this trend and the pastoral Quaker system had a negative impact on the Society of Friends – in your opinion?

      1. Oh my! I am getting old, Chuck. I meant to address this to YOU. I was just reading a post from Doug, just before reading yours on Daisy Barr, and got mixed up. Certainly, Doug likely has some good insights too. But since I meant to address this to you, do you have any thoughts to share?

        1. Howard, I’m not a fan of the pastoral system. One of its worst effects has been the in-migration of many low-end preachers who are what I call “Quakers by employment,” with little acquaintance with or commitment to actual Quaker history and commitments. Too many such have decided to remake their meetings into poor copies of whatever other tradition they came from, to the grief of the body, and especially the Yearly Meetings they are supposed to be part of. In addition, a full-time pastor tends to shift the church culture toward one in which the pastor is like the sun, around which all else orbits. And then we find, as we often do here in NC, that a meeting has no idea what to do if the pastor isn’t there to direct them; which I take to be distinctly un-Quakerly.

          On the other hand, there are a scattering of pastors who are well-tutored in Quakerism, who step back, and prod the meeting into doing much for itself, becoming “part of the team,” instead of coach, manager & pope-minus-the-name. When I’ve visited such places, I have often felt like I was among “relatives”, maybe not the same as my particular “family,” but connected.
          And indeed, after more than 45 years in strictly unprogrammed, non-pastoral meetings, I’m now attending a semi-programmed meeting which does not have a pastor. So it’s even more of a hybrid. I like it, tho I suspect that has more to do with the people there and the “mellow” welcoming atmosphere. (Is there an “Ancient Quaker Testimony of “Mellow”? Hmmm. WWDD? What Would Doug Declare?)

  2. Thank you for this interesting article. I remember my father telling me that in his father’s time, you could not be a politician or “civic leader” without belonging to the Klan.

  3. Ah – that dirty little secret of Indiana Yearly Meeting!

    Well, it is a secret well-known and not well-known to those of us with Hoosier Quaker connections. What is ‘interesting’ is that so little has ever been researched on the subject. There are just bits, here and there, on this dirty little secret. However, there is no doubt that the Klan was a major player in 1920’s national and Indiana politics. Richmond WAS a hotbed of Klan connections. However – you find very little about all that. I have heard that the still large business community of Richmond had very little involvement. It seems to have been a force within the Quaker meetings. Good luck on finding those details…

    Racism does seem to come with the beginning of the rise of the pastors for Indiana Yearly Meeting. I know little past some details on it. My Gilbert forebears were something of a force against it rise, and I known I had a second cousin who appeared to some kind of involvement with the People’s Party of the late 1800’s. However, the times were a odd mix of good and bad, and even with the good. They stood out against the pastors, but there wasn’t enough to stand long.

    A good general book is Irving Liebowitz’s My Indiana. It has a chapter that covers very well just how powerful the Klan was in Indiana. It controlled the state government. At least until that rape and death done by the Klan leader. That ended the rise of the Klan, and certainly did much to end the power of the Klan in both Indiana and the nation. The details of the rape and death Were quite disgusting, and I am quite sure did much to end the Klan and Indiana Quakers as well as creating a considerable desire to bury the whole ugly experience.

    It is worth research…

    1. Indeed it is worth research. I’d also like to see a seriously talented fiction writer take up telling the story in novel form too.
      It is also worth pointing out here that Indiana YM is “unlucky” in historiographic terms because its Klan records fell into the “wrong” hands and were preserved, thus the scholars had something solid to work with. So we know much of that sad story beyond dispute.
      But what about North Carolina? The Klan was active here too in those years, but I have not seen any substantial scholarly material about that period, neither Quaker nor otherwise. My suspicion is that the relevant records were “disappeared” (as, for that matter, were the key papers from the Klan’s first incarnation in Tennessee during “Reconstruction,” thus effectively covering the tracks of Nathan Bedford Forrest and other founders, as well as many of the leaders, so that what is known about their part in it is (so far) beyond solid evidentiary proof. Which does not mean that nothing happened; someone organized a region-wide white supremacist reign of terror which lasted almost a century after the purported “end” of the Civil War. And my guess is that there is many a white-robed skeleton hanging in the closets of NC Quaker families as well; they have just been better-concealed.

      1. A novel IS an interesting one. I had never of that one. That one author who wrote ‘The Lamb’s War’. The Dutch one – I can’t remember his full name comes to mind. Someone like him might be able to create a story that was willing to explore ‘forbidden’ subject matters – that Friends find so hard too…

        Over the past several years with my own exploring my family tree, I have been reviewing what I remember of the oral histories the family told about ancestors. Most of mine left the Carolina’s before the 1830’s, but my Stanton line stayed until 1863. Sorry to say it, but the general feeling was that Friends who stayed back there was not good. However – yes, Friends have always walked a tight run about the issues. Genteel can run interesting streams…

        If you where – I would be very interested in where those records are about Indiana. In my last trip home, I became aware of those other sides to ancestors with the Yearly Meeting. Would love to explore just what might be there – besides just second-cousin Levi Coffin and kin. You know?

