As I was doing some research for the Santee Historical Society, I came across this 1940 newspaper article about CM Walz of Santee becoming a co-chairman of the Willkie-ites along with Rex Hall and Al Jones.
What the heck is a Willkie-ite? Is it a fraternal organization? A service club? A neighborhood organization? A school group?
After a bit of research I found the answer. It was a group of patriotic US citizens that thought that Wendell Willkie, a former Democrat, should be the Republican candidate to run against FDR.
Willkie campaigned against the New Deal and the government’s lack of military preparedness. During the election, Roosevelt preempted the military issue by expanding military contracts. Willkie then reversed his approach and accused FDR of warmongering. On Election Day, FDR received 27 million votes to Willkie’s 22 million, and in the Electoral College, Roosevelt buried Willkie 449 to 82.
After failing to unseat Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election, Willkie became one of FDR’s most unlikely allies.
After the Pearl Harbor attack of December 1941 Roosevelt appointed Willkie to be a special representative for the United States. He made around-the-world visits to soldiers on the fronts and also played an active role in the American committee for Russian War Relief.
In 1944, Willkie once again sought the Republican presidential nomination, but gained little support. Willkie did not back the eventual 1944 Republican nominee, Thomas Dewey.
After surviving several heart attacks, Willkie died on October 8, 1944 at age fifty-two. Eleanor Roosevelt, in her October 12, 1944 “My Day” column, eulogized Willkie as a “man of courage [whose] outspoken opinions on race relations were among his great contributions to the thinking of the world.” She concluded, “Americans tend to forget the names of the men who lost their bid for the presidency. Willkie proved the exception to this rule.”
So now we know what a Willkie-ite is!