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A friendly society (sometimes called a mutual society, benevolent society or fraternal organization) is a mutual association for insurance, pensions or savings and loan-like purposes, or cooperative banking. Some friendly societies, especially in the past, served ceremonial and friendship purposes also, while others did not. It is a mutual organization or benefit society composed of a body of people who join together for a common financial or social purpose. Before modern insurance, and the welfare state, friendly societies provided financial and social services to individuals, often according to their religious or political affiliations.

Before large-scale government and employer health insurance and the development of other financial services, friendly societies played an important part in many people's lives. In some countries, half the population was covered by such societies. Many of these societies still exist. In some countries, they developed as large mutually-run financial institutions, typically insurance companies, and lost any social and ceremonial aspect they may have had; in others they have taken on a more charitable or social aspect.

In some cases, especially in America, members typically paid a regular membership fee and went to lodge meetings to take part in ceremonies. If a member became sick they would receive an allowance to help them meet their financial obligations. The society would have a regular doctor who the member could visit for free. Members of the lodge would visit to provide emotional support (and possibly to check that the sick member was not malingering). When a member died, their funeral would be paid for and the members of their lodge would attend in ceremonial dress—often there was some money left over from the funeral for the widow. Friendly societies also had social functions such as dances, and some had sporting teams for members to participate in. They occasionally became involved in political issues that were of interest to their members. Others were largely purely financial, with little or no social side, from their foundation - this was more typical in Great Britain. The first Mutual savings bank, founded in Scotland in 1810, was called the “Savings and Friendly Society”. Credit unions and other types of organization are modern equivalents.

In the more social type, each lodge was generally responsible for its own affairs, but it was often associated with an order of lodges such as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, or the Independent Order of Foresters. There were typically reciprocal agreements between lodges within an order, so that if a member moved cities or countries they could join a new lodge without having to serve any initiation time. The ceremonies were also fairly uniform throughout an order. Occasionally a lodge might change the order that it was associated with, or a group of lodges would break away from their order and form a new order, or two orders might merge. Consequentially, the history of any particular friendly society is difficult to follow. Often there were unassociated orders with similar names.

Contents

List of some friendly societies

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Female Friendly Society

Female Friendly Societies were a common form of Friendly Society in England during the nineteenth century. The societies were more common in areas of the country where larger proportions of the female population were in employment.

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