Catt, "Poison Propaganda," 31 May 1924 Document 3:  Carrie Chapman Catt, "Poison Propaganda," The Woman Citizen (31 May 1924), 14, 32-33.


Carrie Chapman Catt wrote this article in The Woman Citizen, the chief publication of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, in response to the slanderous attacks of the spider-web chart. Catt's article includes correspondence from Maud Wood Park to Secretary of War John W. Weeks in Park's capacity as the chairman of the special committee, which was formed by the Women's Joint Congressional Committee to investigate the source of the chart. 

Poison Propaganda
By Carrie Chapman Catt


Some time ago insidious comments upon all educational peace movements and their leaders began to appear in the press. In 1922 there was a widespread circularization of the newspapers with a fanciful declaration that the "Law, not War" day celebrated in many cities was being financed by Moscow, and an especially virulent attack was made upon Mr. Libby, Quaker, of the National Council for the Prevention of War, who was promoting these demonstrations. Many papers reprinted the matter. In 1923 the American Defense Society sent out similar propaganda declaring that Russian communism and American efforts to promote peace were working hand in hand.

From time to time similar attacks have been made upon individuals, any individuals, who have appealed to public opinion on behalf of world peace. The charge has been implied in these stories that various women's organizations, well known and composed of highly honorable memberships, were being financed by Moscow because they were promoting peace sentiment.

On March 15 1924, the Dearborn Independent carried an amazing story, continued in the number of March 22, under the starting title "Are Women's Clubs Used by Bolshevists?" These articles asserted that the masses women within the many well-known organizations were being weakly played upon by a few women in "key positions" who were linked to world communism and its aim to overturn all governments. The second instalment [sic] was accompanied by a chart compiled from the Lusk report and connecting the highest and best organizations with socialist-pacifist activities. A definite attack was made upon the Women's Joint Congressional Committee, its seventeen component organizations and many of its members.

This Committee thereupon named a sub-committee, of which Mrs. Maud Wood Park was Chairman, to investigate the source of this attack, although its libelous character would have warranted a suit against Henry Ford, whose paper had published the articles. Quiet and efficient search revealed the astonishing source--the Chemical Warfare Bureau of our own government.

Things sometimes happen in this strange world that are so amazing one's senses are fairly paralyzed by the revelation. This is one of them. Here are women conducting themselves as they always have when they want something which can only be attained by political action, that is, speaking, arranging meetings, petitioning, reading, investigating, thinking, how to abolish war, the world's greatest crime. Yet, in this supposedly most tolerant republic in the world, boasting of its free speech and liberty for all, they suddenly discover that a department of their own government is systematically discrediting them by the distribution of false and libelous charges, which, because of their source, carry abnormal influence. These women, trying to attain their hopes through constructive, educational measures, are accused of being in conspiracy with communists whose aim is the overthrow of governments through revolution. For trying to teach men and women to think, the public is warned to beware of them. They are called Bolshevist--the world's present-day most damning condemnatory epithet--and the bills for distribution of these libels are quite clearly met by their own tax money! Is this America or Russia? Is this the twentieth century or the middle ages?

With facts in hand, the sub-committee of the Joint Congressional Committee did a very ladylike thing: it prepared a letter and took it in person to Hon. John W. Weeks, Secretary of War. The correspondence follows:

                  "Washington D. C.
                      "April 2, 1924.

"My dear Mr. Secretary:

"An attack has been made upon the Women's Joint Congressional Committee by means of a chart compiled and circulated by a subordinate in a bureau of the War Department, which is exceedingly irritating to the organizations comprising the Women's Joint Congressional Committee and to the twelve million women voters composing these organizations. They cannot understand why an employee of a government bureau should be permitted, with the knowledge of the head of that bureau, to attack the women's organizations of the country and the women voters in these organizations. They wonder where the funds come from whereby these attacks are made. The following is a statement of the objections which the organizations make to the chart above mentioned:

"A. The Purpose and Method of Organization of the Women's Joint Congressional Committee.

"The Women's Joint Congressional Committee, which is attacked in the chart, was organized in 1920. It is a clearing house for seventeen national women's organizations which have representatives in Washington for the purpose of keeping in touch with Federal legislation of interest to women. The committee, as such, initiates no policy and supports no legislation and no organization joining it is committed to any policy except that of cooperation, whenever possible. The members bring to it the endorsements of their organizations. After a measure has been endorsed by five or more member organizations of the committee, a sub-committee of representatives of endorsing organizations is organized, elects its officers and carries out a campaign of action for the enactment of the measure by the Congress.

"An accurate list of the member organizations of the Women's Joint Congressional Committee in 1922-23, the year to which the chart refers, and of the sub-committees is appended.

"B. The Chart.

"This chart has for its caption the heading 'The Socialist Pacifist Movement in America Is an Absolutely Fundamental and Integral Part of International Socialism.'

"1. This heading is scurrilous, libelous and criminal as applied to the Women's Joint Congressional Committee, and we protest strongly against its use in this chart circulated with the knowledge of a branch of the government.

"2. At the bottom of the chart appears the following verses:
    Miss Bolsheviki has come to town,
    With a Russian cap and a German gown,
    In women's clubs she's sure to be found,
    For she's come to disarm America.

    She sits in judgement on Capitol Hill,
    And watches appropriation bills,
    And without her O.K. it passes--Nil,
    For she's there to disarm America.

    She uses the movie and the lyceum too,
    And alters text-books to suit her view,
    She prates propaganda from pulpit and pew,
    For she's bound to disarm America.

    The male of the species has a different plan,
    He uses the bomb and firebrand,
    And incites class hatred wherever he can,
    While she's busy disarming America.

