Misc Monday: A Ku Klux Quaker?

Written by on September 28, 2015 in Misc Mondays - 6 Comments
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Daisy Douglass Barr

Daisy Douglass Barr, Imperial Empress of the Women of the Ku Klux Klan, circa 1923.

Women are often the most fascinating characters in Hoosier history. Their lives continue to be relevant to pressing issues today.  Yet while most notable Indiana women could still be held up as role models, a few figure into the dark side of history.

One especially complicated Hoosier woman was Daisy Douglass Barr.  In the mid-1920’s, Barr — a Quaker minister and touring evangelist since the age of 16 — served as the Imperial Empress of the Queens of the Golden Mask, the women’s auxiliary of the powerful Indiana Klan.  The queen bee later morphed into the head of the state’s WKKK (Women of the Ku Klux Klan), a group sponsored by Indianapolis’ famous Kleagle, D.C. Stephenson.

During the 1920s, when Klan membership in the Midwest outstripped that of the Deep South, Barr was an influential woman.  Yet when her secret involvement with the infamous organization became public, the scandal led to her downfall.

She was born Daisy Douglass Brushwiller in 1875 in Jonesboro, near Upland and Marion in Grant County, where the most famous image of an American lynching was made in 1930, showing the murder of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith.  Her father was a Civil War veteran who had converted to Quakerism at a time when the Society of Friends was undergoing dramatic changes.  Unlike the stereotypical image of Quakers, by the late 1800s the Friends weren’t always sitting in silence waiting for divine inspiration and “quaking” when it came.  Instead, some Quaker meetings began to bring on regular ministers and participate in pan-Protestant revivals and tent meetings, sometimes even drawing close to Christian fundamentalism, a new movement born in reaction to Darwinism and liberal readings of the Bible — and which was tearing the Protestant world apart by the days of the Scopes Monkey Trial.  Barr’s mother was a Methodist.

Daisy got her call to preach, she said, during a trip out to the woodshed to seek solitude.  It is thought she preached her first sermon at age 16.  This would make her one of the few “girl evangelists” of that age.

In 1893, the 18-year-old married Thomas D. Barr, a teacher from Fairmount, Indiana, then moved around the east-central part of the state with him.  She also began to lead evangelical revivals in Indiana and Michigan.  Around 1900, the 20-something Barr took up the cause of temperance and the reform of prostitutes, a cause that would later drag her into the tempestuous battle between “wets” and “drys” as Hoosiers of different cultural stripes battled over whether to ban booze.

Indianapolis News, July 29, 1916

Indianapolis News, July 29, 1916

In the 1910s, Barr was becoming famous as a preacher.  Indianapolis newspapers reported large crowds coming to hear her sermons at city churches, many of them now closed as mainline Protestant membership has hemorrhaged.  In Indy, she preached at Roberts Park Methodist Church, Tuxedo Park Methodist on the Near East Side, the old Meridian Street Methodist Episcopal Church (this is the Gothic building, abandoned in 1946, across from the Central Public Library and recently turned into condominiums), as well as at Baptist and Quaker houses of worship, including Indianapolis First Friends.

Indy’s huge Cadle Tabernacle, a “megachurch” that later hosted some major KKK rallies in the 1920s and became home to a radio ministry in the ’30s, gave her the pulpit.  In 1916, a special tabernacle for Barr to speak at was built at College Avenue and the canal in Broad Ripple, still a remote rural spot on the northern end of town best-known for its amusement park, The White City.  The Broad Ripple revival was expected to attract about 1,200 people.  In Greencastle in 1920, another tabernacle was built at the corner of Poplar and Vine, one block north of DePauw University — the cultural center of Methodism in Indiana — specifically for Barr to lead a several-week-long revival.

In 1917, Thomas and Daisy Douglass Barr moved into a large new house on the then far-eastern edge of Indy, along Pleasant Run Creek in Irvington.  An elderly man next door wasn’t happy about my interest in the place and told me to get out of his neighborhood — but it seemed obvious to me that he knew its history and didn’t want it told.  Out of respect to the neighbors and current property owners, I don’t disclose the address and strongly advise against curiosity here.  I hope he was simply uncomfortable that Barr once lived next door a century ago.  He insisted, however, that the Klan was “all south of 40.” William Faulkner was more accurate when he said, “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.”

