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March 2009

Are there Women in the Elks?: Yesterday and Today

A95_016_elks_mawsimLast week we wrote about Elks and postcards, and this week we've got more on the topic. The women shown in this postcard - currently on display in our reading room exhibition on postcards - were probably helping out with an Elks lodge 'Mawsim', or Moorish-style event and bazaar.  The postcard dates from 1907-1912 (FR 005).

Although we haven't done enough research yet to know exactly where this real photo postcard was produced, we do have a description of an Elks' Mawsim from around this time period. On October 25, 1910, the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader newspaper published a story about an upcoming Elks' Mawsim, which was likely a charity event, that reveals more about what an Elks' Mawsim was. It also reveals a highly romanticized view of the Near and Middle East that was pervasive in American culture at the time: 

 "Memories of a vanishing race will be awakened by the rich Oriental decorations that will be a feature of the Moorish "Mawsim" and Bazaar to be conducted by the Scranton Lodge of Elks...Who that has read the delightful yarns of Washington Irving in his "Tales of Alhambra," has not yearned for a glimpse of the land that gave birth to the Moors? ...This opportunity will be afforded the thousands of pleasure seekers who attend the "Mawsim" of the Scranton Elks."

There is little information on the women who supported the Elks during this time period, and who formed an organization known as the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Does. This is partly because the Elks (formally known as the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, or B.P.O.E.) didn't officially recognize this group. The Elks only accepted men as members during the early twentieth century, and the B.P.O.E. passed a resolution in 1907 that said that there would be no adjuncts or auxiliaries.

The Benevolent and Protective order of the Does (B.P.O.D.) operated only at the local level, with no centralized state or national authority.  According to some sources, they did not have a fixed ritual.  Other sources say their there were several versions of ritual practised.  One version bases the initiation rite on the Biblical story of Mary.  Another version makes reference the the thirteenth chapter of Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians which emphasizes love and charity.

In 1995, the Elks opened membership to women, by changing their constitution and removing the word “male” from the list of membership qualifications; members from the fraternal group’s 2,230 lodges across the entire United States voted on the change.  In 2009, women are not only members of the Elks, but they also serve as leaders.

[Women dressed for Elks “Mawsim” bazaar], ca. 1907
Real photo postcard
Museum purchase, 95/016

"I See My Own Face Everywhere"

Italian woman Did your family travel through Ellis Island? Has some interesting story about how your ancestors came to America been passed down the generations? We asked questions like these of visitors to “Augustus Frederick Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits, 1905–1920.” Since the exhibition opened in October, visitors have shared a number of funny, thoughtful, and intriguing responses with us. Here is a sampling:

“My husband’s grandmother got on a ship from Europe to Ellis Island with her fiancé. She got off the boat engaged to my husband’s grandfather, NOT the original fiancé. We only wish we knew the stories of what happened on board!”

“My grandfather immigrated to the USA. Bought some land—then back to Ireland. Got married, had 11 children: 10 girls, 1 boy. Never returned to America.”

“My father came from an island in Greece—with no money but full of expectation and hope to build a family and new life in the USA. He did and was successful.”

“My mother’s parents and siblings came to the U.S. via Ellis island around 1910. My uncle took sick on ship and was taken off during a stop in Scotland. My grandmother was hysterical that she would not see him again. She waited at Ellis Island for a week and, sure enough, my uncle arrived on a later ship. As a token of my uncle’s stay in at Scottish hospital, he carried his picture taken at hospital, dressed in kilt! That picture (and the story) is still with our family to this day.”

“I immigrated from the U.S. to Australia in 2004.  It was struggle to figure out the visa application, housing, and even where to shop for certain things…. It struck me at the time and ever since how difficult immigration is for those who don’t speak the right language of who have very few resources. Makes you very vulnerable, to be in that situation.”

The exhibition has also helped our visitors gain new understanding about their ancestors’ lives as they settled in their new country. One commented, “This interesting exhibit clearly show how similar … we are to these brave people who faced adversity, change and the future with courage in their hearts and hope in their eyes. Just as we need to today.” Another observer said simply, “I see my own face everywhere.”

We hope you will tell us about your family’s immigration experience by clicking the Comments link below. Or you can visit the exhibition and leave us your thoughts on a comment card. “Augustus Frederick Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits, 1905–1920” will be on view through April 26, 2009.

Photo: Italian woman. Augustus Frederick Sherman (1865-1925). Courtesy of Aperture Foundation and Statue of Liberty National Monument/Ellis Island Immigration Museum

Postcards! Elks! Fun!

