|Independent Order of Odd Fellows
|Founded||April 26, 1819
Baltimore, Maryland U.S.A.
|Symbol||Three Link Chain|
|Headquarters||422 Trade Street,
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), also known as the Three Link Fraternity, is an altruistic and benevolent fraternal organization derived from the similar British Oddfellows service organizations which came into being during the 1700s, at a time when altruistic and charitable acts were far less common. In the U.S., it is a "Mutual Benefit Corporation" (U.S. IRS tax code 501(c)(8)).
The word "Independent" in the organization's name was given by the English parent organization as part of the chartered title in the new North American chapter:
|“||The Independent Order of Odd Fellows was founded on the North American Continent in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 26, 1819 when Thomas Wildey and four members of the Order from England instituted Washington Lodge No. 1. This lodge received its charter from Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows in England.||”|
Several theories aim to explain the meaning of the name "Odd Fellows".
One says that they were called "odd" because in the beginning of Odd Fellowship in the 18th century, at the time of industrialization, it was rather odd to find people who followed noble values such as benevolence, charity and fraternalism.
A variation on that theory states: 'The Odd Fellows, at least according to one story, got its curious name from the fact that it was a lodge that opened its doors to the working class who at that time did not ordinarily belong to fraternal orders--and were thus "odd". This may or may not be true as the Odd Fellows have been around for a long time and a good many things get lost in the fog of history.'
Another theory states that Odd Fellows were people who engaged in miscellaneous or "odd" trades. In the 18th century, major trades were organized in guilds or other forms of syndicate, but smaller trades did not have any social or financial security. For that reason, people who exercised unusual trades joined together to form a larger group of "odd" fellows.
A slightly different version of this second theory states: 'By the 13th century, the tradesmen's Guilds had become established and prosperous. During the 14th Century, with the growth of trade, the guild "Masters" moved to protect their power (and wealth) by restricting access to the Guilds. In response, the less experienced (and less wealthy) "Fellows" set up their own rival Guilds. In smaller towns and villages, there weren't enough Fellows from the same trade to set up a local Guild, so Fellows from a number of trades banded together to form a local Guild of Fellows from an odd assortment of trades. Hence, Guilds of Odd Fellows.'
According to the IOOF's brochure, its mandate is "To Improve and Elevate the Character of Mankind", which results in the Odd Fellows' duties "to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan". "Today, the Odd Fellows is a worldwide fraternal Order having over 10,000 lodges in 25 countries. We are actively involved in a variety of civic and philanthropic efforts on a local, national and international level." More recent publications note the Order now has lodges in 29 countries.
The brochure lists the following as highlights of the organization's works:
Fellowship in the IOOF entails:
In 1688 England, when the Catholic King James II was deposed in favor of the Dutch Protestant William of Orange, the organization split into two factions, the "Patriotic Order of Odd fellows" (based in the south of England and supporting William) and the "Ancient Order of Odd fellows" (based in the north and favoring the Stuarts). The "Patriotic Order" was followed by successors during a period of merger and re-organization by the "Union of United Orders" and then "The Loyal Order".
In 1789, the two factions formed a partial amalgamation as the "Union Order", (now known as the Grand United Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society (GUOOFS)), abandoning all political and religious disputes and committing itself to promoting the harmony and welfare of its members. Then, as now, the Oddfellows has no religious or political affiliations and accept members from all walks of life regardless of sex, color or belief. In 1813, various lodges of the Union Order organized the "Manchester Unity of Oddfellows" which chartered the Odd Fellows in North America in 1819.
While several unofficial lodges had existed in New York City before, because of the charter relationship, American Odd Fellowship is regarded as being founded in Baltimore at the Seven Stars Tavern on April 26, 1819, by Thomas Wildey and some associates, who assembled in response to a newspaper advertisement. The following year, the lodge affiliated with the Manchester Unity and was granted the authority to institute new lodges.