Barr was a powerful, reform-minded preacher.  To be fair, much of her concern over the pressing social issues of the time was legit.  Alcoholism and the sexual exploitation of women were serious business.  Her later political associations make us recoil, but in 1919, she went to bat for women “castaways,” including the homeless:

Hancock Democrat (Greenfield, IN), December 25, 1919 (2)

Hancock Democrat (Greenfield, IN), December 25, 1919

Daisy Barr’s struggles in towns like Muncie, New Castle (where she was the pastor of the local Quaker meeting), Greenfield, Alexandria and elsewhere possibly would have earned her a lasting reputation as a progressive reformer. . . if she hadn’t cast her lot with the Klan around 1922.

Well-meaning Prohibitionists, who often included ministers and suffragettes among their number, had an up-hill battle when it came to shutting off the tap.  Americans’ views on liquor had a lot to do with their views on labor unions, certain kinds of immigrants, and Catholics.  These groups typically didn’t share white middle-class Protestant cultural views.  Though booze-busters often had strong reasons for opposing drink — many had seen good men and families wrecked by alcoholism and the poverty that often ensued — there’s a dark side to Prohibition.  “Drys” vs. “wets” tended to fall into religious and class camps, with the Protestant battle against the bottle sometimes just a thinly-veiled excuse to drive out Catholics and unwanted immigrants hailing from Germany, Italy, and Eastern Europe.  Daisy Douglass Barr’s tangle with Alfaretta Hart, Muncie’s “millionaire policewoman” — Hart was a “wet” Catholic who threatened to “tear the town wide open” over corruption and sex abuse — is a great example of the conflicts that grew out of the hypocrisy and stuffiness of many Prohibitionists.

Enter the Klan.  Revived in the ’20s partly as a response to the loose enforcement of local, state, and national liquor bans, the KKK was primed to appeal to passionate reformers like Barr since its “official” views on racial and sexual purity struck a chord with many women.  Its virulent anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism — arguably stronger at that time than its views on African Americans — funneled into its ranks many Protestants concerned about alleged papal takeover of American schools and the rise of labor unions.  We think of the Klan today as “inbred white trash,” as one blogger has written.  But in the Jazz Age, membership was broad, with Klan rallies and parades as far north as Michigan, Chicago and Maine.

The gist of some of Barr’s evolving views on the social problems of the ’20s appeared in the Rushville Republican in Rushville, Indiana, where she spoke at the town’s Coliseum on March 1, 1923.  Barr spoke under a “fiery cross” hanging from the ceiling — actually an electric light.

Rushville Republica, March 2, 1923

Rushville Republica, March 2, 1923 (3)

Rushville Republica, March 2, 1923 (5)

Rushville Republica, March 2, 1923 (6)

She then lashed out at the Catholic Church, which she said was training “100,000 negroes” to be Catholic priests, and at Jews, whom Barr accused of profiting from World War I and from loans given to the American government.  By now a “Klan Klucker,” Daisy Douglass Barr also urged — ludicrously — that “the Klan was the friend of the negro race.”

Indianapolis News, October 21, 1922

Indianapolis News, October 21, 1922

Her role in the Invisible Empire was so important that she worked directly with D.C. Stephenson to organize women’s branches.  In Indianapolis, a proposed Klan hospital, reserved exclusively for Protestants, was slated to be built at 2114 North Alabama Street in the Herron-Morton District.  This was to be named the Daisy Barr Home.  The hospital’s articles of incorporation specified that its seventeen directors must be appointed directly by the Women of the Ku Klux Klan.  Francis F. Hamilton, city building commissioner, nixed the application on January 17, 1924.

The Quaker Klucker was now attending national speaking engagements.  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. / YEA, I AM THE SOUL OF AMERICA.”

That autumn, she would address a crowd of over 20,000 people gathered in Monticello, Indiana, for that town’s Fall Festival, which involved a Klan parade featuring 500 robed Klansmen.  Other towns over the years featured floats bearing fully-outfitted Klanswomen.

