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What is an Odd Fellow?
In 17th Century England, people were facing a lot of challenges. Life was tough, often lawless and desperate. Medicine was still crude and in a primitive stage. Life expectancy was about 45 to 50. There were lots of sickness, orphaned kids, widowed mothers and many people cannot afford to pay a decent burial for the dead.
So, ordinary people from different trades and walks of life found it necessary to group together as brothers and sisters and contribute some of their hard-earned wages to a common fund which they could use for unfortunate times such as sickness, losing a job and even death. They would work together to help each other and the unfortunate families back on their feet, whether it was rebuilding a barn that had burned or putting in a new crop after a devastating season.
Such altruistic and friendly society came to be known as “Odd Fellows” because it was odd to find people organized for the purpose of giving aid to those in need and of pursuing projects for the benefit of all mankind. It was believed that they were “an odd bunch of fellows” who would behave in such a selfless and seemingly impractical fashion. Odd Fellows are also known as “The Three Link Fraternity” which stands for Friendship, Love and Truth.
Today, Odd Fellows and Rebekahs continue to exist with nearly 10,000 lodges in approximately 26 countries consisting of men and women who united together for mutual aid and conviviality, providing social and practical support for each other and their communities in every way possible. Even though we have come a long way now, there are still more needs to be done. Working together to achieve these goals and help our fellow men creates a bond that cannot be described – a brotherhood and sisterhood of benevolence that can only be felt as an active participant. Working together, we can really help make a difference!
Thomas Wildey, founder of Odd Fellowship in North America, was a man of immense vitality, humor, and warmth.
Thomas Wildey was born in London, England, January 15, 1783. He was left an orphan five years later – and the Odd Fellow pledge to “Educate the Orphan” sprang from his personal childhood experiences. At the age of 14, Wildey went to live with an uncle. After he had 9 years of schooling, he became an apprentice to a maker of coach springs. He joined the Odd Fellows in 1804.
When restlessness brought Thomas Wildey to America in 1817, the British were still unpopular in the States because of the War of 1812. In that year Baltimore was suffering both a yellow fever epidemic and mass unemployment. An outgoing personality, Wildey missed companionship and advertised in the newspaper to determine if there were any other Odd Fellows in Baltimore; he requested them to meet him at the Seven Stars Inn.
On April 26, 1819, Wildey and the four men who responded to the advertisement formed the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in North America, dedicating the Order to achieve philanthropic goals. Other Englishmen who were Odd Fellows had grouped in the states along the Eastern Seaboard, and Wildey gathered them all into the newly formed fraternity. He traveled widely to set up lodges in the most recently settled parts of the country.
At the time of his death in 1861, there were more than 200,000 members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in 42 states.