Pacifism versus Patriotism:
The Debate Over American Militarism, 1921-1930


        With the beginning of the Great Depression, new problems entered into the disarmament debate. The government no longer had enough funds provide large appropriations to the military. The period from 1921 to 1930 marked a distinct era in United States history, when debate over militarism engulfed two groups of American women who were struggling to define their place in the political power structure. The Daughters of the American Revolution saw a chance to increase the status and power of their Society by defending the military. DAR leaders viewed militant activism in support of adequate defense as a natural extension of their organization's activities. They believed in the ideals of their Revolutionary ancestors and insisted that only through a strong military could these ideals be defended against subversive forces within and without the United States. In promoting their agenda, however, the Daughters blindly followed red baiters who believed that the Communist threat existed everywhere in America. They attacked peace organizations, such as the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, as subversive threats, instead of confronting them as political opponents with a different position on armaments. While the Daughters sought to define women's place in the world of the military, the women of the WILPF already had an established position within the pacifist movement. They continued their lobbying efforts after the war, despite increasing hostility from right-wing groups.

        The DAR's political activity diminished during the 1930s. The Daughters returned to their more traditional activities: erecting monuments and educating the public about the unique American heritage. Yet during their tenure as political activists they had defined a different type of political woman. In contrast to the liberal social reformers of the 1920s, the Daughters represented a movement among conservative women for political recognition. Often, however, their activities have been historically overshadowed by those of more prominent men. Women's historians have also neglected these right-wing women because they just do not seem to fit the mold of the 1920s political activist, a type defined by women such as Jane Addams and Carrie Chapman Catt. Had the DAR women not become involved in the Communist hysteria, then perhaps they might have been more recognized as a prominent force in American foreign policy during the 1920s.


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