"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Woodmen of the World

Did you ever walk through a graveyard and come across a headstone carved to look like a tree stump? These show that the deceased was a member of the Woodmen of the World fraternal society.

The Woodmen and their competing predecessors, the Modern Woodmen of America, were just a couple of the many fraternal insurance organizations that formed in the years after the Civil War.

A great article about the Woodmen appeared on today's Houston Chronicle website. Read  the piece by Lisa Hix (incidentally, Dave Lettelier of the Phoenixmasonry Museum website is quoted): 
Death was everywhere in 19th-century America: Fatal injuries, disease epidemics, and the Civil War made families acutely aware of mortality. For women and children, the death of a husband and father could tumble them into poverty. Only the wealthiest Americans bought private life insurance. Women were not allowed to take out policies on their husbands, and if the husband bought the policy on himself, the money wouldn't be protected from creditors. 
And then, grieving families faced another layer of shame. In 19th-century America, taking charity was seen as a sign of weakness: The thinking was, if a lack of industriousness made you destitute, well, then you got what you deserved. 
The middle and working classes did, however, have a workaround. Men could join secretive boys' clubs like the Freemasons and Oddfellows that provided networking, entertainment, and a moral education. If a man proved himself to be hardworking and of good character through his initiation trials, his social standing meant his family could quietly receive financial support from the lodge without the stigma of accepting charity. 
After the devastating Civil War, well-established fraternal orders began to formalize their benefits into insurance subsidiaries. New secret societies known as "mutual beneficiary societies," created with the explicit purpose of offering life insurance policies, sprang up around the United States. Largely excluded from the original fraternal orders, women and African-Americans even launched their own aid societies. Still, to join any fraternal order and receive its insurance benefits, you had to prove that you were no slouch — a hard worker with high morals such as thrift, self-reliance, discipline, and generosity. 
But fraternal orders weren’t all about restraint. Before the days of TV, radio, or fantasy football, fraternal lodges offered plays, rituals, and camaraderie, and allowed men to let loose, which kept members coming back for more. The clout of being an insider and the endless pursuit of mystical, esoteric knowledge ensured that men would make their insurance payments for decades to come. 
The Woodmen came late to the party — incorporating in 1883 as the Modern Woodmen of America—but their leaders' entrepreneurial innovations breathed new life into the fraternal insurance game. Founder Joseph Cullen Root, a businessman in Lyons, Iowa, seized the opportunity to create his own fraternal order when the mutual aid society Knights of Honor, which almost went under because of the 1878 Yellow Fever epidemic, was selling its local lodge. 
To avoid the financial pitfall that wrecked the Knights, Root made fitness a requirement to join his order, recruiting rural young men from the "healthiest states," which meant those outside industrial New England. In the Woodmen, he fused Christian philosophy and pioneer values with ancient agricultural rites. “At that time, Root’s thought was that a cleared conscience and a cleared forest were synonymous,” says Bruce Lee Webb, who co-authored the 2015 book, As Above, So Below: Art of the American Fraternal Society with Lynne Adele. “The axe is an instrument clears the forest but is also useful for constructing buildings and making progress.”
Wielding aluminum-headed axes, members of Modern Woodmen lodges formed marching units known as the Foresters that performed precision drill routines in military-like uniforms. Eventually, there were roughly 10,000 drill teams nationwide. Dave Lettelier, curator of the Phoenixmasonry Museum in Havana, Florida, says that such pageantry appealed to young men who’d grown up in awe of Civil War heroes. The fraternal beneficiary societies made signing up for insurance seem glamorous. 
After an internal dispute with the other Modern Woodmen of America leaders, Root left the organization in 1890 and moved to Omaha to form a nearly identical "speculative woodcraft" order: the Woodmen of the World. One of his innovations was to provide free tombstones—Root believed passionately that no member of his order should be buried in an unmarked grave. So for 10 years, the Woodmen gave its members grave markers in the shape of tree stumps, inspired by the Victorian Rustic movement. (For another two decades, the members put down $100 apiece to reserve theirs.) At a Woodman's funeral, his personalized tombstone would be revealed in an elaborate ritual. The 4- or 5-foot-tall tree stump would be marked with the motto “Dum Tacet Clamet” (“Though Silent, He Speaks”) and rest on a stack of logs, each log symbolizing one of the deceased’s children. The local stone carver, who might alter the pattern, would add embellishments reflecting the Woodman's personality, such as axes and doves. 
Read the rest HERE. 