Logansport Pharos-Tribune, October 15, 1923

Logansport Pharos-Tribune, October 15, 1923

WKKK Float

A WKKK float in Akron, Ohio, 1925.

The year 1924, however, brought Reverend Barr’s downfall.  Oddly, her role in the Invisible Empire had been kept mostly secret.  The attacks against her seem to have been started by the legendary newspaperman George R. Dale, editor of the fervently anti-Klan Muncie Post-Democrat.  Dale later served as Muncie’s mayor in the early 1930’s.  His much-lionized claims to have been beaten up and shot at by Klansmen are possibly exagerrated.  In any case, Dale despised Daisy Barr, whom he lampooned as “Doodle,” penning satirical poems about her in his newspaper and launching all-out broadsides against her reputation.  Hilariously, the editor mocked the absurd titles Klansfolk gave each other, writing that when Barr went down to Atlanta to meet with the infamous Imperial Wizard Hiram Wesley Evans, she got the right to call herself “Quaker Queen Quince of the Giosticuticus of the Jimpelcute.”

George Dale’s announcement that the Klucker had raked in over $1,000,000 from the sale of Klan robes and memberships to women turned out to be true.  Already forced to resign from the board of the Indiana War Mothers, who were uncomfortable with her status as a Klanswoman, the Women of the KKK sued her in 1924 for fleecing them.  The infamous D.C. Stephenson, Indiana’s mighty Grand Dragon, would fall under the same type of suspicion, though his real downfall came in 1925 for the kidnapping, rape and murder of a young Indianapolis woman — exactly the kind of sex abuse that the WKKK initially set out to prevent.

George R. Dale and Family

Muncie Post-Democrat editor George R. Dale helped spearhead Daisy Douglass Barr’s demise.

Muncie Post-Democrat, December 7, 1923

Muncie Post-Democrat, December 7, 1923.  (Courtesy Hoosier State Chronicles)

Greenfield Daily Reporter, March 26, 1924 (2)

Greenfield Daily Reporter, March 26, 1924

Yet Barr’s story wasn’t quite over yet.  Her husband was prominent member of the Indiana G.O.P. and served as deputy state banking commissioner.  Daisy Douglass Barr went on to become the first female vice-chairman of the Indiana Republican Party.  She briefly left the state in 1925, moving to Brevard County, Florida, where in 1926 she ran for the U.S. Congress in Florida’s Fourth District, then dropped out before the election.  In 1933, Barr was back in Indianapolis and in the good graces of the American War Mothers, whom she represented as their Indiana chaplain.  That year, she and the War Mothers spoke out against the recognition of the U.S.S.R., the same year that Joseph Stalin’s forced famine in the Ukraine killed millions.

In 1934, her husband suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, possibly under the influence of stress, since he was a banker during the Depression.  Though Thomas Barr recovered, in January he walked into a bathroom and slit his throat with a razor.  The man survived again, but his last years were apparently pretty bleak.

The Times (Hammond, IN), April 4, 1938

The Times (Hammond, IN), April 4, 1938

Daisy Douglass Barr’s end came on April 3, 1938, on U.S. 31 between Speed and Memphis in southern Indiana.  While riding in a car with four other people, including a 3-year-old girl named Sheron Carroll, they were struck head-on by another vehicle passing on a hill top.  The 3-year-old died at a hospital in Louisville.  The 62-year-old Daisy, her neck broken, expired before doctors could help her.  Her husband died that August.

There’s an astonishing coda to this story, an amazing genealogical twist.

The former Imperial Empress was buried at Park Cemetery in Fairmount in Grant County, just down the road from her birthplace.

In The Thirteenth Turn: A History of the Noose (2014), writer Jack Shuler makes a staggeringly interesting claim — that Barr rests “just a few rows away from her great-nephew, Grant County native son James Dean.”  It’s not clear if this is accurate, but the star of “Rebel Without a Cause” might have been related to the “Imperial Empress” through her husband Thomas D. Barr, whose middle name was Dean.

In any case, the funeral of the Hollywood actor — who was raised in a Quaker household in Fairmount — was held on October 9, 1955, at the very same Friends Church where Daisy Douglass Barr was once the pastor.  James Dean would have been 7 years old when she died in the car wreck.  He left town in 1949.

