The Oddfellows have long history in NWA

By Shannon Caine
Have you ever wondered about the “100 F” building on Huntsville Avenue in Springdale?
Occasionally, people have referred to the two-story building as the “100 F Club” because of the lettering on the building. But the letters appearing on that unique white building are actually IOOF, which stand for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

The Springdale Odd Fellows lodge was constructed in 1871 and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975. It was deeded by the Odd Fellows to the city of Springdale in 2005 and is now slated for renovation, thanks to a grant and matching funds from the city.
“The Odd Fellows lodge is one of the earliest buildings constructed in Springdale and is important as a specimen of 1870s architecture,” says Carolyn Reno, the collections manager of the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History.
“It is one of the few remaining examples of a community building from that era. Such buildings were used by churches, fraternal groups, schools, and anyone else who needed a place to meet.”
The Springdale Odd Fellows lodge is not currently active, but is attempting to start anew and reestablish its presence in Northwest Arkansas. A membership drive was held last week at the Shiloh Museum.
The building has been used by a number of churches, including the Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, in addition to the Masonic Lodge, the Women’s Civic Club, and finally, the Odd Fellows, who purchased the building in 1935 after it was seized by the city for back taxes.
The lodge building is currently managed by the Shiloh Museum, which is an office of the city of Springdale. The building will be repaired and reopened to the public. The first floor will be a meeting space, and the second floor will house exhibits from the building’s various occupants, including the International Order of Odd Fellows.

