To fully understand and appreciate Freemasonry in America, the National Heritage Museum collects objects and documents associated with all types of fraternal organizations. This chart visually presents symbols and goals of the Improved Order of Red Men. Founded in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1834, and modeled on the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Freemasonry, the group took idealized notions of Native American life as their inspiration. Red Men met in “tribes” at “wigwams” and practiced rituals based on romanticized views of American Indian legends. Ironically, the group was initially open only to white men. Members likely set this exclusion in place as a reaction to rising immigration to the United States.
The Red Men also wore “Native American” regalia, with fringed leather pants and shirts and feather headdresses. Their costumes suggest a connection to late-1800s historical pageants, which celebrated centennials and bicentennials of white settlement in the New World.
Decorative prints like this one were popular during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Used in the home and by the fraternity, this print reminded the member of the lessons he had learned and signified his membership to others who might see it in his home.
Our Totem, 1888, Frank W. Parkhurst, G.H. Buek and Co., lithographer, Boston, Massachusetts. National Heritage Museum, gift of Kenneth Leeco, 89.71. Photograph by David Bohl.