by Christopher Hodapp
Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana is now home to the newly established Center for Fraternal Collections & Research (CFCR), headed up by Dr. Heather Calloway. The CFCR will collect, preserve, and provide fraternal objects and ephemera for study and research in a permanent and accessible collection.
During the "Golden Age of Fraternalism" from the end of the American Civil War until the Great Depression, over a thousand fraternal, ritual-based or "secret societies" formed in the U.S. Out of all of those hundreds and hundreds of societies with their millions upon millions of members, few survive today: Odd Fellows, Eagles, Elks, Moose, Foresters, B'nai Brith, Knights of Columbus, Woodmen of the World, Knights of Pythias, Red Men, along with the Freemasons — these were the most commonly known American fraternal societies, and they still exist. But every year that passes, less and less evidence of them endures, especially the most obscure ones.
|Grand Encampment of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows |
in Redding, California in October 1900. (Photo: Shasta Historical Society)
For too long, American fraternalism wasn't considered to be important enough for respectable historians to investigate. Yet the fraternal movement was critical to the building and strengthening of American communities, and every bit as important as churches, politics, activism and other local institutions. The "secret societies" were organized to support immigrant and racial groups, religious communities, to provide social assistance like burial or life insurance and retirement homes, to organize early patriotic or labor movements, or just become welcoming social clubs for the community in an increasingly urban society. Current generations have little or no understanding of the very existence and importance of these organizations, and too many of their publications, artwork, artifacts and jewelry disappear into the garbage or get melted down for their precious metals.
At long last, there is a place where this important history can be found and preserved. With this announcement, IU becomes a welcome and secure repository for the quickly vanishing ephemera of American fraternal history. And the initial Board for the Center includes some notable names in the study of fraternalism:
- In 2018, she was hired as the first executive director of collections for Indiana University. The university has an estimated 220 collections comprised of about 30 million individual objects spread all across IU’s many campuses, schools, and departments all over the state.
- Dr. S. Brent Morris is one of the world's most well-known and respected Masonic authors today. A list of the books he has written or edited and the Masonic organizations he has been associated with could fill a good-sized book by itself. Brent has recently retired from many years as the editor of the Scottish Rite Journal (for the Supreme Council Southern Jurisdiction), and continues to serve as editor for Heredom, the Scottish Rite Research Society's annual collection of papers. Most recently, Brent has resurrected the Masonic Book Club and continues to manage it.
- Dr. Ken Moder is the founder and director of the J. H. Rathbone Museum of Fraternal History in Lafayette, Indiana. If you don't know of Ken and the Rathbone Museum, it has what may be described as one of the largest collections of fraternal organization artifacts, costumes, furniture, rituals and more in the world. Ken has been active in fraternal organizations for many years, including the Knights of Pythias, (Past Grand Secretary, Past Supreme Representative, and Knights of the Golden Spur for Indiana), Dramatic Order Knights of Khorrason, (Past Imperial Treasurer, Past Imperial Prince, and current Imperial Secretary). Ken also is a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason, the current president of Masonic High Twelve Club #99 in Lafayette, and a B.P.O. Elk. Ken also serves as a director of the Historical Society for American Fraternalism and the Tippecanoe County Historical Association.
- Seth C. Anthony is a Pennsylvania Mason and the creator of the online Museum of Fezology. The site features items from Seth’s own extensive collection of fezzes, from the apparel of the American Woodmen to the masonic White Shrine of Jerusalem. Seth’s other collecting interests include banners, jewels, and ephemera related to fraternal organizations that are less well-known.
- Mark Tabbert has been the director of library and museum collections for the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia for sixteen years. Before that, he was curator for Masonic and fraternal collections at the Scottish Rite Library & Museum in Lexington, Massachusetts. He is the author of American Freemasons: Three Centuries of Building Communities and the upcoming A Deserving Brother, the definitive work about George Washington and his Masonic involvement throughout his life. In 2012 he co-edited Secret Societies in America & Other Foundational Studies in Fraternalism. Mark is also a past president of the Masonic Library & Museum Association.
- Wendy Waszut-Barrett, PhD is an author, archivist and artist, specializing in scenic art and stage systems for historic theaters in North America and Europe. For the past thirty-three years, Wendy has documented, preserved, and painted scenes for a variety of performance venues, including fraternal lodges, vaudeville theaters, opera houses, ethnic halls, and film. The preservation of theatrical and fraternal heritage, as well as the continued training of artists in historic painting methodologies and materials, is her passion. Wendy is the president of Historic Stage Services, LLC, a company specializing in historic scenery and stage systems. As an author, Wendy’s past publications include The Santa Fe Scottish Rite Temple: Freemasonry, Architecture and Theatre (Museum of New Mexico Press, 2018), and numerous journal articles. She is a member of the International Organization of Scenographers, Technicians and Theatre Architects (OISTAT), United States Institute of Theatre Technology, the Canadian Institute of Theatre Technology, the Scottish Rite Research Society, and Phi Beta Kappa.
The CFCR is located in the new IU Collections, Teaching, Research and Exhibition Center, located in the historic McCalla building on the IU Bloomington campus. Following a $6 million renovation of this one-time elementary school building, the center now provides a safe, climate controlled facility for collections, plus seven display galleries, meeting areas, and a state-of-the-art media digitization and preservation department, all under one roof.
From their announcement:
We are an Indiana University research center devoted to the collecting, protecting, and sharing of fraternal collections for the sake of research and public engagement. We hope to improve scholarship and understanding of fraternal groups, explore their impact on American society, and elucidate their importance across time and to different social groups.
Whether you are interested in famous fraternal traditions such as Freemasonry, influential women's auxiliaries and orders, fraternal groups that served important roles in African American or other communities, or other orders that have served as cornerstones to American cities and towns, we hope that you will find the Center for Fraternal Collections and Research to be an exciting and welcoming place for your academic and personal inquiry.
The center will provide three types of scholarly support to IU students and faculty, non-IU scholars, and the public:
- The collection and stewardship of rare fraternal organization materials donated to Indiana University, for the sake of scholarly research.
- Creating and supporting research related to fraternal studies at the student and faculty scholarly levels.
- Disseminating research and information related to fraternal studies via public events, academic symposia, exhibitions, media presentations, and publication.
For more than a decade, our own Masonic Library & Museum of Indiana has benefitted greatly from our association with the Indiana University/Purdue University/Indianapolis Museum Studies program. Interns from that program have been invaluable to us for adopting proper collections and preservation methods, accessioning objects, creating new displays, and much more. Combined with the IU Bloomington Curatorship Program, Indiana University offers one of the top degree and post-graduate programs in the U.S. for students seeking museum and library careers. So the news of the Center for Fraternal Collections & Research is an outstanding development.
As an aside, Dr. Calloway and several of the Center's board members have also formed the Historical Society for American Fraternalism. As the HSAF website says on its home page, "Understanding American Fraternalism is a means to understand how generations of American built stable communities within restless and ever-changing society."
Central to the HSAF's mission is an up-to-date, comprehensive and searchable list of these groups in its online Encyclopedia HERE.)