A young James Dean, Fairmount, Indiana, circa 1940. Daisy Douglass Barr might have been his great-aunt. (Was Dean a fan of Indianapolis poet James Whitcomb Riley?)

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About the Author

Stephen J. Taylor grew up in Terre Haute, earned a Master's in Folklore at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and currently lives and writes in Indianapolis, where he's hot on the trail of under-reported Hoosier history and local lore. He also writes for Hoosier State Chronicles at the Indiana State Library and formerly worked for Ancestry.com at DePauw University in Greencastle.

6 Comments on "Misc Monday: A Ku Klux Quaker?"

  1. Tom Davis September 28, 2015 at 10:22 am · Reply

    Stephen, thanks for this. It helps me understand those days a little better.

  2. matt September 28, 2015 at 1:00 pm · Reply

    It is important to me as a Quaker that make mention of the different sects of Quakerism. I know that is not the point of this article, but just a quick mention that she was of an evangelical branch of Quakerism (which would have more in common with conservative Pentacostal faiths) would make me feel better. I can say with confidence that no one – no one – practicing in a meeting from say Friends General Conference would ever be in the Klan.

    • Stephen J. Taylor September 28, 2015 at 1:37 pm · Reply

      Matt, I’m the author and I’m of partly Quaker heritage myself.

      I understand your concern, and feel the need to address it. You’re certainly right in saying that no Quaker today would join such an organization. But the Klan of the 1920s was slightly different from the Klan of the 1870’s or the 1950’s. And I just think it’s historically inaccurate to imagine that the Friends were immune to what the Klan stood for.

      Leonard Moore wrote one of the definitive books on the KKK in Indiana. The stats on membership around Richmond and Indianapolis are based on some pretty small samples, but they’re not flattering.

      Quakers, Lutherans, and Methodists had some of the *highest* rates of KKK membership.

      The Baptists and Pentecostals that we tend to stereotype as hillbilly “Klanfolk” hardly figure into his stats at all. Obviously Catholics — who get such a bad rap from so many Americans — had virtually zero Klan membership.

      I will definitely grant that the Friends are at the forefront of social justice today. But that goes for practically all the mainline denominations — including the Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians — who faced the same kind of embarrassment in the ’20s that the Quakers did. Fortunately a lot of these churches redeemed themselves during the Civil Rights Movement, which was largely led by religion people.

      Moore’s book is “Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928.”

  3. Brigette Cook Jones September 28, 2015 at 7:14 pm · Reply

    I am President of the Hancock County Historical Society – located in Greenfield, IN, and I am a Quaker. I am a member of the Westland Friends Church, which is located in rural Greenfield. I have done a little research on Daisy Douglas Barr – since she did spend some time in Hancock County, and since she was a Quaker.

    First of all, a little history: The Greenfield Friends Church was established as a Prepartory Meeting in 1889 – under the supervision of my own church – Westland Friends. The church is still in existence today, and is located on Park Ave. However, when Daisy Douglas Barr was the minister – from 1902-1904 – the church was located on State Street in Greenfield – just across the street from our current Post Office.

    Furthermore to sort of address Matt’s comment that was posted earlier. The Klan of the early 1900’s was not like the Klan of the reconstruction years or the one that came about during the Civil Rights movement. This Klan was stronger in the north than in the south and adhered to three things: prohibition, Protestantism, and patriotism. Daisy Douglas Barr was an outspoken advocate for the Temperance movement – which wanted total prohibition from alcohol. She also advocated for Women’s rights, and as a Quaker minister – she would have experienced that in her own ministry. Quakers were some of the first advocates for Women’s rights – with women taking up that cause like Lucretia Mott and Alice Paul. In fact, the first Women’s Rights Convention that was held in the state of Indiana was at Dublin Friends Church.

    The KKK at the time was taking a strong stance for prohibition, and it became the cornerstone of the KKK agenda. The rapid growth of the new Klan reflected the fact that “It promised to reform politics, to enforce prohibition, and to champion traditional morality.” This would fall in line with the same goals of organizations like the WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union). The KKK and the WCTU would form an alliance because they had similar goals.

