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The first lodge established on this continent was Shakespere, 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 founders were three boat builders, a comedian, and a vocalist – a group befitting the name “Odd Fellows,” indeed. Their first candidate was a retired actor who was the keeper of the tavern where they met. Accounts state that lodge meetings were accompanied by merry making and mirth and that the wares of the tavern were freely indulged in.
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.
Thomas Wildey was born in London, England, January 15, 1782. He was left an orphan five years later – and the Odd Fellow pledge to “Educate the Orphan” sprang from his personal childhood experiences. At the age of 14, Wildey went to live with an uncle. After he had 9 years of schooling, he became an apprentice to a maker of coach springs. He was initiated into the Odd Fellows in 1804 on reaching manhood (age of 21) in which he distinguished himself by his zeal and integrity and quickly “passed the chairs”.
When restlessness brought Thomas Wildey to America in 1817, the British were still unpopular in the States because of the War of 1812. In that year Baltimore was suffering both a yellow fever epidemic and mass unemployment. An outgoing personality, Wildey missed companionship and was determined to find if there were any other Odd Fellows in Baltimore.
Wildey advertised in the Baltimore American; and “five for a quorum” was obtained. On the 26th of April 1819 in the Seven Stars Tavern the Washington Lodge No. 1 was instituted.
A second lodge was formed in Baltimore in 1819, but these two lodges and those in New York were unaware of each others’ existence for some time, communications being slow in those days, and there being no reason such information would travel from one city to another except by pure chance.
On 26 Dec. 1821 Pennsylvania Lodge, No. 1, Philadelphia, was formed. The Order had now been planted in four States and an effort was soon made to frame constitutions and to obtain charters from the so-called regular bodies of Odd Fellows in England.
The consolidated Order became at once homogeneous and prosperous. 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. With the official split from the Manchester Unity in 1843, the organization name was changed to Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
On September 20, 1851, IOOF became the first national fraternity to accept both men and women when it formed the Daughters of Rebekah. Later the name was changed to just Rebekahs. Originally made with a view to admitting women to the Order, it is now a branch to which both sexes are admitted,
In 1861, Thomas Wildey passed away. At the time of his death, there were more than 200,000 members of the IOOF.
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. At the close of the war, 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, 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. 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.
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. Over the next half-century, also known as the “Golden age of fraternalism” in America, the Odd Fellows became the largest among all fraternal organizations, (at the time, even larger than Freemasonry). By 1889, the IOOF had lodges in every American state. In 1896, the World Almanac showed the Odd Fellows as the largest among all fraternal organizations.
Due to the Great Depression and the introduction of Odd Fellow Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s New Deal, fraternalism and started a decline in membership. During the Depression, people could not afford lodge membership fees and many lodges closed, and when the New Deal’s social reforms started to take effect, the need for the traditional social work of the Odd Fellows declined.
Although there was a decline in membership in fraternal organizations in general during the 20th century, membership in the 21st century started to increase with new generations discovering the charitable fraternal experience and adding new purpose to the Order.
April 26, 2019 marked the 200th anniversary of the institution of Washington Lodge No. 1 by Thomas Wildey.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows has three levels of “Lodge”: the Lodge, the Encampment, and the Patriarchs Militant.
The Lodge is assigned to new initiates. The initials of the Odd Fellows lodge are “FLT” which stands for Friendship, Love and Truth as the basic guides to live by as an Odd Fellow. 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 office or 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).
Odd Fellow Degrees
2 Brotherly/Sisterly Love
The Encampment is open to third degree Odd Fellows members in good standing.
This branch is based on the principles of Faith, Hope and Charity. Once one has accomplished the Royal Purple 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 Odd Fellows lodge while in the Encampment.
2 Golden Rule
3 Royal Purple
Formed in 1885, the Patriarchs Militant (PM) is Odd Fellowship’s uniformed branch. It is purely semi-military in its character, organized for chivalric display and is admirably fulfilling its mission through the annual ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers’ ceremony held in Washington DC, Canada and other public ceremonies conducted all over the world.
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 Odd Fellows and Encampment while a member of the PM.
Patriarch Militant Degree