At the turn of the century, Odd Fellows were one of the world's most powerful -- and clandestine -- fraternities. What did this mean near the height of its power?
ODD FELLOWS, The Independent Order of, a secret, fraternal benefit society. The general administration of its laws is designated by the generic term Odd Fellowship. The origin of the society and the source of its peculiar name cannot now be historically traced. Until near the close of the 19th century it had been asserted for years that Defoe — the English novelist — mentioned “Odd Fellow” as early as 1745 A.D., but modern research has relegated this, as well as many other alleged incidents of the order's early days, to the realm of tradition. It is known, however, that a society grew up in England during the 18th century, almost rivaling in numbers and influence the Masonic Fraternity, and that this Antient and Most Noble Order of Bucks began to decline about the year 1773 and passed out of existence.
A reasonable supposition attains among antiquaries that these lodges furnished the nucleus of the Odd Fellows, into one lodge of which George IV of England, while Prince of Wales, was quite unceremoniously admitted one night and became a member thereof at a date subsequent to 1780. This is the first authentic reference to the society of Odd Fellows by name. The earliest ritual extant is dated in 1797 and was used by the Patriotic Order. It appears from English contemporary history that an Improved Order existed prior to this, and the title, Most Noble Grand, for the presiding officer of the “Antient,” as well as the subsequent Orders of Odd Fellows, would imply a common bond or succession. The Patriotic Order was followed by the Union, or United Orders and the Loyal Order. In 1813 various lodges of the Union Order met and organized the Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows, now the principal Friendly society in Great Britain. In 1819 the American Order was founded and was afterward affiliated with the Manchester Unity.
This continued until 23 Sept. 1842, when the Odd Fellows of the United States resumed their original independence, reaffirming the resolution in 1843 and adopting a distinctively American ritual in 1845. In 1919 the Order celebrated the 100th anniversary of its American foundation with appropriate ceremonies and parades in all the chief centres of population in the United States.Rise of the American Order. — The first lodge established on this continent was Shakspere, No. 1, New York city, 26 Dec. 1806. The five Odd Fellows composing this lodge were of the Loyal Independent Order and the moving spirits were Solomon Chambers and his son John C., English mechanics from the south of London. The early members were zealous workers and other lodges were soon organized. In 1809 the roll of membership, in the six New York City lodges, comprised 36 prominent citizens and business men, as well as many others of less influence. In 1819 George Pope Morris was admitted and at once became a leader in the councils of the Order in the Empire State. Attempts had then been made to plant Odd Fellowship in other parts of North America. In 1815 there were two lodges in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In Boston, during 1818, James B. Barnes — who had emigrated to the United States from England the previous year, and four others instituted Massachusetts Lodge, No. 1, and held regular meetings, the method being, like New York, ancient usage and self-institution. The records extant, however, date only from 20 March 1820. Washington Lodge, No. 1, of Baltimore, was organized 26 April 1819 under the leadership of Thomas Wildey, now recognized as the founder of American Odd Fellowship. Wildey came to the United States from England in 1818. He had been affiliated with one of the branches abroad since 1804 — had “passed the chairs,” and was known as a leading Odd Fellow. The “Unity” became fully organized 21 Jan. 1814. Wildey began his search for Odd Fellows as early as 13 Feb. 1819, when he advertised in the Baltimore American; and, again, 27 March 1819, before the required “five for a quorum” had been obtained. The minutes state that the manner of institution was “ancient usage.”
This ceremony consisted of Wildey's obligation of himself in the presence of the others, and, in turn, the obligation of his companions. Subsequent events would indicate that the Manchester Unity ceremonies of 1816 were used by Wildey and his four associates: John Welch, John Duncan, John Cheatham and Richard Rushworth. On 26 Dec. 1821 Pennsylvania Lodge, No. 1, Philadelphia, was formed, like those in New York, Boston and Baltimore, on the self-institution principle, John Pearce being the leader and his associates were, likewise, English mechanics. While the Order had been planted in four States and the chief cities thereof according to ancient usage, an effort was soon made to frame constitutions and to obtain charters from the so-called regular bodies of Odd Fellows in England. Meantime the pioneers exercised the functions of Grand Lodges — instituting other lodges and assuming sovereignty over them.
