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The first Odd Fellows lodge in California was founded in 1849 exactly one year before statehood as the Golden Age of Fraternalism was about to dawn.
Historians note that 50 years after California became a state, that 20% of all American adults were members of one or more fraternal organizations. Some sources claim it was as high as 40%! Can you imagine one to two out of every five adults were in a fraternity where insurance was the primary benefit? There was no other “social safety net” than joining a fraternity or a church.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows was the largest of hundreds of other fraternal organizations.
The Odd Fellows were progressive for their time supporting the start of a sister organization for women in 1851 called Rebekahs; this was a time when women were discouraged in general from activities common among men and 70 years before women were allowed the right to vote.
With so many Californians joining Odd Fellows and Rebekahs, the organization was woven into the fabric of our society in so many ways (which are still visible in many communities). Odd Fellows cemeteries and orphan homes still exist today although many have changed hands or closed.
Our mission has given us the opportunity to help so many people that our positive impact on America is difficult to imagine. In 1868, total aid in one year given through our mission to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan” was $951,556.21; today that amount is equal to over 2 trillion dollars.
Our mission has changed over the years. In 1935, the Social Security Act was signed into law by an Odd Fellow (President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) to help the blind, the handicapped, the elderly and others in need. This and other factors shifted our focus to other ways to fulfill our mission such as investing in medical research to help people regain their eyesight. Few people know our history and the positive impact we have had yet we continue our mission.
Today, if you were an Odd Fellow, you could bring a community project to your lodge for a vote and, if it helps the community, it’s likely to be approved! What would you choose to help your community? Raise funds for a worth cause? Organize volunteers to help with something? A benefit of some kind? What would you do?