Early BPOElks History- "Elks are never forgotten ~ never forsaken."
When the Jolly Corks decided to make more permanent their association, they incorporated the following on Feb 16, 1868 into the preamble of our Constitution
" The undersigned members of the theatrical, minstrel, musical, equestrian, and literary professions, and others who sympathize with and approve of the object in view thereafter stated in the constitution, do hereby organize an order to promote, protect, and enhance the welfare and happiness of each other."
For many years, this preamble served as a guiding principle for actions and activities for its members. Elks were required in the original constitution to attend the funeral of a fallen brother. Their first benefit raised $1,000 for a widow of a deceased Elk - an astounding amount of money at the time. As other Elks died, a special ceremony was created called the Lodge of Sorrow with the first public service being held on March 20, 1870. This became an annual event that we now celebrate as our Memorial Service. Sometime after that a provision was made for the chair Officers to become the Standing Relief committee. Any Elk in distress would petition this committee for help which apparently was often requested and granted. For example, Salisbury lodge archives contain a number of telegrams from members who were stranded far from home and in need of financial assistance to help them with their predicament.
For the first 21 years, the Elks grew gradually from one Lodge of 58 members to 158 Lodges with 13,067 members. Once theatrical membership restrictions were removed growth really took off and by 1909, there were 1,155 Lodges with 304,899 members. By the end of WWI, nearly 200,000 more were added to the rolls with the number of Lodges increasing to 1,280. In North Carolina, 20 lodges were chartered during this golden period. All except Washington #822 are still operating.
With this rapid growth, many lodges added requirements that new applicants pass a physical exam given by Lodge appointed physicians. This was necessary in order to limit financial liabilities as most of its charitable fund was used to assist poor and sickly Elks. This exam provision still remains in Grand Lodge statutes.
It was also at this time that a few Lodges bought sections of local cemeteries to bury deceased members ~ many who died very far from their original home. In 1903, the Elks Home was created for those needing an inexpensive but well furnished and professionally operated retirement facility. For many years it was filled to its capacity of 200.
As the Grand Lodge prospered, responses to national emergencies grew impressively. Elks assisted with survivors of the Johnstown PA flood and other calamities. With the 1906 SF earthquake, the Elks were first responders among all groups assisting. The Oakland Elks equipped a tent city that assisted 2,000 people ~ with just 12 hours notice! On a national level, an Elks Relief Committee of 1,000 was quickly organized and $100,000 in funding was distributed. Other calamities too numerous to list here drew quick response from the Grand Lodge.
Other important activities the Elks undertook were to press Congress to eliminate the wanton slaughter of the elk animal and the creation of reserves to help them survive harsh winters. They created a Big Brother Movement which eventually reached 30,000 youth around the country.
Their most impressive response though came with WWI. 70,000 Elks served in the Armed Forces with 1,000 losing their lives. The Elks raised the funds and provided the equipment for the first two base hospitals in the French battle areas. A 700 bed Reconstruction Hospital for maimed and wounded vets was built and equipped in Boston. It operated to its full capacity until 1921. A 72 room structure was built in Camp Sherman, Ohio to help families visiting the 40,000 soldiers stationed there.
It was during this time that the Elks began its long association with the Salvation Army. Lodges all across the country raised substantial sums using various methods to do so. The Grand Lodge donated an additional $60,000 in 1918. Commander Evangeline Booth singled the Elks out as a most important factor for the Salvation Army to achieve success on the battlefields of France. Even more remarkable is that WWI hostilities ceased on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. The hour of eleven is of tender significance to all Elks and one must wonder if John Pershing, Commanding General of the American Expeditionary Force (a fellow Elk) had some influence in guiding the Allies to pick this auspicious moment. General Pershing by the way was the only living General to ever rise to the US Army rank of "General of the Armies". Only George Washington was awarded that honor and then posthumously.
Much has changed since those golden years. Our government safety net has assumed many of the duties that once fell on fraternal and non-profit groups. This major societal change negated the need for many to join groups such as the Elks and is cited as an important reason why most civic and fraternal groups have declined in the past 30 years.
Still, in numerous Lodges, Elks remember their roots and strive to enjoy each others company, to assist their brothers in times of need and to mourn their passing. In this observer's humble opinion, modern day Lodges that practice these basic principles seem to be flourishing. Those that lack this focus, struggle to operate.
In conclusion, much more on the early history of our most remarkable Order can be found on-line at www.elkshistory.org Included is a link on how to obtain an electronic version of the first comprehensive Elks history book published in 1910. Also, you can find a link to a biography written by the widow of our founder Charles Vivian that was published in 1904. In addition, each Lodge should have an official history book in the Secretary's office that gives a good overview of 1868 to 1988. These books can also be ordered for personal use through your Lodge Secretary for a nominal fee.
Fraternally, Mike Jones, PER, NC State Elks Historian, www.elkshistory.org (written for the NC elks State Newspaper Spring 2008 edition on 12/07)
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