In 1842, after an elementary dispute on whether the American lodges were to be involved in decision-making procedures, the American Lodges separated from the English Order and in 1843 changed their name to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. In the following years, lodges were instituted all over the country, first in the east and later in the west. Also in 1842, the English Odd Fellow Grand Lodges issued a warrant to an African American sailor named Peter Ogden from New York City; unlike Wildey and the IOOF, Ogden and the African American Odd Fellows lodges never separated from the English order, and they remain part of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows (GUOOF), still headquartered in Philadelphia.
On September 20, 1851, IOOF became the first national fraternity to accept both men and women when it formed the Daughters of Rebekah. Schuyler Colfax, (Vice President of the United States (1869-1873) under President Ulysses S. Grant), was the force behind the movement. Though the term sorority was not yet coined in this year, it may be considered that the Rebekah is the first and oldest sorority in the world. Both the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs have higher branches known as Encampments and Patriarchs Militant.
The American Civil War (1861-1865) shattered the IOOF in America; membership decreased and many lodges were unable to continue their work, especially in the southern States. After the Civil War, with the beginning of industrialization, the deteriorating social circumstances brought large numbers of people to the IOOF and the lodges rallied.
From 1860 to 1910/1920, also known as the "Golden Age of Fraternalism" in America, the Odd Fellows became the largest of the fraternal organizations. By 1889, the IOOF had lodges in every American state.
In 1896, the World Almanac showed the Odd Fellows as the largest of the fraternal organizations. The Order had also spread to most of the rest of the world, establishing lodges in the Americas, Australasia, and Europe. The peak of membership was probably in 1915 when the IOOF had 3.4 million active members.
The Great Depression and the introduction of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal brought a decline in membership. During the depression, people could not afford Odd Fellows membership fees, and when the New Deal's social reforms started to take effect, the need for the social work of the Odd Fellows declined.
Some branches of the order (i.e. some countries) have allowed women to join the Odd Fellows itself, leading to the Rebekahs decline in importance. Also, the higher branches and their degrees are, in some countries, becoming regarded as less important or too time-consuming, and (in those countries) are gradually being abandoned.
Although there was a decline in membership in fraternal organizations in general during the 20th century, membership in the 21st century has started to increase. The IOOF continues in the 21st century with lodges around the world, and is claimed to be the "largest united international fraternal order in the world under one head", with every lodge working with the Sovereign Grand Lodge located in the United States. Also, the British "Independent Order of Oddfellows, Manchester Unity", and the IOOF have recognized each other inter-fraternally; members of the Manchester Unity and the IOOF can visit each other's lodges, and are welcome as brothers and sisters.
Units of the Order in the U.S.A. include:
|Europe||-||2006||Grand Lodge of Europe SGL entry|
|Europe||Belgium||-||1911||Belgium Flemmish, English|
|Europe||Finland||-||Finland Finnish, Swedish|
|Europe||Netherlands||-||Netherlands Dutch, English|
|Europe||Sweden||-||Sweden: 1, 2 Swedish|
|Europe||Switzerland||-||Switzerland: Men's Lodges, Women's Lodges Swiss-German|
|Europe||United Kingdom||-||1810||Manchester Unity|
|Europe||United Kingdom||-||Manchester Unity - South Yorkshire & North Derbyshire|
|Americas||Canada||AB||Alberta SGL entry|
|Americas||Canada||NL & NS||Atlantic Provinces SGL entry|
|Americas||Canada||QC||1878||Quebec SGL entry|
|Americas||Canada||SK||Saskatchewan SGL entry|
|Americas||Chile||-||1874||Chile SGL entry|
|Americas||Mexico||-||1882||Mexico SGL entry|
|Americas||Puerto Rico||-||1999||Puerto Rico|
|Americas||U.S.A||DC||District of Columbia|
|Australasia||Australia||-||Australia SGL entry|
|Australasia||Australia||NSW||1836||New South Wales|
|Australasia||New Zealand||-||1843||New Zealand, SGL entry|
The most widely encountered symbol of the IOOF – on signage and gravemarkers – is the three-link chain ("the Chain With Three Links", the "Triple Links") with three initials, 'F', 'L' and 'T', one each inside each link, signifying Friendship, Love and Truth.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows in the USA has three levels of "Lodge": the Subordinate Lodge, the Encampment, and the Patriarchs Militant. In addition, there is a private club named The Ancient Mystic Order of Samaritans (AMOS). In Australia, this system has been implemented in a slightly different, but largely similar manner.
