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.
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.ReplyDelete
Entertainment weekly and so so...ReplyDelete
Do you have a link for that enterview?Delete
Columbus Ohio lodgeReplyDelete
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.ReplyDelete
I'm a German (1/2, anyway) who was born in the USA due to the first World War. That's my father's side of the family.Delete
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. KendraReplyDelete
Yes most of these 80 to 130 up gravesites that have the tree of the Woodsman started by a freemason Ned Joseph Cullen Root tend be in places like Nebraska Kansas Arkansas MN ECT however my great great grandfather was buried in Hartford CT.Delete
Hello Unknown to be honest with you I found out by accidentthat my grandmother's grandfather was a woodmen subscriber it was only due toy Ancestry.com and my own private research that I found out about it because once I discovered Find A Grave.com I was then able to to not only see the cemetery itself but I saw a picture of his grave as well and it has a Tree symbol on 8t that says WOODMEM OF THE WORLD. So I googled it and a few things popped up including the Woodmen Insurance Co in Nebraska as well as a bunch of other graves that have a tree symbol many different from each other and Joseph Cullen Root who happened to die the same year my GG grandfather did 1913 and Joe's mother died after him in 1916. Anyway you said that your GG grandfather was a Woodman also so if you ever want to chat feel free to do so and maybe we can compare notes. email@example.com Note the majority of Woodmen are in the Midwestern States but yet mine was in CT however Joseph Cullen Root was born and raised in Massachussets and check this out his great grandfather grew up in Farmington Connecticut and my great grandfather and my great aunt also lived in Farmington Connecticut. Can U say it's a SMALL WORLD 😃Delete
My Great grand father's grave stone is beautiful reddish pink Granite and kept nicely @ Bethlehem Baptist church Cemetery in Farmersville tx.Delete
Home to ww2 war hero Audie Murphy.
We attend Church there. He died 1911. Ezekiel Madison Galbreath. My GG Grandfather was born in 1813 in Pennsylvania during the War of 1812.
So they named him James Madison Galbreath. My GGG Grandfather was believed to be William Galbreath who fought in Revolutionary War of Independence.
We would appreciate any other information to aid in our research.Delete
These records about my Family were long known and loved before anyone even heard about Ancestry dot com. They are accurate and substantiated by the Mormons.
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 @ firstname.lastname@example.orgReplyDelete
Where do I sign upReplyDelete
I have acquired the orginal document signed from 1800's with gold seal from the Colorado area.ReplyDelete
Sorry, my Name is TammraReplyDelete
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.ReplyDelete
I assume they were protestants. WOW accepted Catholics and 'dirty German and Irish Immigrants". Masons at this time were exclusionary.Delete
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.ReplyDelete
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.ReplyDelete
Thanks for any answers.
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.Delete
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 BachmanReplyDelete
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I am looking for records of Jacob p guenther woodman of the world died 1926 winlock washington my email isReplyDelete
You may find this link informative for those looking for more information about the 19th and 20th century wow
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 ERAReplyDelete
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 MississippiReplyDelete
There is some history here, of which I was not aware.ReplyDelete
What did free masons have to do with woodmans societyReplyDelete
I found out that my 3rd Great Grandfather was a Woodsman of the World. However unlike most on here he was from Mississipi, and I think he died in Texas.ReplyDelete
I became agent of WoodmenLife as of July 2020, nice to know more about this company, let me know if I can help you get membership in California.Nadia SernaReplyDelete
Any chance you might know whom I can contact to find out more about a family member's time in WOW? I reached out via WOW website. They responded they would forward my info to that dept/individual, but this was 1 yr ago and I heard anything since. 2nd great grandfather was a member of camp #755 which no longer exists. Who might hold their records/member photos/headstone details, and such? I just thought, since you work there, you might be in a better position to help those of us trying to find out about family member's who were in WOW than the average person.Delete
I have one of those axes that I inherited from my Grandad.ReplyDelete
2nd great grandfather has woodsmen of the world tree headstone marker in Sandhill Cemetery in Newport, Arkansas. Trying to learn more about camp #755 which is on the headstone. Appreciate any/all help. Email me at email@example.comReplyDelete