Case5-8_96_051_1_web Among the many fun and fabulous postcards currently on view in the reading room of the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives are a handful that are related to the Elks. The Elks trace their roots back to New York City in 1867. The group was first known as the "Jolly Corks" and they were essentially a group of merrymakers whose members consisted of New York City entertainers. Charles Algernon Sidney Vivian became the official leader of the group, and on February 16, 1868, the group resolved to become a benevolent order and to change their name to the one they still carry today - the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, frequently abbreviated as B.P.O.E.

The postcards seen here (which are also on view in the reading room) were all produced in 1906 and 1907. In July 1907, the Elks had 254,532 members, and while this was in the heyday of American fraternalism (often called the "Golden Age of Fraternalism") it was still a far cry from the eventual number of members they would have - by 1950 there were approximately 1 million Elks, and by 1979 membership was at 1.6 million. Today the Elks' membership is just under 1 million.

The first two postcards seen here were produced to commemorate the annual national conventions of the Elks. With the phrase "Something-Doing-Every-Minute," the postcard for the annual Elks convention held in July 1906 in Denver, Colorado is a wonderful and fun example of the art noveau style popular at the time. In addition to the Elk head on the front of the car, the two clocks - with their hands pointing at 11 o'clock - allude to another BPOE tradition - the 11 O'Clock Toast, which is presumably what the female driver of the car is doing with her raised goblet. The postcard itself has a wonderfully short message that echoes to the phrase at the top. It says, simply, "Great doings," and is dated July 17, 1906. (Incidentally, before March 1, 1907, the back of the postcard was only used for the address - messages had to be written on the front, and often a blank space, as seen here, was left for the message.)

Case3-14_96_058_web The postcard from the 1907 convention, while not as colorful, reveals just how big these events were. This real photo postcard shows the illuminated "Court of Honor" for the convention held in Philadelphia in 1907. In its name, its illumination and its scale, the Court of Honor resembles the illuminated "Court of Honor" at Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. A New York Times article reporting on the opening of the Elks' 1907 convention gushed "Elks by the thousand poured into Philadelphia to-day and to-night. They came with their wives, sweethearts, and friends from every section of the country, and the greeting of welcome they received took away their breath."  A few days later, on a decidedly different note, the Times reported that the "Sun Fells 2,500 At Elks' Parade," reporting that many parade watchers suffered from over-exposure to 90 degree temperatures and "excessive" humidity.

Case4-5_94_079_3_web It's clear that businesses were ready to tailor their advertisements toward Elks that visited their city for annual conventions. In Philadelphia, the S. Abeles & Co. produced this wonderful mixed-media postcard that uses fur cut out in the shape of an elk to advertise the "best line of trimmed hats." 

Case5-3_94_079_1_web And, finally, this last postcard, copyrighted 1906 in Chicago, is likely not related to a particular annual convention, but it's another Elks postcard in the exhibition and it's just too fun to leave out. The card depicts a young woman holding an egg - presumably the subject of the question "Is It Good Or Bad?" - and stands beside three elements that identify this as being part of Elkdom: the mounted Elk head, the clock reading 11 o'clock, and the letters B.P.O.E. The sender of the postcard has written a brief message on the card, which seems to keep with the playful, flirtatious nature of the card itself: "I'm an Elk, what are you?"

A Penny for Your Thoughts: Postcards from the Golden Age, 1898-1918 in on view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives reading room through September 2009.

Also, be sure to check out our Send a Postcard feature on our website, where we've made it possible to send electronic versions of penny postcards  - for less than a penny.

Something-Doing-Every-Minute BPOE, 1906
G. W. Richards, illustrator
Museum purchase, 96/051/1

Illumination of Court of Honor, Elks Convention, Philadelphia, 1907
Real photo postcard
Gift of Keith MacKinnon, 96/058

B.P.O.E.—The Best Line of Trimmed Hats…, ca. 1906
Fur, paper stock
Museum purchase, 94/079/3

Is It Good or Bad?, ca. 1906
Photograph Company of America, Chicago
Museum purchase, 94/079/1

Portrait of a Teetotaler

Son_of_temperance_97_066di1 In the 1830s and 1840s, many Americans worried that increasingly immoderate drinking ruined health, disrupted families and fostered irreligious behavior.  To counter these social ills, men joined organizations that encouraged temperance. 

One of the first such American groups was the Sons of Temperance.  In 1842, founders organized the Sons in New York “to reform drunkards and to prevent others from becoming drunkards.”  As part of an initiation ceremony, every new member swore not to make, buy, sell or use alcohol.  If you look closely, you can see the exact pledge in this daguerreotype, "NO BROTHER SHALL MAKE, BUY SELL OR USE AS A BEVERAGE ANY SPIRITUOUS OR MALT LIQUORS WINE OR CIDER. " 

When the temperance movement was at its height, this young member, Obed Hervey Jones, had his photograph taken wearing Sons of Temperance regalia, holding an image of the pledge he had made.  This powerful and serious portrait reminded all who saw it of Jones’ solemn commitment. 