Who Are The Odd Fellows?
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows is a centuries-old charitable and fraternal organization.
It has been said that there were once well over 500 Odd Fellows lodges operating in Arkansas. In 1909, there were more than 80 lodges in Northwest Arkansas alone, and even very small Ozark towns often boasted their own Odd Fellows lodge. Today, there are fewer than a dozen Odd Fellows lodges active in the entire state. However, at least in Arkansas, the Odd Fellows seem to be making something of a comeback.
Several new lodges have been established recently, and there are also efforts to reinstate the Springdale lodge.
The Springdale Odd Fellows lodge, known as New Era Lodge No. 36, was organized in 1891. The group initially met in the lodge building, which at that time housed the Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church. It would be more than 30 years before the lodge would purchase that building. The New Era lodge remained active for over 100 years. However, time had taken its toll on the building, and the lodge deeded it over to the city in hopes that the antiquated building could be preserved.
A Society With Secrets
Some people have objected to joining a lodge such as the Freemasons and Odd Fellows because these groups use passwords, initiations and other secrets. Lodge business is not openly discussed in public, and what happens in the lodge stays in the lodge.
However, these secrets don’t necessarily involve anything dark or sinister. Although often classified as a “secret society” due to its use of passwords, Charles Baker, the IOOF Grand Warden of Arkansas, notes that Odd Fellows ritual books are currently in print and can be read by anyone. The main secret lies in the passwords, which, with a current dues card, can get an Odd Fellow into any IOOF lodge in the world. A password is required to prove that a person is actually an initiated lodge member.
Some religious groups forbid their members to join secret societies, but Baker emphasizes that there is nothing in the various IOOF rituals that would be in conflict with anybody’s religious beliefs.
Furthermore, sectarian discussion of religion and politics is forbidden in the lodge. Although stories from the Bible are discussed and even re-enacted during some of the lodge degrees, the IOOF is not a religious organization, and as such, is not sponsored by any religious denomination.
An English Import
Odd Fellowship began with a number of independent groups that formed in the 1600s and 1700s throughout England. The members of these lodges were sometimes called “odd fellows” by their peers, because these working-class men banded together to help take care of one other. In those days, centuries before Social Security programs, people who fell upon hard times found very little help or resources available to them. Ideas such as assisting widows, taking care of sick persons who were not one’s own immediate relatives and banding together to form relief societies for the ill and unemployed were seen as odd, and their societies became known as Odd Fellows. It was also uncommon in those days for working-class people to practice philanthropy, which was reserved for the aristocracy.
To top it off, they also frequently met in taverns, which was considered peculiar. They may have been odd, but they were also extremely charitable, and the effectiveness of the Odd Fellows’ kindness toward the less fortunate drew in thousands of members.
By the early 1800s, many of these scattered lodges began to unite, both in England and elsewhere. One of the earliest known Odd Fellows lodges in the United States was New York City’s Shakespeare Lodge No. 1, but the Independent Order of Odd Fellows began with the founding of Washington Lodge No. 1 in 1819. The first Noble Grand, or president, of this lodge was Thomas Wildey, who is regarded today as the founder of Odd Fellowship in North America. Wildey emigrated to the United States in 1817 from England, where he had joined an Odd Fellows group in 1804. He took out a newspaper advertisement to see if there were any other Odd Fellows living in the Baltimore area. Four people responded to his ad, and after meeting at a tavern called the Seven Stars Inn, they formed the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in North America.
Many more lodges were founded over time, and by the time Wildey died in 1861, there were 200,000 Odd Fellows in the United States.
For The Ladies: The Rebekahs
Today, women can be initiated as full members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, but for centuries, that was not the case. In 1851, an Odd Fellow named Schuyler Colfax founded the Rebekah Degree for women, amidst much debate from men who did not want the women to have it. However, the proposal for a female degree ultimately passed, with 46 votes for it and 37 votes against.
Despite the closeness of the vote, the Rebekahs would go on to became a successful organization. They are considered a female auxiliary of the Odd Fellows, although male Odd Fellows are also invited to join the order. The name of the lodge is derived from the story of Rebekah in the Bible, whose charity and concern for strangers is held up as an example for members to follow in their own lives.
Springdale had, in addition to New Era Lodge No. 36, an active Rebekah lodge until 2005. The Odd Fellows met in the upstairs portion of the IOOF building, while the Rebekahs met on the ground floor. However, the Rebekah lodges have been experiencing something of a decline in membership since the Odd Fellows began admitting women as members. Whereas some women prefer to remain with the Rebekahs, many others are opting to become initiated as Odd Fellows.
Jackie Hoffman, an Odd Fellow in Searcy County was asked about her reasons for joining the Odd Fellows.
“I enjoy the friendship that I have with everyone, and the good things we’ve accomplished helping our community. I am also a member of the Patriarchs Militant, and I like the drills and the uniforms.”
The Patriarchs Militant is a uniformed branch of the Odd Fellows and is one of the few semimilitary groups to be recognized by the United States government. The Patriarchs Militant are permitted to place wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
There is the LAPM, which is the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Patriarchs Militant, but women can also join the Patriarchs Militant, as Hoffman did. The uniforms and drills are military in nature, and the PM groups are not called lodges, but “cantons.”
In addition to the Patriarchs Militant, there are also groups known as Odd Fellow Encampments. The requirement for joining an Encampment is that the candidate must be a third-degree Odd Fellow in good standing. The Encampment offers additional degrees, which teach more about Odd Fellowship. Two additional charitable orders more geared toward the social side of Odd Fellowship are the Ancient Mystical Order of Samaritans, or AMOS, and the Zuannas. AMOS is for men, while Zuannas is for women. Both of these groups raise funds for charity while simultaneously having a good time. They are more lighthearted organizations focusing on fun for the members while still making a positive contribution to the community. These two groups are not regulated by the Sovereign Grand Lodge, which is based in North Carolina and oversees worldwide IOOF activity, but membership in the Odd Fellows is a prerequisite for membership.