        1. The Dutch Quaker author was Jan de Hartog. He was a vivid stylist; almost never wrote a dull page. His history was weak tho. In any case he passed on some years back.
          As for research, I’d recommend starting with the fellow Steve Taylor whose post I linked to. He’s connected to the state library or archives, and from the references I saw in his posts, they have a LOT of stuff on this era.
          Then I’d get in touch with Tom Hamm at Earlham. He will know everybody you should talk to in Indiana, Quaker & otherwise. He probably also knows where “all the bodies are buried” in the way of the juiciest untold Quaker stories to follow up on.
          I wouldn’t dawdle on this if it’s a real interest. The people who had the firsthand Quaker memories are probably all gone; and those who heard their stories are not young anymore either.
          Stories can gain a kind of immortality if they are captured, preserved & passed on. But they can also die.

  4. I am an Indiana Quaker. I grew up in the Friends Church and still attend Westland Friends in Greenfield. I am also a historian and have a particular interest in this topic as Mrs. Barr was a preacher in my own county.

    Daisy Douglas Barr was a pastor at Greenfield Friends prior to moving on to larger churches and her Klan connections. I will give my own opinion here about Friends being involved in Klan activity, and much of it is based on a book by Dr. Jason Lantern who wrote the book “Hoosiers in the Hooded Order” – along with my own research.

    There have been 4 versions of the KKK. The first arose in the south as a response to reconstruction after the Civil War. The second was the largest and most powerful – it was based in the Midwest as well as the south (more about it later). The 3rd came about in the 1960’s in a response to the Civil Rights era. The last version is what we have now – the skinhead neo-Nazi version (by far the weakest in power of all of the Klan versions).

    The Klan of the 1920’s was different than the other Klan versions because it embraced a wider empathetic ideology. Predominantly it proslytized about what Lantern calls the *three P’s* – Patriotism, Protestantism, and Prohibition. If you notice – you don’t see anything there about race. This is because the Klan of the 1920’s was not really all about race.

    The Klan of the 1920’s was *America for Americans* – and really who can argue with that. In fact, we still see that mindset today – *Why are we giving money to people overseas when (vets, poor people, single mothers) are struggling at home? The 20’s saw a huge influx of Eastern Europeans into America – your Slavic people and Poles -many of these people were coming to the Midwest for the industrial jobs that were here, and they were competing against Americans for those jobs. So people were angry. At the same time, blacks were leaving the south and moving to the north for those jobs too. Now they were Americans, but they were also *new* to the north. Patriotism – Americans should support their own before helping foreigners.

    It also happens that most of the Eastern Europeans were either Catholic or Jewish – so again – the emphasis on religion. The Klan of this era was noted for having its members show up at church services in full Klan regalia and deliver large sums of money to the alter. Protestantism – Is American.

    Lastly, this is where Daisy Douglass Barr gets involved is prohibition. The evils of alcohol and the temperance movement was in high action mode at this time. Women were frequently the victim of the evils of alcohol. They had no right to vote until 1919. They had no legal right to their children if they divorced, and in a divorce they would lose everything (even if they brought property into the marriage). An alcoholic husband could be abusive and may not work to support the family – yet if the woman left – she lost everything. Alcohol ruined lives (of course it still does). The temperance movement sought to stamp out the sale and use of alcohol everywhere, and eventually this is why we had prohibition.

    Daisy Douglass Barr was a very outspoken and staunch supporter of prohibition. She started WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Unions) in several of the locations where she preached. The Hancock County WCTU had over 400 members at one time – and the group actually started at my church.

    The Klan honed in on this strong opposition to alcohol and it was one of their main selling points. The Klan was not seen as a violent organization – in fact it was more like your Sertoma Club or your Rotary Club today. The Klan presented itself as true blue American, fighting for American rights against invaders, a defender of Christian virtues, and the weaker sex. On the surface these seem like all good things.

    However, the real leadership of the Klan had alterior motives – and the Grand Dragon of the Klan- DC Stephenson, who resided in a large house in the Irvington neighborhood in Indianapolis, was known by his intimates to throw drunken bashe’s with several women of questionable reputations.

    Stephenson was friends with both the Indianapolis Mayor and Indiana Governor Ed Jackson. His motives were to control the masses through political maneuvering, and lobbying. Stephenson also had the money to do it – through the collection of membership fees, and the sale of Klan items – particularly Klan robes. This is where Daisy made her money. She was in charge of the women’s auxiliary to the Klan, and she coordinated the making and selling of Klan robes.

    So how does a Quaker get involved with the Klan? Very simply – this version of the Klan was for the most part not as outright violent. It sucked in many people who liked it’s Christian values, it’s patriotic appeal, and it’s moral attitude – especially in regards to prohibition. For the most part this Klan was not the terror group of reconstruction, or the Civil rights era. It was a gentler-kinder Klan if you will. Oh don’t get me wrong there were cross burnings, intimidation and even violence with this Klan – but not as much in the Midwest (more still in the South). The danger in this Klan was more real because it actually had some significant political power and influence – because so many people were a part of it.

    I think it is really interesting that once the violence and corruption were exposed with the fall of DC Stephenson – the power of the 1920s Klan quickly fizzled away. Good people saw what they really stood for, and how awful they were, and they wanted none of it. Many had been duped.

    In Daisy’s case she was eventually expelled from the Klan on charges of embezzlement. So greed ended up clouding her original good intentions. She would be killed in the car accident later.

    Daisy Douglass Barr is buried in the Fairmount Cemeteryin Fairmount IN, and she rests in her grave just a few rows away from another Quaker – actor James Dean.

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