When the museum purchased this daguerreotype it, amazingly, came with the actual pledge Jones presented to the camera, folded up and then tucked into the photograph’s case.  Someone, maybe Jones, had written or stenciled the words carefully on penciled lines on both sides of the page.  One side is written in mirror image so the camera would capture a legible pledge in the finished photograph.  Son_of_temperance_cropped_91_016__3

In having his photograph taken, Jones may have come up with the idea of being photographed with the pledge on his own.  Or he may have been inspired by one of several prints of depicting members of the Sons of Temperance published in the mid-1800s.  Either way, I prefer his straight-forward gaze and work-roughened hands to the slender and fashionable gentlemen seen in the artist’s rendering.

Daguerreotype.  ca. 1850.  Museum Purchase, 88.3

Sons of Temperance, ca. 1850.  Published by Nathaniel Currier.  Special Acquisition Fund, 91.016.2

The Ancient Landmark Lodge of Shanghai

The port town of Shanghai was one of the cities opened to foreign trade by the 1842 Treaty of Nanking. One of the effects of the treaty was that it created relationships between Shanghai and other, Western port cities. Trade, like colonialism, has been one of the factors that has led to the GL2004_10854_Ancient_Landmark_Lodge_certificate_web_version spread of Freemasonry around the world.  Boston was one of the American ports that exchanged goods with Shanghai.  Because of this trading relationship, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, located in Boston, began to explore the possibility of establishing Masonic lodges in the Shanghai area.

In 1864, during the Civil War in the United States, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts chartered a lodge in Shanghai, called the Ancient Landmark Lodge. In Shanghai at this time there were also individual lodges chartered by England and Scotland.  China was in many ways an open field for Masonic jurisdictions based in the West wishing to establish Masonic lodges in Shanghai, one of the faraway port cities that they traded with.

In 1922, Arthur D. Prince, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, made an official visit to the Ancient Landmark Lodge and to other Chinese lodges in the area.  He installed the officers of Ancient Landmark Lodge and wrote up a long report upon his return. 

By the 1920s men from the local Chinese population were being admitted to American Masonic lodges in the Shanghai area.  Freemasonry grew out of a Western philosophical system and for Masons, like Prince, an American in China in the 1920s, trying to apply Western thought to Eastern ideas could often prove challenging and sometimes revealed a common bias of the time that considered Western systems preferable to those in the East.  One of Prince's comments in his report was that many Chinese, who were followers of Confucius, could satisfy the requirements for admission to Freemasonry. This was probably because the basic teachings of Confucianism stress the importance of education and moral development of the individual as does Freemasonry.

In 1923, William Van Buskirk (b.1864), an American who lived in Shanghai, was made a Mason in Ancient Landmark Lodge. He  worked in a governmental position of Deputy Marshal for the Department of State of the United States.  Later, in 1926, Van Buskirk was elected Master of this lodge and was issued a Masonic certificate for this office, as seen in the image above. The National Heritage Museum also holds Van Buskirk's Masonic apron on loan.

Worshipful Master Certificate of William Buskirk, 1926, Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.10854

Sources used in today's post:

Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, A. F. & A. M., Boston: Caustic-Claflin Company,  v.1922, p. 451-487, v.1926, p.644.
Call numbers: 17.9763 .G751 1922, 17.9763 .G751 1926

Roy, Thomas Sherrard. Stalwart Builders:  The Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, 1733-1978, Worcester, Mass.:  Davis Press, 1980.
Call number: 17.9763 .G751 R888 1971


Samuel Gragg's Elastic Chairs

79_38a-bT1 GRAGG Innovative Boston furniture maker Samuel Gragg (1772-1855) combined the best in technology and fashion in his patented "elastic," or bentwood, chairs. The Museum is fortunate enough to hold a set of four of them, made in the early 1800s, in its collection. Only a few dozen of Gragg's elastic chairs survive, primarily in art museums. This design provides one of the earliest examples of bentwood furniture, a style that became popular several decades later.

Gragg’s so-called elastic chairs feature seven stiles, or vertical pieces of curved wood, that comprise both the seat and chair backs, and in some cases, even the front legs. Using pliable woods such as ash, oak and hickory, Gragg steamed the slats and bent them over a mold into graceful curves. He then assembled the chair, adding horizontal rails in the backs, more slats in the seat, and legs. The chair back remained flexible—or elastic—which, according to Gragg, made it “very comfortable & agreeable to the person sitting on it….” High-style furniture of the day also included of-the-moment ornamentation. The Museum’s examples have the characteristic carved goat feet, and simple designs carved into the top rails and the fronts of the seat. They also display evidence of repairs, showing that they were well-used in the past.

