The Maccabees

[From IN%"" 29-JUL-1994 17 05 17.67 [To: IN%"H-RURAL@UICVM.UIC.EDU" [Subj: RE: The Maccabees (was RE: 1894 Michigan Survey)

I am just about to publish a collection of oral histories, begun in 1965, interviewing residents of southern Wood County, Ohio, most of whom were born in the 1870s and 1880s. The Maccabees, both men and women, had lodges in most of the small communities in the county and were quite active, primarily in doctoring the ill, providing relief for families in dire straits, and, otherwise, just socializing. Most had some kind of fund-raiser once or twice a year--an ox roast, a carnival of sorts. The respondents recall the Maccabees with a great deal of affection and clearly view them as a "civilizing" force in what was actually a wild setting (an oil and gas boom taking place in miserable swamp conditions). If you like, I can put some excerpts together from the oral histories and post them to the list. Let me know.

Subject: Re: The Maccabees (was RE: 1984 Michigan Survey)

[From: IN%"LKDYSON%ERS.BITNET@VTBIT.CC.VT.EDU" "Lowell" 1-AUG [Subj: Initiatory orders/maccabees

Dear Jim -- I have been out of the office for a few days or I would have responded earlier about the Maccabees. You have hi on one of my few areas of some expertise. I don't keep my reference library at the office, but I will send you infomration tomorrow about the group. They were (are) a fraternal insurance group ( which was a very big thing before the turn of the century when many commercial insurance companies refused insurance to all but the well- heeled). There are 3 standard works which are tremendously useful in getting at this sort of thing. Anyways -- I'll send the stuff tomorrow.


|LOWELL K. DYSON                                            |                   
|ECONOMIC RESEARCH SERVICE                                  |                   
|U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE       202-219-0787          |                   
|1301 NEW YORK AVENUE, NW 932         202-219-0391 FAX      |                   
|WASHINGTON, DC 20005-4788            LKDYSON@ERS.BITNET    |                   

Date: Tue, 2 Aug 1994 13:43:54 EDT

This is an excerpt from a book I am about to publish called _Southern Wood County Oral History Project_. It deals with the lives of people in southern Wood County, Ohio, between the 1880s and 1930s.

Estella Wagner was born in Rudoph, Wood County, Ohio, in 1880. She married Joe McDonald, an oil well driller, in 1898, right at the height of an oil and gas boom taking place in northwestern Ohio. "Stella" (as she was known to her women friends) or "Mrs. McDonald" (as she was known affectionately by others), died in 1982 at the age of 102 years old. This interview was conducted in 1965 when she was 85 years old, still keeping her own house and still sewing quilts for her children and grandchildren. Rudolph is and was a town of about 500 people, Cygnet is about the same size, Mermill maybe 50. Bowling Green is less than five miles away, in the 1920s, a town of about 4,000.

"I joined the, what they called the Lady Maccabees then. It is now known as the WAB--the Women's Benefit Association. And I joined that when I first moved to Rudolph. And I remember that Mrs. Dr. Cranston and Mrs. George Ford came down and had me to sign a card. And I was initiated at that time, and from that time on I have been real active in the organization. Our meetings were held over in the brick building on the corner there where the drug store used to be and where Richardson's store--Richardson's store was formerly there and I think the building burned--and that's where we held our lodge at first. That is, when I joined. And then we moved across into the opera house. We had quite an opera house there. It used to have home talent plays and everything was just, just fine. Mrs. Martin Hanna used to help with the plays and, Stella Reese--that was Mrs. Hanna's sister--and there was some wonderful plays there. Admission was about 25 cents. And some, that's where we used to have our graduating exercise from Rudolph high school, too.

And after we had this fire, why, everything we had mostly burned, and we, we had to make some money. So we had, we decided to have a carnival. And that was in the about 1920--'26 I think. And our carnival was certainly a success. We had an ox roast and we gave away free sandwiches and all kind of amusement. I collected the money for this ox roast. I went around and people, different ones, donated money. I know Mr. Graham here, in Cygnet, he sent me five dollars and everybody was quite generous. But we bought that ox and had it roasted and delivered to Rudolph on a truck. We had it roasted at Hoytville. And we had that right in front of Ross Stockwell's hardware then. Albert Stockwell had the grocery store there. And so some of the boys, of course, Albert donated their time and they cut up that ox and we had our, had our buns there and they served free sandwiches. And that was quite a drawing card, you know. And we made a nice bunch of money. And that's where we bought our furniture to start up again over in the opera house. And we still have a few of the chairs, yet, up at the civic center.

