Pencil inscriptions on the back of these two photographs in the collection of the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives identify that they portray Pollie Thomas (1888-1976) (at left) and her husband, James Henry Thomas (1869-1929) (at left, below). The Thomases lived in Staunton, Virginia. A copy of the "By-laws and Rules of Order Rose of Sharon Household of Ruth," published in 1915, signed "Sister Pollie Thomas," shows that Pollie Thomas belonged to this organization. A further inscription on the back of her portrait notes that she held the office of “Worthy Recorder,” or secretary, of the group.
Membership in the Household of Ruth was open to wives, daughters, and other relations of men who belonged to the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. Based in England, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows granted a charter to a group of Black men who wished to form a lodge in New York in 1843. In the United States, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was an African American organization.
Established in the United States in 1858, the Household of Ruth was a women’s auxiliary associated with the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. The organization granted degrees to both men and women. The group that Pollie Thomas belonged to, Rose of Sharon, No. 79, received its warrant in 1876. The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows lodge in Staunton, King Hiram No. 1463, where Pollie’s husband was likely a member, received its charter a few years before, in 1871. When he died in 1929, James Henry Thomas’s obituary noted that the Odd Fellows, the Household of Ruth, and the Lilly of the Valley Lodge of Elks, No. 171 conducted portions of his funeral service.
More examples of archival material related to African American fraternal groups in the collection of the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives can be viewed here, on our digital collections site.
"Thomas Funeral," The News Leader (Staunton, VA), 7/13/1929, 2.
Charles H. Brooks, The Official History and Manual of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America (Philadelphia, PA: Odd Fellows Print Journal, 1902), 115, 141.