The Subordinate Lodge is the Lodge assigned to new initiates. The initials of the subordinate lodge are "FLT" (Friendship, Love and Truth). Once a member has made their way through all the degrees and has had the 3rd degree (truth) bestowed upon them, they are entitled to hold an officer position in their lodge, and are also eligible to go on further in Odd Fellowship through the higher degree branches such as the Encampment and the Patriarchs Militant (aka the Canton).
2 Brotherly/Sisterly Love
In Odd Fellowship one must go through the Encampment first before seeking entrance into the highest branch, the Patriarchs Militant. Once one has accomplished the 3rd degree of the Encampment, one is eligible to hold an officer position in the Encampment and is also eligible for the Patriarchs Militant.
The initials of the Encampment are FHC which stands for Faith, Hope and Charity. The Encampment's seal is a purple tent with golden trim, the triple links above the tent door and crossed shepherds crooks. These symbols can be seen on the purple fez that American members of this branch wear. One must retain their membership and remain in good standing within their own subordinate lodge while in the Encampment.
2 Golden Rule
3 Royal Purple
Again, in legal terminology, American Encampments are also considered U.S. I.R.S. 501(c)(8) Mutual Benefit Corporations.
The Patriarchs Militant (PM) is Odd Fellowship's uniformed branch, and is the branch which offers the highest degree of the IOOF. There is only one degree, the Chevalier degree. Upon completion of this degree, one is entitled to hold office in the Canton. Sometimes the Patriarchs Militant is referred to as "the Canton", due to the Canton being the name used in lieu of "Lodge". The seal of the PM is a gold and jeweled crown, within which is a shepherds crook crossed with a sword and the triple links of Odd Fellowship connecting the two at the bottom. One must retain their membership and remain in good standing within both the subordinate lodge and Encampment while a member of the PM.
American Cantons are also considered U.S. I.R.S. 501(c)(8) Mutual Benefit Corporations.
AMOS was preceded by a number of independent clubs, such as the OOH&P (Oriental Order of Humility and Perfection) and the Imperial Order of Muscovites. These were disbanded in the first two decades if the 20th Century, and melded together to form the AMOS. The Ancient Mystic Order of Samaritans is not an officially recognized body within Odd Fellowship; it is a private club to which only those who are Odd Fellows may belong. A brother who holds the third degree and is in good standing within his subordinate lodge (i.e. he has not been expelled or in arrears of dues, etc.) is eligible to make an application to join.
The brothers who belong to the AMOS, much like the Shriners, wear a red fez, but the tassel which hangs from the fez is of different colors depending on the degree attained or the office held. The seal of the AMOS is an owl sitting upon a pyramid. Above the owl are the words "WE NEVER SLEEP"; at the base of the pyramid is the word Xerxes, and below the pyramid is the Arabian sword called a scimitar. The word Xerxes alludes to the password of the first degree of the AMOS.
1 Humility (or Samaritan) [Red fez with a yellow tassel]
2 Perfection (or Sheik) [Red fez with a red tassel]
The American Grand United Order of Odd Fellows is a fraternal organization founded in 1843 for black members. Created at a time when the IOOF was primarily a white-only organization, the GUOOF obtained its charter directly from the Manchester Unity in Great Britain and the American IOOF organization had no control over it. Although still in existence, membership in the US has declined, due to the mainstream IOOF no longer being segregated and the decline in fraternal membership in general.
Although in Britain the Odd Fellows tended to meet in pubs, in the U.S. the lodges often built their own facilities. Many of these are now on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places:
'Odd Fellowship, unlike many other organizations, makes no special effort to attract "name" members. Ours is a warm, personal type of affiliation that doesn't rely on "rubbing elbows" with the famous to give us satisfaction.'