The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) is an international fraternity that traces its roots back to 17th century England, where small groups of working-class people banded together, using some of their wages to create a common fund that they could turn to in times of sickness, loss of a job, or death. These altruistic groups became known as “odd fellows” since it was then considered odd or peculiar to find people organized for the purpose of giving aid to those in need and pursuing projects for the benefit of all mankind.

The IOOF came to America in 1819 in Baltimore, Maryland. Thomas Wildey, a British Odd Fellow who immigrated to the New World in 1817, placed an advertisement in a local newspaper, calling for other Odd Fellows to meet him at the Seven Stars Inn. Four other English Odd Fellows met with Wildey, and the first lodge was formed, Washington Lodge No. 1. Wildey traveled up and down the Eastern Seaboard, organizing more English Odd Fellows and others into lodges. By the Civil War, the IOOF had 200,000 members and by 1915, they numbered 3,400,000. However, the Great Depression and a lack of interest in fraternal organizations decreased membership; by the 1970’s, less than 250,000 members remained. But the organization is now in a resurgance and has members in 25 countries, numbering more than 500,000 members.

The IOOF became the first national fraternity to include both men and women when it adopted the Rebekah Degree in 1851. In the Bible, Rebekah came to the well with her pitcher and met Eliezur, a tired and thirsty traveler with tired and thirsty camels. He asked if he could use her pitcher to draw water, but Rebekah insisted that she minister to him, drawing the water herself and offering it to Eliezur and then watering the camels for him. Hence, women of the Rebekah order are called to serve others, especially the sick and destitute.

Odd Fellows and Rebekahs were also the first fraternal organization to establish homes for senior members and for orphaned children. In the 19th century and early 20th century, IOOF lodges also purchased cemetery plots for the use of their members, or in some cases, established entire cemeteries and selling lots to members at modest fees.

Heart in Hand

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For our 2018 Sesquicentennial Celebration, we have chosen the heart in an open palm as our symbol of charity, given from the heart.

Read more about symbols

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