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fraternal orders

fraternal orders, organizations whose members are usually bound by oath and who make extensive use of secret ritual in the conduct of their meetings. Most fraternal orders are limited to members of one sex, although some include both men and women. The best-known orders are the Freemasons (see Freemasonry) and the Odd Fellows, both of which originated in 18th-century England (although enthusiasts have placed the origin of the Freemasons at the time of the construction of Solomon's Temple). Most American fraternal orders were established in the 19th cent. Many were formed for a special purpose or for the benefit of particular groups; e.g., the Patrons of Husbandry, or the Grange (see Granger movement), was founded to improve the lot of the farmer and was for a time an important political force. To a large degree, though, these organizations expressed a desire to establish principally male rituals. The Knights of Columbus was formed (1882) to provide a fraternal order for Roman Catholics free of the oath-taking requirement to which they were opposed. Other orders, founded when commercial insurance companies did not extend coverage to workers, provided sickness and death benefits to members. That function of fraternal orders declined as insurance companies expanded their coverage, and today most fraternal orders serve mainly as charitable institutions and social centers. Other well-known fraternal orders and their years of founding in the United States are the Order of Hibernians (1836), Knights of Pythias (1864), and Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (1868).

See M. C. Carnes, Meanings for Manhood (1990).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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