  1. In the 2002 movie "About Schmidt", Jack Nicholson plays the character Warren Schmidt, who is retiring from The Woodmen of America Life Insurance Company. Nicholson filmed his scenes at the company's actual offices and was given a plaque making him an honorary Woodmen member.



  2. Entertainment weekly and so so...

  3. My great great grandfather has the Woodmen of the World memorial on his grave stone and he was born in Germany in 1869 and immigrated to the USA in 1890 at age 21 and he died young 44 in 1913 same as Joseph Cullen Root.

  4. My Great Great Grandfather also has the Woodman of the World memorial gravestone. We also have a letter stating he was the first in the camp to pass away. He was from Arkansas Bono Jonesboro area. Possibility camp #180. If you have more records or information I would appreciate it. Thank you for your time. Kendra

  5. My great grandfather, Dr. Wm.Andrew Cline was examining physician for Newport,Indiana Territory Camp #176. This began in April,1901. If anyone has any further info please contact Allison @ jcistheonlyone1510@gmail.com

  6. I have acquired the orginal document signed from 1800's with gold seal from the Colorado area.

  7. I just received a photo of my grandfather and his brother in uniform. They were the only 2 that immigrated from Austria before it became part of Germany. He would be 122 years old if was still living.

  8. Are there any WOW member records archived anywhere? I know other Masonic orgs have kept applications and the personal information therein, even as far back as the 1800s. Most that have records allow you to contact them for your ancestor's info. Thanks for any answers.

  9. Does anyone know if WOW has original applications somewhere from the early 1900s? I know many other Masonic organizations have kept applications as far back as the 1800s, and will share the info contained in an app with their descendants.

    Thanks for any answers.

    1. I'm not a member myself, and I had no luck trying to find out exactly what you're looking for. I was told that the central headquarters for WoodmenLife (the insurance wing that grew out of the fraternity) has a fraternal office in Omaha, Nebraska. A couple of years ago, someone gave me the lady's name who handled their old records, genealogy requests, etc. But I never got an answer. Maybe I just hit a bad week or two.


  10. I am attempting to track down a gentleman who may or may not be my great-grandfather. His name is Piers (or Pete) Buck Smith. His Woodsman of the World memorial lists his date of death as 2-22-1907. Interestingly his wife has the sane DOD listed. My father always told the story that my grandparents died in the Great Flood in Galveston in 1900. Could the 1907 year be when the stone was requested? Thank you for any assistance you can get be me. Debra Smith Bachman

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. I am looking for records of Jacob p guenther woodman of the world died 1926 winlock washington my email is

  13. https://books.google.ca/books?id=atCeNlTFEpoC&pg=PA17510&lpg=PA17510&dq=woodmen+of+the+world+time+capsule&source=bl&ots=VMmgqkUeX2&sig=ACfU3U3oRbpl-mPC8b7_-7S-7IG6rMdSmQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjEpavyw-rmAhUNnawKHVS9CXwQ6AEwAHoECAMQAQ#v=onepage&q=woodmen%20of%20the%20world%20time%20capsule&f=false

    You may find this link informative for those looking for more information about the 19th and 20th century wow

  14. My grandfather's headstone has the markings of the masons and they would modern woods been of the world His name was Ebenezer Alexandra AV ERA

  15. I am wondering what it Manes that my grandfather has the markings of at nice ances and a modern Woodmen of the World his name was Ebenezer AlexanderAvera. Any information on him would be helpful thanks so much he is from Greene County Mississippi


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