The Order in Baltimore secured a charter, under date of 1 Feb. 1820, from the Duke of York Lodge, Preston; and this charter not only recognized the regularity of Washington, No. 1, and its associate lodges, but created the Grand Lodge of Maryland and of the United States of America, of the Independent Order of Odd Fellowship. In Brooklyn, Columbia Lodge, No. 1, obtained a charter from Loyal Beneficent Duke of Sussex Lodge of Independent Odd Fellows, Liverpool. This document was delayed in transmission and did not reach its destination until late in January 1823, although dated 4 Nov. 1822. Meantime Columbia Lodge had removed to New York. It at once assumed sovereign jurisdiction and this led to contention; and the attempt of Morris and others to establish a supreme government with headquarters in New York. At this juncture Pennsylvania applied to the Order in New York and Maryland for recognition. It is recorded that the evidence of regularity received from New York City was more satisfactory to the Odd Fellows of Philadelphia than that of Baltimore; and it is also stated the lodges in Boston, New York and Baltimore were not aware of one another's existence before this event. The Order made history rapidly during the succeeding six months.
Each locality was dominated by a master mind: Wildey, in Maryland; Morris, in New York; Barnes, in Massachusetts; Pearce, in Pennsylvania. The question of supremacy, however, was soon settled. Massachusetts readily surrendered its claims to priority and accepted a charter from the Grand Lodge of Maryland and the United States on 9 June 1823; and the Grand Lodge of that commonwealth was duly opened 11 June 1823, all the lodges participating. The Order in that State accepted a like charter dated 4 June 1823 and the Grand Lodge was duly instituted 24 June 1823. It having become known that Wildey had endeavored to unite the Odd Fellows of Massachusetts and New York, overtures were also made to Pennsylvania and these were immediately accepted. The charter is dated 13 June 1823 and the Grand Lodge of the Keystone State was organized 27 June 1823. The consolidated Order became at once homogeneous and prosperous. As a prelude to these momentous events, coincident with the actual foundation of the American Order, the managers in Maryland had organized, under the Duke of York Lodge charter, the Grand Lodge of Maryland and of the United States, 22 Feb. 1821, which relegated Washington and others, in Maryland, to the condition of subordinate lodges.
Following the centralization of the government of the four pioneer commonwealths, the “Grand Lodge of the United States” was evolved, on 15 Jan. 1825, by the representatives of the Grand Lodges of Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland, the last-named taking her place with the State Grand bodies, subordinate to the sovereign head. This theory of a government composed of one head, the source and repository of all true Odd Fellowship, with subordinate State bodies and lodges subordinate, in contradistinction to the English system of a governing movable committee, was due to the genius of John Pawson Entwistle, who had joined the Order in 1820, becoming the brains of the young organization; Entwistle, the first Deputy Grand Master, was afterward Grand Secretary, but his career as a “builder” was cut short by his early decease. The last link in the chain of regularity was forged 15 May 1826, when the American body was chartered by the Manchester Unity. Significant of this, the early charters were issued to the Order of Independent Odd Fellows and the branches originating in the United States were organized irrespective of the consent of the English body even prior to 1842-43, the date of official separation.Government and Degrees. — Between 1826 and 1885 the government of the Order had been evolutionary in its nature. The inheritance from England in ritualistic matters was the merest outline of a possible utility. The degrees were crude in structure and unsuited to the genius of a modern fraternal society, being copies from orders of other origin — notably from Masonry. When the foundations of government had become settled, attention began to be paid to degrees of higher significance than the lodge system. Entwistle gave the first impulse to this part of the fabric of Odd Fellowship. After his death the work was continued by a long line of distinguished Odd Fellows, including such American citizens as James L. Ridgely, Grand Secretary from 1838 to 1881; James B. Nicholson, Isaac McKendree Veitch, Schuyler Colfax, who may be said to have been the “builders” of the Order; Rev. Edwin H. Chapin, D.D., Rev. James D. McCabe, D.D., Tal. P. Shaffner, who, together with Entwistle and Ridgely, were largely the authors of the present American ritual.
Two English degrees and one American, finally, made up the encampment series. As early as 1821-25 these were conferred in connection with the lodge department. The final separation of the encampments into a distinct branch, higher than the lodge and governed by Grand Encampments, did not occur until 1841. In 1851-52 the Rebekah degree was adopted, its author being Schuyer Colfax. This is a branch to which both sexes are admitted, but was made with a view to admitting women to the Order. The sequence of degrees was completed in 1885 by the adoption of the Patriarchs Militant and organization of the uniform or display branch. The Grand bodies followed the sequences of the degrees. In 1879 the name of the supreme body was changed to the Sovereign Grand Lodge, a title more in consonance with its inherent powers, especially in its jurisdiction without the United States of America.
