Our Duty Then and Now and in the Future
The individual interested in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows has probably read or perhaps repeated the “Valediction of Odd Fellowship”, by Past Grand Sire D. D. Monroe – 1944-1946, and no doubt realizes that it refers to “… my duty ‘to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan’…”A person may wonder how this “duty” came to exist, and how relevant it is to Odd Fellowship in modern times. The English Odd Fellows’ (the Manchester Unity) major objective was “relief” and that organization was primarily a mutual insurance fraternity in 1819 and remains as such to this day. Accordingly, our “duty” apparently is of American origin.
Thomas Wildey (1782 – 1861), founder of Odd Fellowship in North America, was a man of immense vitality, humor, and warmth.
History does tell us that the “duty” was extremely relevant in Baltimore, Maryland, when, for all practical purposes, North American Odd Fellowship was founded there in 1819, for that city was in the grip of a severe epidemic, and sickness, distress, death, and the inevitable result, orphans, were to be found everywhere.
Visiting the sick was a daring, bold thing to do in 1819, and indeed for in excess of one hundred years more, because of the very real possibility the visitors would contract the illness or disease. Odd Fellows, and Rebekahs –after they came into existence in 1851–, visited the sick as a matter of course. Odd Fellows and Rebekahs continue to this day to make special efforts to visit the sick.
Relief of the distressed was a major goal of most or all fraternal organizations, then and now.
Odd Fellow Lodges normally provided monetary sick benefits to its members who were ill or injured and unable to work. A few California lodges still provide monetary sick and/or death benefits for members. Assistance to those in need, whether in the form of donations to charities, or donations of money or goods and services to members or others in the community is commonly provided today by all lodges.
In addition, lodges commonly provided all kinds of assistance to members who were in need, such as a box of groceries, a cord of wood, or a member or visiting nurse to care for a seriously ill member at home. With the modern day social welfare programs operated by government agencies, these services by the Order are no longer as vital as they once were, but Odd Fellows and Rebekahs still provide friendship that members require for a wholesome and full life.
Burying the dead was taken very seriously by early Odd Fellows, and most lodges purchased land and established cemeteries as one of their first activities in a new town or city. In many areas all phases of burial (sometimes including services now provided by undertakers) were provided by Odd Fellows in the earlier days. Cemeteries were often open to the public, and plots were sold for a few dollars each. Many California lodges still own and operate cemeteries, and in some instances the major cemetery in the community is the Odd Fellows Cemetery.
Odd Fellow Lodges continue to conduct funeral and memorial services for members when requested prior to their death or by their families. This may be the only service, or may be in conjunction with a church service or with other organizations.
Educating the orphan was also taken seriously, and orphans of Odd Fellows, and Rebekahs too, could expect to receive at least a high school education through the lodge. In California the Rebekahs were in the forefront of caring for the orphans, and in the late 1800’s they were granted authority to establish the Odd Fellow-Rebekah Children’s Home in Gilroy. They likewise were in the forefront of providing funds to insure an education for orphans and needy children of members.
The original need for the Odd Fellow-Rebekah Children’s Home as an orphanage has decreased as the life span has increased. Today the Rebekahs still operate this facility with a renewed determination to provide for children, not necessarily related to members of the Order, with special problems and needs.
Caring for the widow likewise was and is one of the basic duties of all Odd Fellows, and it is comforting to realize that most lodges continue to include the widows of their members in lodge functions and activities. Remembering the widows on special holidays and at other special times during the year is a thoughtful way to demonstrate that Odd Fellows do care for those left behind.
When the Odd Fellows Home of California was established it was to provide care for aged Odd Fellows and their wives, widows of Odd Fellows, and Rebekahs. Today this very same principle is applied when admitting new residents to our home in Saratoga.
Reasons for Joining Odd Fellowship in the early days had a many faceted answer. In 1927, a book commented that no Odd Fellow or his dependents ever will become a public charge. Although the benefits of membership were not lavish, they did eliminate the possibility of being cold, hungry and homeless.
Today, government programs often patterned after earlier programs developed by Odd Fellowship such as Social Security, unemployment benefits, public assistance, low-income housing, senior meal sites and meals on wheels, and all the other government programs based on tax dollars are now taken for granted. The security of belonging to an organization which would help them in times of sickness, distress or death, and which operated homes for their care and the care of dependents if their funds werebility of being cold, hungry and homeless.
Today, government programs often patterned after earlier programs developed by Odd Fellowship such as Social Security, unemployment benefits, public assistance, low-income housing, senior meal sites and meals on wheels, and all the other government programs based on tax dollars are now taken for granted.
The security of belonging to an organization which would help them in times of sickness, distress or death, and which operated homes for their care and the care of dependents if their funds were depleted were important. Others joined for the desire of helping others, and this is probably one of the most over riding desires of the present membership in the Three Link Fraternity.
In modern times the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs have been in the forefront of nearly all organizations in helping to make this world a better place in which to live. Sponsorship of Boy and Girl Scout troops, or youth organizations, youth and adult athletic teams and leagues, hospital and nursing home programs, various health agencies including the Odd Fellows World Eye Bank and Visual Research Foundation, Educational loans and scholarships for deserving young people, and generally helping to make this world a better place in which to live are some of the activities of modern day Odd Fellows and Rebekahs.
Opportunities for socializing at lodge meetings, dinners, breakfasts, dances, other lodge functions and Bible. While others enjoyed the opportunities of participating in conferring the dramatic degrees, and the opportunity of learning the proper way to deliver various charges in the degrees.
Several of these reasons remain valid today, but with competition from various service clubs, leisure time activities such as watching television and attending athletic events, and the various forms of governmental assistance have contributed in recent years to a decline in the popularity of fraternal organizations including Odd Fellow and Rebekah Lodges.
A renewed interest in Odd Fellowship is being demonstrated as steps are taken, especially with the restructuring of the Grand Lodge of California in 1990. New and ambitious programs are being launched in California to make membership in the fraternity even more attractive than it has been in the past. Each individual member of the Three Link Fraternity has a very important part to play in the future of Odd Fellowship, and with a united and common goal this fraternity is again coming to the front in the fraternal field of endeavors.