    In no time in history has the KKK had as much power as it did in the 1920’s, and the bulk of that power was in Indiana where DC Stephenson was the Grand Dragon. The Klan was responsible for rooting out bootleggers, and exposing speakeasies. You can see why a powerful, profitable organization would appeal to someone like Daisy Barr. In fact, this Klan appealed to many in Indiana – which is said to have held 25% of the national membership.

    You can see why this power and prestige would appeal to Barr. She was an advocate for prohibition and so was the Klan. She was an advocate for the virtue of women and so was the Klan. The Klan offered her the power (D.C. Stephenson had political ties to the governor of Indiana and the mayor of Indianapolis), and she took it. This is when she started the WKKK (Women’s KKK).

    I can understand how it seems to be a dichotomy of thinking – a Quaker who believes in equality for all, and the Klan who was about alienating certain ethnic groups and religions; however, the overall cornerstone of temperance and with alcohol as seen as the root of many domestic evils – – it was too much of a lure for Daisy Barr. And, it could be said that MANY were fooled – and didn’t really totally understand everything that the Klan advocated. In many respects it was seen as a benevolent organization – much like the Masons or the other fraternal organizations. It was not as secret – in fact – many times men dressed in their Klan robes would walk into churches in broad daylight to deliver large sums of money for the offering plate.

    I believe that Daisy Barr equated the Klan with her own beliefs especially the temperance movement. We do know that there were several WCTU organizations in Hancock County – even BEFORE Daisy arrived here – so they just needed a strong leader to organize them and advocate for their goals. This is what the WKKK did for Daisy.

    Daisy did not stay long in my county. She would move onto Muncie and pushed to have that city go dry. She would then move onto Indianapolis and get more involved with the Klan once she was there.

    I think she probably didn’t know everything that the Klan was doing – – or maybe she turned a blind eye to it. I think it is interesting that she was replaced by a WCTU official in 1924 after there were some improprieties alleged against her in regards to her handling of the WKKK’s money. I wonder what she thought about DC Stephenson – especially after his conviction? Stephenson was not the paragon of virtue that he had let everyone to believe. In fact, he wasn’t all that much into Temperance – as it is said that he used to have big boozy parties at his Irvington neighborhood mansion. I don’t know if she every commented on the situation – being disgraced herself. But it would be interesting to see what she thought about the fall of the Klan in Indiana.

    • Stephen J. Taylor September 29, 2015 at 9:34 am · Reply

      Brigette, thanks for your input. First off, the fact that the words “Ku Klux Quaker” can evoke a visceral reaction in some people is testimony to the Quaker faith itself. Certainly Quakers’ dedication to helping fugitives on the Underground Railroad and as conscientious objectors in the 20th-century’s insane wars will always redound to their credit.

      Unfortunately, when it comes to Daisy Douglass Barr, I think hers is a classic case of how “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” (Or is it “the road to good intentions is paved with hell?”)

      You’re right in saying that prohibition, Protestantism and patriotism were huge components of the KKK’s platform a century ago. And I’m sure a lot of basically decent people were sucked in and duped. (My great-grandfather was, in all likelihood, a member, and my other great-grandfather was allegedly run out of town by the Klan because he was the town drunk.)

      Still, like I pointed out in the article, the “three P’s” were really just intellectual superhighways to racism and xenophobia — which, of course, are fed by ignorance. Barr made it abundantly clear in her Rushville speech that Southern and Eastern Europeans were diseased, insane criminals, which actually puts her square in line with the legislators in the Statehouse who passed the Indiana eugenics law in 1907, a blatant attempt to exterminate the poor.

      I think the best that can be said of Daisy Barr is, honestly, that she was well-intentioned but just ignorant. The link I posted to Alfaretta Hart, the Muncie policewoman she butted heads with, should give a good insight into how Barr might have had a little more compassion. Instead, she just showed how ignorant she was both of the true nature of the KKK and of the people she attacked.

      If the scandal-ridden Catholic Church can deal with its sex abuse problems and its friendships with dictators like Franco and Pinochet, the Quakers can certainly deal with the fact of Daisy Barr. I say this as someone who is not at all hostile to religion, and wish it the best.

  4. Matt Barton September 28, 2015 at 10:55 pm · Reply

    Thank you so much for a great article! I had never heard of Daisy Barr until now.

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