The Sovereign Grand Lodge is made up of Grand Representatives from the Grand Lodges and Grand Encampments of the United States and Canada. Grand Lodges possess jurisdiction over State and Provincial Rebekah Assemblies and Rebekah lodges, as well as in the government of subordinate lodges. The Patriarchs Militant, with the local unit, called Canton, is organized like the United States Army, with Department Councils, all under the immediate government of the Sovereign Grand Lodge. In Australasia, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, Quasi-Independent Grand Lodges govern the Order. These hold an allegiance to the Sovereign Grand Lodge, use the American ritual modified, and a common bond exists in connection therewith; but they do not enjoy a representation in the sovereign head. They, however, govern the Order in the countries named and conform to the laws and usages of the civil governments thereof. The development of this dual system was the labor of many years and varied experiments.
The dates of the introduction of American Odd Fellowship without the United States were these: Canada, 1843; Australasia, 1868; Denmark, 1878; Germany, 1870; the Netherlands, 1877; Sweden, 1884; Switzerland, 1871. As early as 1846 lodges were instituted in the Hawaiian Islands; in Cuba, in 1883; in Mexico, in 1882; and the Order has followed the flag into the Orient, having been established, including South America, in 22 nationalities, provinces and territories, in 18 of which Grand Lodges have been chartered. In 1914, however, of the entire lodge membership of 1,672,658, only 63,562 were enrolled outside of North America. In that year there were 1,508,791 Odd Fellows in the United States; Pennsylvania led with 157,751, followed by New York with 126,294; Illinois with 105,062; Ohio, 87,788; Indiana, 84,044; Missouri, 63,657; Michigan, 62,200; Massachusetts, 60,436; etc., etc. Canada and Maritime Provinces had 100,305 lodge members and Australia 45,300.
Other Organizations of Odd Fellows. — The largest body is the Manchester Unity, numbering 950,000 members. It has lodges throughout Great Britain and its colonies — a few in the United States — and is, in effect, a chartered benefit society. Annual reports are made to the government, under the laws regulating Friendly societies and actuaries determine the solvency or insolvency of the Order and license lodges accordingly. In ritual matters, likewise, it has nothing in common with American Odd Fellowship. The Grand United Order ranks next in relative importance. This body is the parent of the colored lodges in the United States and elsewhere and is of English origin. Other Friendly societies exist in Great Britain and are of more or less importance as health insurance associations.Beneficent Features. — The American Order has not incorporated into its polity any features of health or life insurance; indeed, it has, on the contrary refused to recognize voluntary associations of Odd Fellows, the object of which was to enlarge the benefit systems of regular relief. Nevertheless, the Order has always insisted upon “stated weekly and funeral benefits,” distinct from voluntary charity — these payments to members who are ill, or in affliction, being of “right,” not a donation. This characteristic is a distinguishing trait of the American Odd Fellow. On the great seal is emblazoned: “We command you to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.” Correlatively the attention of the Order was early attracted to the founding of institutions of learning, several of which have survived.
The dual motive of fraternity and stated relief led to the establishment of homes for the aged, the indigent, the widow and the orphan. Pennsylvania had six of these homes, New York has four, Illinois two, California two and several other States possess two, with more in prospect. Every Grand Lodge in the United States and Canada has one or more of these homes or has taken measures to found such an institution. This beneficence has been fostered in foreign jurisdictions as well; and the Order in Denmark has purchased the palace of the Crown Prince for this purpose, going into the “home idea” on a scale that eclipses all previous efforts. Other nationalities are in no wise behind their fellows in this beneficence.The Reunion of 1865. — During the Civil War of 1861-65 the roll of the Southern jurisdictions was regularly called during the annual sessions of the Sovereign Grand Lodge. At the close of hostilities the officers and members in the South were welcomed to the chairs and seats which had been held for them during the four years of strife and separation. The roll-call at Baltimore, 18 Sept. 1865, by the venerable Grand Secretary Ridgely, was notable even in fraternal circles. Every survivor answered to his name and appointments had been made to fill vacancies so that the representation was complete. Attempts had been made throughout the States composing the Southern Confederacy, with varying success, to keep up the organizations of the Order; but, at this reunion, measures were unanimously adopted whereby fraternal hands and hearts assisted in rebuilding the waste places. This was the first fraternization of the Blue and the Gray. The procession in the streets of Baltimore the next day, occupying more than one hour in passing any given point, attracted national attention. The marshals were Joseph Kidder of New Hampshire and John Q. A. Herring of Maryland.
Encyclopedia Americana, 1920