One of my favorite tasks as Curator of Collections is answering inquiries from the public. I’ve been surprised by the number of questions I receive about an 1884 print titled “Rock of Odd Fellowship,” which appears in the Treasures section of the National Heritage Museum website. The lithograph shows many of the common symbols associated with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows fraternity, along with portraits of two of its leaders and scenes of members pursuing the group’s charitable activities: educating orphans, visiting the sick and burying the dead. The group is still active today. Most of the inquirers are looking for information about the print’s history, and are curious about its value. While museum policies prohibit me from commenting on the value of objects, I have investigated the history of this print, and have decoded some of the symbols and images it shows.
Originally founded in England in 1745, the American branch of the Odd Fellows was organized in Baltimore in 1819 by Thomas Wildey (1782-1861), who is pictured on the print at bottom center, as well as on a separate engraving seen here. Born in England and apprenticed as a coach-spring maker, Wildey later worked as a coachmaker and came to the United States in 1817. The other man shown in the center of the print is James L. Ridgely (1807-1881). Ridgely was a lawyer in Baltimore who joined an Odd Fellows lodge there in 1829. He was Grand Secretary for the group from 1841 until his death, as well as an author of some of its rituals.
By 1907, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows had almost one million members. All members contributed to a fund that was used to assist sick and distressed members, as well as their widows and orphans. In 1851, the group’s female auxiliary, the Daughters of Rebekah, was founded. Like Freemasons, Odd Fellows must profess a belief in the existence of a Supreme Being. You may recognize some of the symbols that appear on the “Rock of Odd Fellowship” print: the all-seeing eye that reminds members that the omniscience of God pierces into every secret of the heart; the heart and hand signifying that work should be performed from the heart; three pillars representing faith, hope, and charity; and the three-link chain, symbolizing the chain by which members are bound together in Friendship, Love and Truth.
The print was published in Boston in 1884 by T.C. Fielding (who was a Past Grand, or head, of the Odd Fellows in Massachusetts) and the lithographer was Frederick T. Stuart (1837-1913). I’ve been trying to learn more about these two men and to understand why the print was produced at that time. 1884 was the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in the United States, so this print may have been part of the celebration of that anniversary, but I haven’t found conclusive evidence. So I ask you – do you have information about Stuart or Fielding? Do you know why this print was published in 1884? Have you come across one of these prints in your own life?
Rock of Odd Fellowship, 1884, F.T. Stuart, artist and T.C. Fielding, publisher, Boston, Massachusetts, National Heritage Museum, gift of Mrs. Harold F. Price, 84.28. Photograph by David Bohl.
Thomas Wildey (1782-1861), 1843, John Sartain (1808-1897), engraver, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 79.35.2.