We just celebrated our 74th anniversary, just last week. And we still had a nice crowd out. And that lodge did an awful lot of good work in Rudolph. At that time there was no hospitals and we used to go in and, oh, we would sew and we would take care of the sick. And I remember so well when my father passed away in 1925 and of Mrs. McClure coming and getting my wash and taking it home and doing it. I was staying over with my father and mother then. He was ill just ten days. Ferne Mercer, she brought me pie. Mae Bechtel, she brought me pie. And they kinda looked after my family. And the WBA Lodge always was looking around for where they could do some good for somebody. And I think an awful lot of the WBA Lodge. And I have been a member of that lodge for 60 years. And it was at that time that it was called the Maccabees. And, oh, I have been president of that lodge off-and-on for, oh, the last 25 years. And now at this late date, I am still president of that order.

We still have members. We have, Mrs. Killian. I think Mrs. Killian is about 93. And, Mrs. Cupp, Clara Cupp in Bowling Green. She's also a member. And she's near her nineties, too.

Our lodge dues has never changed very much. They have remained about the same, at least mine has for over a period of fifty-some years.

I joined the Royal Neighbors when they were organized over at Mermill. And I am now a member at Bowling Green--have been a member for 40 years. And I carry life insurance in the Royal Neighbors. I, I'm not an active member, but I go once in a while. And I've enjoyed it very much when we did have meetings, but I don't attend their meetings now. Over at Mermill. That's where I joined. We rented a hall there. I used to ride over to the meetings with Mrs. Burt Eckert. She belonged over there, too. Oh, I imagine we had 50 or 60 members over there. And, as people moved away and as the oil families moved away, why, there wasn't enough to have lodge over there and to support a hall, so we consolidated and went to Bowling Green.

2 Aug 1994 11:47:25 -0400". [Subj: Maccabees

*More than you ever want to know about the Maccabees*: The Knights of the Maccabees was a fraternal benefit association of a type extremely popular in the United States in the late 1800s. In 1896, it had 182,000 members, more than a third of whom were in Michigan -- which partially explains the extremely large number of Michigan farm worker members in the survey in comparison to other groups. The Maccabees, begun in Ontario in 1878 but completely reorganized in Michigan in1881. Originally it operated on an assessment basis: whenever a member died, each living member was assessed 10 cents to go into a pot to provide the widow $1000. After reorganization, it became much more sophisticated, collecting monthly assessments based on payouts. By the 1890s it provided not only death benefits but also sick benefits of $4 to $10/week; total and permanent disability benefits of $50, $200, or $300 annually (depending on the size of your assessment); $175-$2000 for loss of hands, eyes, feet, etc.; funeral benefits, and so on. Acceptable members were "All white persons of cound bodily health and good moral character, socially acceptable, between eighteen and fifty-two years of age." Coal miners, "aeronauts" and other dangerous professions excluded. Manufacturers sellers, and drinkers of likker also excluded.

The Maccabees were one of the more successful of fraternal benefit societies which sprung up after the Civil War. Many insurance companies were not interested in sales to ordinary people and there was little in the way of "safety nets". Groups like the Maccabees, Foresters, Woodmen, and so on provided a safety net along with pleasant social meetings and other gatherings. Each had its own ritual legend -- the Foresters, Robin Hood, for example, and the Maccabees the story of Mattathias Maccabee and his sons, the leaders of the Jewish revolt against Syrian desecration of the Temple.

The Ladies of the Maccabees were organized in the mid-1880s and not at first recognized by the Knights, but persistence paid off, and according to Albert C. Stevens, (in 1896), "Its successful career has surprised many, even among its well-wishers, and has shown that women may safely be intrusted with the conduct and management of many of the broader business affairs of life."

I think that the flourishing of fraternal orders in the post Civil War period is a fascinating and sadly neglected subject. I hope some of you younger spriggins will get interested and do some studies. It's wide open.

