Fraternal organization: Wikis


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A fraternity (Latin frater : "brother") is a brotherhood, though the term usually connotes a distinct or formal organization.



There are known fraternal organizations which existed as far back as ancient Greece and Rome, and analogous institutions in the late medieval period called confraternities, which were lay organizations allied to the Catholic Church.

The development was especially dynamic in the United States, where the freedom to associate outside governmental regulation is expressly sanctioned in law.[1][2] There have been hundreds of fraternal organizations in the United States, and at the beginning of the 20th century the number of memberships equaled the number of adult males. (due to multiple memberships, probably only 50% of adult males belonged to any organizations)[3]

In 1944 Arthur M. Schlesinger coined the phrase "a nation of joiners" to refer to the phenomenon.[4] Alexis de Tocqueville also referred to the American reliance on private organization in the 1830s in Democracy in America.

There are many attributes that fraternities may or may not have, depending on their structure and purpose. Fraternities can have differing degrees of secrecy, some form of initiation or ceremony marking admission, formal codes of behavior, disciplinary procedures, very differing amounts of real property and assets.[3]

Types of fraternities

The only true distinction between a fraternity and any other form of social organization is the implication that the members freely associate as equals for a mutually beneficial purpose, rather than because of a religious, governmental, commercial, or familial bond, although there are fraternities dedicated to each of these topics.[3] On most college campuses fraternities are divided into three groups such as social, professional and honorary.

Fraternities can be organized for many purposes, including university education, work skills, ethics, ethnicity, religion, politics, charity, chivalry, other standards of personal conduct, asceticism, service, performing arts, family command of territory, and even crime. There is almost always an explicit goal of mutual support, and while there have been fraternal orders for the well-off there have also been many fraternities for those in the lower ranks of society, especially for national or religious minorities. Trade unions also grew out of fraternities such as the Knights of Labor.

The ability to organize freely, apart from the institutions of government and religion, was a fundamental part of the establishment of the modern world. In Living the Enlightenment, Margaret C. Jacobs showed the development of Jurgen Habermas' 'public space' in 17th century Netherlands was closely related to the establishment of lodges of Freemasons.[5]

College and university fraternities

Fraternities have a long history in colleges and universities, and form a major subsection of the whole range of fraternities.[6] In Europe, students are organized in nations and corporations since the beginnings of the modern university in the late medieval period, but the situation can differ greatly by country.

In the United States, fraternities in colleges date to the 1770s, but did not fully assume an established pattern until the 1840s. They were strongly influenced by the patterns set by Freemasonry.[3] The main difference between the older European organizations and the American organizations is that the American student societies virtually always include initiations, the formal use of symbolism, and the lodge-based organizational structure (chapters) derived from usages in Freemasonry.[3]

Trade Guilds

The development of Fraternities can be traced from trade unions or guilds that emerged in England. These guilds were set up to protect and care for their members at a time when there was no welfare state, trade unions or National Health Service. Various secret signs and handshakes were created to serve as proof of their membership allowing them to visit guilds in distant places that are associated with the guild they belong.

Over the next 300 years or so, the idea of "ordinary" people joining together to improve their situation met with varying degrees of opposition (and persecution) from "People in Power", depending on whether they were seen as a source of revenue (taxes) or a threat to their power. For example, when Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic church, the Guilds were seen by him as supporters of the Pope, and in 1545 all material property of the Guilds was confiscated. Elizabeth I took away from the Guilds the responsibility for apprenticeships, and by the end of her reign, most Guilds had been suppressed.

The suppression of these Trade Guilds removed an important form of social and financial support from ordinary men and women. In major cities (like London), some Guilds (like the Free Masons and the Odd Fellows) survived by adapting their roles to a social support function. Eventually, these groups evolved in the early 1700s into a social organization which later known as a fraternity. Among guilds that became prosperous are the Free masons and the Odd Fellows[7][8].

In many instances fraternities are limited to male membership such as the Dutch 'Alpinisten Vereniging Gelderland Midden' but this is not always the case, and there are mixed male and female, and even wholly female, fraternities. For example, for general fraternities: the Grande Loge Mixte de France, the Honorable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons, the Grande Loge Féminine de France, the various Orders of Odd Fellows, Orange Order and Daughters of Rebekah and the Order of the Eastern Star.


  1. ^ U.S. Constitution, first amendment.
  2. ^ NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, 357 U.S. 449, 460 (1958)
  3. ^ a b c d e Stevens, Albert C. (1907). Cyclopedia of Fraternities: A Compilation of Existing Authentic Information and the Results of Original Investigation as to the Origin, Derivation, Founders, Development, Aims, Emblems, Character, and Personnel of More Than Six Hundred Secret Societies in the United States. E. B. Treat and Company. 
  4. ^ Schlesinger, Arthur M. (October 1944). "Biography of a Nation of Joiners". American Historical Review (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association) L (1): 1. 
  5. ^ Jacob, Margaret C. (1991). Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Europe. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. 
  6. ^ Baird's Manual of American College Fraternities
  7. ^
  8. ^


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