The Birds of Odd Fellows Hall
Image by elycefeliz
Currently the American Legion Post 123 building.
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 18th century, 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)).
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’.
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."
The Manchester Unity Oddfellows (in United Kingdom) state on their website that "Oddfellows can trace its roots back to the Trade Guilds of the 12th and 13th centuries. Some believe that there are records in Scotland which show that the Oddfellows in its original form may have arisen in the 1500s. Some historians claim that it existed before 1650.
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. 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 among all fraternal organizations, (at the time, even larger than freemasonry). By 1889, the IOOF had lodges in every American state.
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.
Below are some of the notable men and women who were members:
William Jennings Bryan, U.S. Secretary of State (1913–1915)
Robert C. Byrd, U.S. Senator (1959–2010)
Charlie Chaplin, comedic actor and film director
Wyatt Earp, law officer in the American Old West
Ulysses S. Grant, 18th U.S. President (1869–1877)
Warren Harding, 29th U.S. President (1921–1923)
Rutherford Hayes, 19th U.S. President (1877–1881)
Charles Lindbergh, American aviator, author, inventor, explorer, and social activist
William McKinley, 25th U.S. President (1897–1901)
Franklin Roosevelt, 32nd U.S. President (1933–1945)