My principal source of information is Albert C. Stevens, _Cyclopedia of Fraternities_ second edition, (New York, 1907; reprinted by Galed Research Company Detroit, 1966), a tremendous work. A valuable, recent source is Alvin J. Schmidt, _Fraternal Organizations_ vol. 3 of The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Institutions (an extremely valuable series see, for example, (ahem) Vol.10), (Wesport, CT, 1980). Schmidt details how many of the truly success- ful fraternal benefit societies, like the Maccabees, became mutual insurance companies in the mid-20th century, as interest in fraternalism declined. As long as I am blathering on, I might mention an interesting mid-stream book, also reprinted by Gale: Arthur Preuss, _A Dictionary of Secret and Other Societies_(1924). Preuss had a lot of valuable follow-up information on groups which Stevens had earlier written about, but he approached them from a very different point of view: a strict Roman Catholic anti-secret society one. He didn't simply dislike the Masons, Oddfellows, Maccabees, and so on, he was also against the Boy Scouts, Campfire Girls, and was very suspicious of the Knights of Columbus.

|LOWELL K. DYSON                                            |                   
|ECONOMIC RESEARCH SERVICE                                  |                   
|U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE       202-219-0787          |                   
|1301 NEW YORK AVENUE, NW 932         202-219-0391 FAX      |                   
|WASHINGTON, DC 20005-4788            LKDYSON@ERS.BITNET    |                   

Fri, 5 Aug 1994 14:16:10 EDT

Thanks to Joseph Arpad and Lowell Dyson for writing in about the Knights of the Maccabees and the Ladies of the Maccabees. Welcome, also, to Ilkka Likaanen for your interest in the Michigan data and rural organizations in general.

My colleague at Eau Claire, Bob Gough, and I were talking about the UC Historical Labor Statistics database. Specifically, Bob raised the point about doing cross-tabs or multivariate analysis on the Michigan data. I'm not sure if I mentioned it in an earlier post, but the data that is posted on the GOPHER at the Cliometri Society (address: CS.MUOHIO.EDU) is limited to a frequency tabulation on all the variables in the questionnaires. You can't compare the answers in one question to those of another.

Fortunately, the UC folks do supply the raw data, in handy SPSS column format, along with easy-to-use codebooks. Roger Ransom (UC-Riverside and one of the PI's on the project) was kind enough to send me the raw data and codebooks. When I get a little spare time, I'll combine the two and do some runs on the Michigan stuff.

If you printed out the Michigan survey results (and want to find out more), do write in to H-Rural and request cross-tabs on some of the variables.

Jim Oberly, H-Rural Co-Moderator Dept. of History Univ. of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Eau Claire, WI 54701 Tel. 715-836-5501 FAX 715-836-2380 E-Mail JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU

Fri, 5 Aug 1994 14:18:56 EDT

One further thought on the survey of Michigan male farm workers and their organizations. The overwhelming majority of the organizations were like the Maccabees -- they were fraterna benefit societies. These groups obviously played a very important role in rural America of the time in providing a "safety net" for illness, disability, and death, while at the same time playing a very important social role in the days before all of our modern diversions. Of the 55 groups, two, the APA and the Orangemen were nativist-anti-Catholic. The one member of the Knights of the Golden Circle puzzles me because that had been a "copperhead" secret organization in the North during the Civil War and presumably long dead. Two, the Masons and the Knights of St. John were purely fraternal with no insurance benefits and generally limited to the more affluent because of high initiation costs. The Good Templars were a temperance group. The Oddfellows and Knights of Pythias "took care of their own" but did not , strictly speaking have formal insurance benefits. The K of L and Bro of RR Trackmen were labor unions. The Brotherhood and Haro Zaro are unknown to me and I would be delighted if anyone could fill me in.

So, I emphasize what I said earlier, I think the role of fraternal organizations of men, women, and mixed, in rural communities during those decades would be wonderfully interesting to study.

Lowell Dyson

|LOWELL K. DYSON                                            |                   
|ECONOMIC RESEARCH SERVICE                                  |                   
|U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE       202-219-0787          |                   
|1301 NEW YORK AVENUE, NW 932         202-219-0391 FAX      |                   
|WASHINGTON, DC 20005-4788            LKDYSON@ERS.BITNET    |                   

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Posted: 17 Jul 1995

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