While Ethel Puffer Howes was expert at building coalitions and counting her friends, she was never fully able to recognize her enemies and understand that they, too, were forming alliances. Perceiving that many groups in society favored domestic reform, she struggled to make the whole support system more than the sum of individual specialties such as efficient home management, improved housing, adequate child care, or special career counseling for women. Among the groups she reached out to, the home economists, housing experts, child care experts, and career counseling experts, there was real commitment to helping working women meet their needs. But in the United States as a whole, women's organizations were under heavy attack beginning with the Red Scare of 1919-1920 and continuing until the end of the decade.
The infamous spiderweb chart, a list of feminist activists and organizations circulated as propaganda by the War Department, smeared moderate women's groups such as the General Federation of Women's Clubs, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the Young Women's Christian Association, the American Home Economics Association, the American Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters, and other women's civic, religious, and political organizations. It represented them as part of a "red web" aimed at destroying America through pacifism and socialism. The Women's Joint Congressional Committee, an interorganizational women's lobbying group on Capitol Hill, was greatly weakened by such attacks, which denounced its member organizations as sympathizers with the 1917 Bolshevik victory in the Soviet Union, and suggested that the WJCC had been infiltrated by such "reds." 1 Nonpartisan cooperation between Democratic and Republican women, led by National Party Vice-Chairmen Harriet Taylor Upton of Warren, Ohio, and Emily Newell Blair of Carthage, Missouri, was attacked as a clever attempt to tap party treasuries in order to break down party machinery in favor of Soviet influence.
The Dearborn Independent, published by Henry Ford, ran the spiderweb chart, as well as hostile articles claiming that American women who were organizing women workers and demanding maternity benefits for mothers and children were taking orders from Alexandra Kollontai in Moscow. 2 Alexandra Kollantai, former Commisar of Public Welfare and head of Zhenotdel (the women's section of the Central Committe Secretariat) in the U.S.S.R., was an experienced political activist and a leading Bolshevik feminist. The President of the National Association of Manufacturers reiterated this fear in a speech delivered at a Department of Labor conference on women workers in 1926, claiming that "one Madame Kollontai, whose headquarters are in Moscow but whose parish is the world, is exercising a very large if not a dominating influence" upon some of the