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


Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Indiana University Annual Giving Day Raising Money For the Center For Fraternal Collections & Research

by Christopher Hodapp

Three years ago, Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana opened the new Center for Fraternal Collections & Research (CFCR), headed up by Dr. Heather Calloway. The mission of the CFCR is to collect, preserve, and protect objects and ephemera of fraternal and religious groups for study and research in a permanent and accessible collection.

Today, April 17th is #IUDay at Indiana University, and the Center is attempting to raise $10,000.

During the "Golden Age of Fraternalism" from the end of the American Civil War until the Great Depression in 1929, over a thousand different fraternal, ritual-based or "secret societies" formed in the U.S. For too long, American fraternalism wasn't considered to be important enough for respectable historians to investigate. Yet the fraternal movement with its so-called "secret societies" was critical to the building and strengthening of American communities, and every bit as important as churches, political clubs and parties, social activist groups, and other local institutions. Masons, Elks, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, Knights of Columbus, Ancient Order of Hibernians, Red Men, Woodmen - these were the most widely known. But there were hundreds and hundreds more.

"Indiana University's CFCR works to collect, preserve, and make accessible historical and cultural materials related to fraternal organizations and their membership, with an emphasis on organizations that are extinct or without stable historical repositories. They promote research into the history of fraternal organizations in service of the university’s teaching, research, and service mission."

                CFCR Board Menber Seth Anthony

These societies epitomized a commitment to community and personal advancement. So many of these once-vibrant fraternities have now slipped into obscurity, putting their rich legacies in jeopardy. But as these organizations merge or shutter their doors, precious records and artifacts face the threat of permanent loss. What becomes of their enduring legacy when these groups fade away?

 The Center for Fraternal Collections & Research provides three types of scholarly support to IU students and faculty, non-IU scholars, and the public:
  • Collecting and stewarding 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 publications.

Items donated to the CFCR are unique or rare due to their content, subject, and other special importance; therefore, they're considered special collections. Unfortunately, materials that are not protected with preventative measures will eventually deteriorate. It is their goal to save this history.

Besides camaraderie, the groups often provided insurance benefits, mutual aid, funeral funds and more. These groups weren't just for white, middle-class men or college students – there were societies that supported immigrant and ethnic communities, religious denominations, women, children, even certain professions or occupations, such as traveling salesmen (National Travelers) or logging workers (Concatenated Order of Hoo Hoo).

The CFCR is located in the 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. 
Last year, the Center played host to the Scottish Rite Research Society's Fall presentation of papers.

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. The CFCR is now a welcome and secure repository for the quickly vanishing ephemera of American fraternal history.

So if you're interested in helping to support this new center, CLICK HERE to donate for #IUDay.

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