Although Gragg patented his chairs in 1808, records of his exact manufacturing methods were lost in an 1836 fire at the U.S. Patent Office. However, when researching the chairs for a 2003 exhibition at Delaware’s Winterthur Museum, furniture conservator Michael S. Podmaniczky discovered what was likely Gragg’s own copy of the patent, now housed at James Madison University in Virginia. For more information on Gragg’s inspiration and construction methods for his groundbreaking chair design, you can visit the Chipstone Foundation’s online version of Winterthur’s exhibition.

Side Chairs, 1808-1830. Samuel Gragg (1772-1855), Boston, Massachusetts. National Heritage Museum, gift of Mrs. Walter L. Weil. Photo by David Bohl.

Lincolniana and other new and recommended books: March 2009

While some may think things have gotten too carried away for the Lincoln Bicentennial, there really are some new books, programs and exhibits worth knowing about.  We've added several titles on Abraham Lincoln to our collection and we've listed them along with all our other new Masonic and fraternal and general American history titles on our website's New Acquisitions page.  Please take a look.

If you're out and about in the Boston area (after having visited the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, of course!) and you're looking for Lincoln and Civil War related exhibits, you might check out the following:  The Medford Historical Society is home to one of the world's greatest collections of Civil War photographs and many are on display this month as part of their Of the People: Faces of the Civil War exhibit.  Some of their photographs, from the General Samuel Crocker Lawrence collection* also may be seen at the Brookline Public Library along with an exhibit, Abraham Lincoln: Self-Made in America.

Lots of other interesting exhibits and events are scheduled throughout the area and information on them is available at the Massachusetts Lincoln Bicentennial website.  National events and a state-by-state guide may be found at the Lincoln Bicentennial website.


*Landscapes of the Civil War, an exhibit of photographs from this same collection appeared at the National Heritage Museum in 1999 and an accompanying book (Landscapes of the Civil War: Newly Discovered Photographs from the Medford Historical Society. Edited by Constance Sullivan.  N.Y.: Knopf, 1995.  Call number E 468.7 .L25 1995)  is available in our collection along with other materials by and about the collector and Freemason, Samuel Crocker Lawrence.  More on Lawrence also is available in the library that bears his name at the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.

Abraham Lincoln signature from the Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division.




James David Moran of the American Antiquarian Society Lectures on "Isaiah Thomas, the Press and the Founding of America," March 7 at 2pm

James_David_Moran James David Moran, Director of Outreach at the American Antiquarian Society, will present “Diverting the Design of Murder and Robbery: Isaiah Thomas, the Press and the Founding of America.”  The lecture will take place at the Museum on Saturday, March 7 at 2 pm.

Using Thomas’ account of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Moran will examine this publisher and Freemason’s role as a colonial printer within the larger context of growing resistance to British rule. Supported by the Lowell Institute and co-sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society. Admission is free.

Masonic Officer Aprons

Just as Freemasons use symbols during their rituals and degree ceremonies to teach initiates and members about Masonic traditions and values, they also use symbols to identify the officers of the lodge.  Thirteen officers oversee the business of each local lodge.  The head is the Master, followed by Senior and Junior Wardens, Secretary, Treasurer, Senior and Junior Deacons, Senior and Junior Stewards, Marshal, Inner Guard, Tyler, and Chaplain.  By the mid-1800s, a number of retail companies specialized in producing Masonic and fraternal aprons and regalia.  Lodges could buy complete sets of matching aprons for their officers.  As the men changed offices, they passed their aprons to their successors.

98_015_2di1_officer_apron One of the aprons pictured here bears the symbol of crossed keys, signifying that it was worn by a lodge Treasurer.  It is one of six matching lodge aprons rescued from a southern Masonic lodge during the Civil War.  All six descended in the family of George William Dupre (1881-1936), a member of Franklin Lodge in Grafton, Massachusetts.

After a man completes his service as Master of his lodge, he becomes a Past Master.  The second apron shown here includes the Past Master symbol of a square and quadrant with a sun in the center.  By wearing this apron to lodge meetings, the Past Master is reminded of his experience as head of the lodge, as well as of the respect and appreciation of his fraternal brothers.  This particular apron has a label documenting that Wollaston Lodge of Quincy, Massachusetts presented it to Albert D. Healey (1888-1984) in 1923.98_039_23adi1_officer_apron

Want to learn more about the Masonic aprons in the National Heritage Museum collection?  Check out the Treasures section of our website and look for past and future blog entries highlighting additional aprons.

Above: Masonic Treasurer’s Apron, 1850-1860, National Heritage Museum, gift of Trinity Lodge, A.F. & A.M., Clinton, Massachusetts, 98.015.2.

Right: Masonic Past Master’s Apron, 1923, Harding Uniform & Regalia Company, Boston, Massachusetts, National Heritage Museum, 98.039.23a-b.