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Volume 33, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 1466-0407
  • E-ISSN: 1758-9118



This essay explores and contextualizes the rising anti-Catholic sentiment during the 1910s found within American fraternal societies, particularly Freemasonry, in addition to its condemnation by the Catholic Church. The study is illustrated by the public controversy involving the so-called Masonic Whitewash Committee of 1914–15, which included prominent grand officers of the California Grand Lodge (some of whom were later involved in the 1921 California Ku Klux Klan controversy) that investigated an alleged oath of the Knights of Columbus entered into the 1913 United States Congressional Record. The oath was determined by this unofficial committee to be fallacious (as had countless others, including Congress), and its conclusion set off a nationwide controversy within the fraternal and public press as a defense for what was believed to be Catholic infiltration of institutions at all levels of American society. The California Grand Lodge joined in the condemnation, claiming the committee’s use of Masonic titles gave the false impression that it was officially sanctioned by the governing body. To make matters worse for the committee, their report was also admitted into the 1915 Congressional Record by Congressman William Kettner, the then Grand Marshal for the Grand Lodge.

Allegations of favoring Catholic political candidates, along with the ‘whitewashing’ of the committee’s actions via fraternal politicking and character assassination were played out in the era’s infamous anti-Catholic newspapers. The essay seeks to demonstrate that this little-known conflict is in fact one of many footnotes that characterized anti-Catholic nativism and hyper-patriotism during the 1910s, as well as highlighting the Catholic defense of their own contribution to the American way of life. This paper also illustrates the distinct and important role fraternal organizations and their members played as arbiters and, sometimes, challengers of social trends.


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