The face of this round medal bears an embossed wreath which curves around the black enamel letters U, O, T, and S. These initials represent Unabhängiger Orden Treue Schwestern or United Order True Sisters, a German Jewish fraternal group which was the first independent national women’s organization in the United States. The group – sometimes known as the United Order of True Sisters - was founded in New York City in 1846 and became known for their charitable fundraising for cancer patients and children’s hospitals after World War II. The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library cares for a small collection of UOTS items, including this medal, which is connected to a fascinating Massachusetts woman.
The items in this collection were donated by Clara Cecile Wagner Gnerre (1920 - 2005) on behalf of her UOTS chapter, Noemi No. 11. This chapter was founded in 1878 in Boston, Massachusetts – the eleventh UOTS lodge in the country - and like its sister chapters in other states, sought to provide Jewish women with a sense of identity, purpose, and community. Due to anti-German sentiment during World Wars I and II and American antisemitism throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, women who joined UOTS may not have felt welcome in other fraternal orders. As past museum Assistant Director Barbara Franco has written of Jewish fraternal orders, “The rites, regalia, and mottoes of these organizations, based on Freemasonry and Odd Fellowship, offered an American aura that might be denied Jews elsewhere.”
The reverse of the medal reads “PRESENTED AT THE CENTENNIAL ANNIVERSARY 1846-1946”. To commemorate their one-hundredth anniversary, UOTS chapters produced souvenir medals like these, as well as centennial calendars and other ephemera. A February 1946 article from the Daily Argus (Westchester, New York) shows the kind of activities UOTS chapters were involved in that year. Activities included mahjong games, luncheons, educational lectures, and Red Cross sewing drives. The United States Treasury Department awarded a citation to Westchester No. 34 for raising nearly a quarter of a million dollars in war loan drives. After the war, in 1947, the UOTS formed a National Cancer Service initiative. This program funneled members’ fundraising skills and largesse towards medical charities.
Clara Wagner – later Clara Gnerre - was a member of Noemi No. 11 for forty years. She graduated from Girl’s Latin School in 1937 and attended Radcliffe College, where she graduated cum laude with a degree in chemistry in 1941. If she was a member of Noemi in 1946, she may have received this souvenir UOTS medal when it was first issued, when she was 26 years old.
She worked first for Carbon Black Co. as a rubber chemist and was employed there in 1950 when she married her husband C. Gerald “Jerry” Gnerre. A January 1954 Boston Globe article described her as a “research chemist and rubber technologist” at Godfrey L. Cabot, Inc. Research Laboratories on Cambridge’s “Research Row.” Gnerre was, at the time, one of few women working in industrial materials research and development, a growing field post-World War II in Cambridge.
In the 1980s, Gnerre became more active in Noemi No. 11, serving as its Recording Secretary in 1986 and President from 1987 to 1988. At this time, the chapter focused on fundraising for cancer services and children’s care at Boston’s Children’s and Massachusetts General Hospitals. At Noemi’s 110th Annual Luncheon, Gnerre was praised for her “warmth, encouragement, and good humor.”
After 111 years as a United Order True Sisters chapter, Noemi No. 11 dissolved in 1989. Perhaps inspired by a 1983 chapter visit to the then-eight-year-old Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Gnerre first donated a collection of material from the chapter to the museum in 1991. This medal was the first item that she donated. Over the next five years, Gnerre and other women from Noemi No. 11 donated UOTS material to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, as well as to other historic repositories (see link below).
Clara Cecile Wagner Gnerre died in August 2005. Her Boston Globe obituary reads: “In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The United Order of True Sisters, Inc. . . . where she was a member for 40 years and past President of a local chapter (Noemi Chapter 11) or to a cancer organization of your choice.” Gnerre ably represented the United Order True Sisters and their philanthropic goals to the last.
- United Order True Sisters Noemi #1 Records at Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center, New England Historic Genealogical Society