The Rise of Youth Organizations: Newly Acquired Juvenile Branch Charter of Grand United Order of Oddfellows Juvenile Branch
At the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, there are incredible collections in the archives, but they are not often visually interesting. Occasionally, however, archival materials in our collection are both historically fascinating and beautiful. We recently acquired this Juvenile Branch, No. 44, charter of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, which checks both boxes. It is a stunning as well as an important testament to Black life and culture in Danville, Kentucky.
The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was, at one time, the largest Black fraternal order in the United States. In 1843, Peter Ogden and several other Black men were rejected from the white Independent Order of Odd Fellows. After receiving a charter from the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in England, they founded Philomathean Lodge, No. 646, and started the American branch of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, a Black organization unlike its originator in England. The Juvenile Branch began on September 13, 1897, when the first warrant was granted to the Household of Ruth, No. 29, in Washington, D. C. The juvenile branches, which operated under the supervision of the Household of Ruth, the women’s auxiliary order established in 1858, were open to children, from the ages of three to sixteen, regardless of whether their parents were a part of the Order. The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows celebrated the fourth Sunday in September as “Children’s Day.”
The charter for Juvenile Branch, No. 44, acquired by the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, features rich art with red, white, and blue American flags surrounded by pink roses and detailed images of three women, embodying the Odd Fellows’s motto, “Friendship, Love, & Truth,” which is written in Latin on the banner below the women. The woman sitting on a pedestal atop the Odd Fellows coat of arms looks lovingly down at the two naked toddlers in her arms and the two young children at her knees. The woman on her left stands looking at the scene with a sword in her left hand and a scale in her left. The woman on the right looks into a shining mirror and holds the Rod of Asclepius associated with healing and medicine. The charter was designed by the Grand Secretary, Charles H. Brooks, and was printed in Bradford, England, demonstrating a continuing close relationship with England. It should be noted, as well, that the women and children that Brooks designed are white. Why would the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, a proud Black American organization, use white woman to represent friendship, love, and truth? The vivid bright colors and the large size of the charter (24” x 17”) mark the charter as a showpiece that was meant to be displayed prominently. Did this charter once hang framed at the lodge? Or was it brought out only for special occasions?
Juvenile Branch, No. 44, was under the direction of the Household of Ruth, No. 59, located in Danville, Kentucky and was established on March 22, 1898, only six months after the first Juvenile Branch was founded. It is striking that in those six months, forty-four juvenile branches were formed. Not much is known about this Juvenile Branch or the Household of Ruth, No. 59. The five women listed as members of the Household of Ruth branch, Bessie B. Shain, Paulina Langford, Ann Word, Georgiana Allen, and Agnes Green, all seemed to be part of the working class—respectably married, and in their thirties and forties with children. Langford was a carpet sewer, Allen was a cleaner, and Green worked in the laundry business. Did they form the Juvenile Branch for their children and their communities’ children to bring them more fully into the fold and involved with the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows?
Around the turn of the century, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows’s membership was greatly increasing and from 1897-1898, the organization issued six hundred and sixty-five warrants for new branches. This Juvenile Branch was part of the shifting movement to bring the whole family into the fraternal order which reached its peak in the 1910s and 1920s with the popularity of youth organizations such as DeMolay. The Juvenile Branch, No. 44, charter documents the early growth of youth organizations and the spread of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in Kentucky.
Grand United Order of Oddfellows Juvenile Branch, No. 44, charter of the Household of Ruth, No. 59, 1898 March 22, Museum purchase, A2023-135-001.
Needham, James F. General Laws and Regulations of the Household of Ruth. Philadelphia, PA: Sub-Committee of Management, 1923.
Brooks, Charles H. The Official History and Manual of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America: A Chronological Treatise. Philadelphia, PA: Sub-Committee of Management, 1902.