    His special stunt is arousing the mob,
    To expropriate and hate and kill and rob,
    While she's working on her political job,

"These verses are scurrilous and libelous and insulting to every woman voter in these women's organizations. We again protest in the strongest terms against the use of them in this connection.

"3. In the third place the chart is false and inaccurate in listing the organizations which belong to the Women's Joint Congressional Committee. An accurate list is appended here. Of those listed on the chart the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom does not belong to the Women's Joint Congressional Committee. The Women's Council for World Disarmament does not belong and has never belonged to the Women's Joint Congressional Committee. Yet these two organizations are connected by lines with one of the Women's Joint Congressional Committee and both are included in the list in the middle column of the chart of organizations belonging to the Women's Joint Congressional Committee. The intention to vilify is perfectly clear.

"Again only seven, not all, of the member organizations of the Women's Joint Congressional Committee are participating organizations in the National Council for the Prevention of War. The General Federation of Women's Clubs is not a member of the National Council for the Prevention of War, the National Congress of Mothers and Parent-Teachers Association is not a member, the American Home Economics Association is not a member, the National Consumers' League is not a member, and the Girls' Friendly Society is not a member.

"In addition to the heading and the verses, the second offense is in the list of women forming the border of the chart. Here is a list of names of women about whom scurrilous remarks criticizing their patriotism and citizenship are made. As to the truth of these remarks we have no evidence. If not true they are libelous. The point of interest before us is that these names are linked by lines with the Women's Joint Congressional Committee through the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the Women's Council for World Disarmament, when neither of these is a member of the Women's Joint Congressional Committee. The intention to vilify the Women's Joint Congressional Committee is perfectly clear and we protest against it.

"C. Author of Chart and Connections With General Fries.

"Investigation has revealed the fact that the author of the chart is known as Librarian of the Chemical Warfare Service of the War Department. When a request for the chart was made of her, the author stated that it must be referred to General Fries. When General Fries has been approached with requests for the chart, these have been referred to the author in several instances. Such a request is known to have been answered by letter from General Fries. The chart is said by the author to have been distributed to various official and private agencies. In other words, the Chemical Warfare Service of the War Department, a branch of the Government, is engaged in this contemptible attack on the women's organizations in the country.

"D. What We Request.

"1. We request a statement from General Fries to the effect that the chart is misleading in general and untrue in particulars and that the War Department has no information with which to support it.

"2. We ask, further, that the files of the Chemical Warfare Service be examined and that copies of the above statement be sent to every person or agency or organization to whom the chart has been sent from the address of the Chemical Warfare Service.

"We are sure that although this attack has been perpetrated by a subordinate in a bureau of the War Department immediate redress will be made to us. We should like to say, however. that if such redress is not made immediately by the War Department we intend to secure it in some other way. Twelve million women voters in these organizations do not propose to bear this scurrilous and contemptible attack by a subordinate in a government department without redress.

            "Sincerely yours,
            "MAUD WOOD PARK.
            "Chairman Special Committee, Women's Joint Congressional Committee.


                    "Apr. 16, 1924,

"My dear Mrs. Park:

"With reference to the letter from your Committee, dated April 2, 1924, complaining of the injustice done your organization by the circulation of a chart by a subordinate in the War Department, you are informed that all the charts complained of in the possession of the Chemical Warfare Service have been ordered destroyed. General Fries has been directed to inform all persons to whom these charts have been distributed from his office that there are errors in the chart and to request their destruction.

"I regret that charts containing the errors pointed out by your Committee were circulated by any branch of the War Department.

                "Very sincerely,
                "(signed) JOHN W. WEEKS.
                "Secretary of War.


                      "April 22, 1924.

"Dear Mr. Secretary:

"Permit us to thank you on behalf of the Women's Joint Congressional Committee for your letter of April 16th, stating that all of the charts to which we objected in the possession of the Chemical Warfare Service have been ordered destroyed and that General Fries has been directed to inform all persons to whom the charts were distributed of the inaccuracies and to request their destruction.

"We presume that in informing these persons to whom the charts were distributed of the inaccuracies in them, General Fries will point out the particular inaccuracies to which we objected, that is, that the Women's Joint Congressional Committee is in no way connected with most of the persons to whose activities the Chemical Warfare Service has found objection, and that the caption and poem and other remarks have no bearing whatever on the Women's Joint Congressional Committee. It will be apparent to you that the mere statement that there are inaccuracies in the chart would not have the effect of disabusing the minds of the persons who have seen them of the erroneous impressions of the Women's Joint Congressional Committee which they have received. We therefore request an assurance from you that General Fries will make these specific statements.

"We are glad, as we are sure that the representatives of the other women's organizations will be, that we can report your favorable reply to our conventions and that it will enable us to refute the slanders of any persons who hereafter claim to have the authority of the War Department in their unwarranted attacks on the Women's Joint Congressional Committee.

                "Very truly yours,
                "MAUD WOOD PARK,
                "Chairman Special Committee."


At this point, although the incident seems incomplete, probably both sides may "rest their case," the Government having apologized and promised withdrawal of the offending material. It is to be regretted that in its own defense the Joint Congressional Committee could only speak for itself and left the other women, charged by the chart with unpatriotic behavior, out in the cold. It now becomes necessary for them to take up cudgels in their own behalf.

Meantime, the scurrilous articles, somewhat shorn of their sharpest libels, have been reprinted from the Dearborn Independent in a leaflet by the Associated Industries of Kentucky (Louisville) and widely distributed by them. Just why should these industries publish this attack upon women? Clearly to intimidate them and prevent something they are sponsoring from becoming law. Is it the abolition of child labor, education or peace?

Women of America, don't get frightened; think. Don't be intimidated; act.