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The Independent Order of Odd Fellows

Updated on October 30, 2010

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows is a secret, fraternal society with a world membership of about 1,200,000. The general administration of its laws is designated by the generic term Odd Fellowship. The origin of the society and the source of its peculiar name cannot now be historically traced. Until near the close of the 19th century it had been asserted for years that the English writer Daniel Defoe mentioned "Odd Fellow" as early as 1745, but modern research has relegated this, as well as many other alleged incidents of the order's early days, to the realm of tradition.

It is known, however, that a society grew up in England during the 18th century, almost rivaling in numbers and influence the Masonic fraternity, and that this Antient and Most Noble Order of Bucks began to decline about the year 1773 and passed out of existence. A reasonable supposition is adduced by antiquaries that these lodges furnished the nucleus of the Odd Fellows, into one lodge of which George IV of England, while prince of Wales, was quite unceremoniously admitted one night and became a member thereof at a date subsequent to 1780. This is the first authentic reference to the society of Odd Fellows by name.

The earliest ritual extant is dated in 1797 and was used by the Patriotic Order. It appears from English contemporary history that an Improved Order existed prior to this, and the title "most noble grand" for the presiding officer of the "Antient," as well as the subsequent orders of Odd Fellows, would imply a common bond or succession. The Patriotic Order was followed by the Union, or United, Order and the Loyal Order. In 1813 various lodges of the Union Order met and organized the Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows, now the principal Friendly society in Britain.

In 1819 the American order was founded and was afterward affiliated with the Manchester Unity. This continued until Sept. 23, 1842, when the Odd Fellows of the United States resumed their original independence, reaffirming the resolution in 1843 and adopting a distinctively American ritual in 1845. In 1919 the order celebrated the 100th anniversary of its American foundation with appropriate ceremonies and parades in all the chief centers of population in the United States.

Rise of the American Order

On April 26, 1819, Washington Lodge, No. 1, was organized by Thomas Wildey, who had gone to the United States from England the previous year. Its charter from the Duke of York Lodge, Preston, dated Feb. 1, 1820, not only recognized its regularity and that of associated lodges but created the Grand Lodge of Maryland and of the United States of America of the Independent Order of Odd Fellowship (IOOF). A year later, the Grand Lodge relegated the Washington and other Maryland lodges to a subordinate place. During succeeding decades of the 19th and 20th centuries the growth of the order throughout the United States was rapid.

Lodges were also formed in Canada in 1843, in Hawaii in 1846, in Australasia in 1868, in Germany in 1870, in Switzerland in 1871, in the Netherlands in 1877, in Mexico in 1882, in Cuba in 1883, and in Sweden in 1884.


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    • T. von Monocle profile imageAUTHOR

      T. von Monocle 

      10 years ago from The British Empire

      If it's all about the harrumphing and expensive whiskey drinking, where can I sign up?

    • Jeff Berndt profile image

      Jeff Berndt 

      10 years ago from Southeast Michigan

      So what do the Odd Fellows do? What are they for? Do they just sit 'round the ol' clubhouse, harrumphing and drinking expensive whiskey, or do they have some other purpose?


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