One of the more entertaining sideshows of the 1964 presidential election was the Barry Goldwater campaign front group known as Mothers for Moral America (MfMA). The purpose of this quickly assembled “organization” was to provide nominal sponsorship (and thus plausible deniability for the candidate) of a political film attacking President Lyndon Johnson for a rising tide of riots, pornography and Twist dancing. Today, with the exception of a small, but devoted circle of political nerds, the film (Choice) is largely forgotten. However, at the time, as difficult as this might be to imagine, the movie was even more controversial than LBJ’s notorious Daisy spot.
The National Coordinator for MfMA was Carol Arth Waters*, the wife of a fellow Orange County, California conservative named Daniel C. Waters. Mrs. Waters was responsible for issuing the sole piece of correspondence (that we could find) on behalf of the group. The message, seen below, is a call to arms in the fight for a return to “law and order” and “moral leadership.” Nowhere in the text (or the accompanying pamphlet literature) is Senator Goldwater mentioned, but the underlying message is clear: the country has gone to hell since the Democrats have been in power (sound familiar?) and there's only one man who can right the ship of state.
The National Committee for MfMA, as immortalized on the group’s stationary, is a who’s who of prominent Republican women including Nancy Reagan, Mrs. William F. Buckley, Sr., Hedda Hopper, Dale Evans and Mrs. Buddy Ebsen. When contacted by CONELRAD, a spokesperson for Mrs. Reagan stated that the former first lady had no recollection of MfMA or its mission. “That was many years ago and many organizations ago,” explained the representative.**
As originally devised by the more adventurous Cliff White-led faction of the Goldwater campaign, Choice was to be the crowning achievement of the MfMA “movement.” Alas, because word of the film’s “shocking” content was leaked to the media just before it was set to air on network television, the project quickly imploded. Goldwater—reacting to accusations that the riot footage in Choice was racist—disowned the movie and vetoed its scheduled nationwide broadcast. This edict, however, did not deter true believers in local precincts from screening the film for other zealots and curious liberals (prints had already been sent out to campaign offices around the country).
The controversy over Choice thrust MfMA into the spotlight and inspired some interesting hate mail that CONELRAD obtained from the archives of the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio. We are very pleased to be able to present some of that correspondence here.
1: Adelaine Richardson of New York City:
210 Sixth AvenueNew York, N.Y. 10014Nov. 3, 1964
Filthy Dogs of the Female Sex
314 So. Fourth Ave.
Anne Arbor, Michigan
Go rub your noses in your own dirt. That may keep you too busy to engage in trying to demoralize others.
Adelaine Richardson2: Ruth H. Foltz of New York City:
3: Francis Daniel of New York City:
Alice and Francis Daniel
297 West 194 Street
New York 25, N. Y.
Since there are laws in New York against throwing poisonous substances in the garbage, I am returning this for you to dispose of.
Francis Daniel4: Helen Elliott, address unknown:
5: An Immoral…Happy American Who Voted for LBJ, All the Way:
Dear Mrs. Waters:
As we have had nothing but continuous joy in our household since the glorious defeat of ex-Senator Goldwater, I feel it only fair and fitting to allow you to share in our feelings of beatitude and good fortune.
As you (illegible) a sincere desire toward achieving moral uplift, surely the defeat of a man who stood for more immoral issues, such as denial or distortion of civil rights, the distortion of the abuses of federal powers, the distortion of our foreign policy, the distortion of our programs of education and social welfare and ad infinitum, must bring only pure joy to your pure, unsullied, moral, virtuous, pious, puritanical, motherly, uncorruptable [sic] heart.
I’m sure that you and I also share the regret of not being able to view the motion picture of sin and corruption which have been banned from our more straight-laced stations because of the so-called questionable material contained therein. Surely, what could be more moral than to be moral voyeurs together.
An immoral, (illegible) happy American who voted for LBJContrary to the impression that was probably left by the preceding letters, the Moral Mothers did receive some positive mail. Below is a representative piece of correspondence informing the group that their pitch had arrived after election day…
All the way.
Editor's Note: If this post has piqued your interest in Choice, follow this blog because in the next several months we will be posting a comprehensive history of the film including more information on Moral Mothers for America.
* Carol Jean Arth Waters was born in Emmet, Idaho on August 20, 1922. She attended the University of California, Riverside and San Bernardino City College. From 1953 to 1958 she served as special assistant to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. She was also special assistant to the public affairs officer at the Department of State. In 1958 and 1959 she was the executive secretary to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In 1960 she was a chairperson for the Nixon/Lodge presidential campaign. In 1962 she married Daniel C. Waters (who died in 1982). Carol Waters died on August 28, 2002 at the age of 80 in Newport, Oregon. The extensive obituary published for Ms. Waters in the Newport, OR News-Times on August 30, 2002 seemingly covered every aspect of her life and career save for her work with Mothers for Moral America.
** Nancy Reagan’s spokesperson, Wren Powell, in a voicemail to Bill Geerhart on May 5, 2008.