The Duties Of An Odd Fellow
The tasks expected of all Odd Fellows are to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.” The IOOF became particularly efficient at burying the dead. The Odd Fellows are well-known for establishing cemeteries. Odd Fellows cemeteries, predominantly built by the IOOF, but also on occasion by another group, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, can be widely found throughout the United States, including several cemeteries in Arkansas.
Evergreen Cemetery in Fayetteville was once a cooperative effort between the Fayetteville IOOF lodge and the local Freemasons until 1915, when they jointly deeded it over to the Fayetteville Evergreen Cemetery Association. As for deceased IOOF members, it has been said that an Odd Fellow will never have to be buried in a pauper’s grave, and lodges often help provide proper graves for their members whose families cannot afford it. The Odd Fellows have been responsible for giving a final resting place to many thousands of individuals, members and nonmembers alike.
The IOOF’s role in lending aid to orphans has diminished somewhat, because modern social reform and government-sponsored relief efforts have rendered many of these efforts obsolete within the United States.
But at one time, there were a number of Odd Fellows orphanages active in America, including one in Batesville, which operated from 1898 to 1929.
Currently, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows has donated over a million dollars in aid to an orphanage in Cambodia, which gives much-needed medical care to children afflicted with AIDS. The IOOF operates several homes for the elderly in the United States, sponsors the IOOF Educational Foundation and United Nations Educational Pilgrimage, and in conjunction with the Rebekahs, support medical research at Johns Hopkins University. The fraternity also maintains a hunger and disaster relief fund.
African-American Lodges
There was a smaller Odd Fellows group active in some areas of Arkansas known as the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. They were a predominantly African-American lodge founded by a sailor named Peter Ogden in 1843. The GUOOF was recognized in the year of its founding by a group of Odd Fellows in England, but not by the main body of Odd Fellows in America, which later did open its membership to people of all races and ethnic backgrounds.
The American branch of the GUOOF is still in existence, in addition to a number of lodges and benefit societies of the same name overseas. Their numbers in America were smaller than that of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The GUOOF was not associated with Springdale’s New Era lodge, which was run by the IOOF.
There is a GUOOF women’s auxiliary known as the Household of Ruth, which is also still active. Both the GUOOF and the Household of Ruth established cemeteries of their own, in keeping with Odd Fellows tradition.
IOOF Symbolism
One of the most common and recognizable symbols of the IOOF is a chain with three links. For this reason, it’s sometimes referred to as “The Three Link Fraternity.” The grave of an Odd Fellow will often be marked with this emblem. When printed upon paper, if the links are in color, the individual links will often be colored red, white and blue, and the letters FLT will sometimes appear inside the links. An all-seeing eye is also common in Odd Fellows art.
The Rebekah lodges used symbols such as the beehive, representing industry, and the dove, which represents peace. Other Rebekah symbols include a moon with seven stars, and a lily for purity. The Patriarchs Militant use the symbol of a sword and a crown, and the Encampments have adopted the symbol of a tent.
The letters FLT appear frequently in Odd Fellows art and documents. This is an abbreviation for Friendship, Love, and Truth. These are three key principles taught in Odd Fellowship, and after a member undergoes the initiation ritual, the next three degrees to be undertaken are the Friendship, Love, and Truth Degrees. In these degrees, lessons are imparted to the candidate pointing out the supreme importance of friendship, love and truth, and how they pertain to one’s life as an Odd Fellow. In this degree work, lessons are taken from biblical stories and acted out dramatically for the candidate’s benefit. The characteristics of friendship, love and truth are so important to Odd Fellows that it is not uncommon for Odd Fellows to sign their correspondence “In FLT”, meaning in friendship, love and truth.
Where Are They Now?
The IOOF, like many other American lodges, has experienced a significant drop in numbers. Lodge membership has been in decline for decades, not just among the Odd Fellows, but among nearly all fraternal orders and women’s auxiliaries. During the heyday of lodges, it was common for an entire family to participate in lodge activities. A man would be initiated into a lodge, and then his wife would enter the ladies’ auxiliary while the children joined youth groups within the lodge. Youth groups still associated with the Odd Fellows fraternity today include the Junior Odd Fellows and the Theta Rho girls’ clubs.
But today, people are busier than before. With the advent of movies, radio, television and the Internet, there is a wide array of distractions, and more things for people to do. As transportation became easier and more affordable, people could enjoy a far-wider social circle than ever before without depending solely upon their lodge for a social outlet. Lodge rituals started to seem hopelessly antiquated to younger generations raised on Hollywood films.
Traditional lodges were also being replaced by civic and business clubs. In the 1800s, an individual would join the Masons, Odd Fellows, the Red Men and other lodges not only for fellowship, but to secure business contacts. With the rise of the civic clubs, he could simply join the Kiwanis, Rotary, or Lions clubs with the same effect and without the fuss of undergoing degree work at a lodge.
However, American fraternalism has not died. It may have slowed down somewhat, but the Masons, Odd Fellows, Red Men and other lodges are still very much alive today.
Of these fraternities, the Masonic orders have the highest percentage of members. As for the IOOF, while it is true that many of their lodges have folded and some of the old lodge buildings are either in serious disrepair or demolished outright, some areas are experiencing a renewal in lodge activity.
New chapters are being organized, and attempts are being made to reach out toward a younger membership base.
Individuals who wish to join an Odd Fellows lodge in Arkansas must be 16 years of age or older, of good character and profess belief in a Supreme Being. The IOOF does not discriminate against potential candidates due to race, gender, national origin or disability. Because the Odd Fellows are active in many nations, it is possible that people may have emigrated to the Springdale area who were already Odd Fellows in their home country.
Also, due to the influx in population, some Odd Fellows and Rebekahs may have arrived in Northwest Arkansas from other areas of the United States.

Shiloh Museum of Ozark History

Independent Order of Odd Fellows

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