From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890-1967

By David T. Beito | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE

From the Cradle to the Grave

The words were familiar to Americans, but the context was not: “Protection Now Furnished from the `Cradle to the Grave.'” When the SBA made this promise, it embarked on a seemingly quixotic mission. In 1916 the leadership confidently vowed to build an old folks' home, an orphanage, and a hospital. A fraternal society had never before attempted so much. By 1925 doubts had been quelled, and one by one these goals were completed. The first and most modest was the SBA Children's Home. 1

The SBA Children's Home and Mooseheart offer valuable opportunities to compare and understand fraternal orphanages as a whole. One lesson to be learned from them is that any quest to find a “typical” fraternal orphanage is probably fruitless. A wide variety of immigrant and native societies were sponsors. The number of children served by a given group varied from a handful to a thousand. At the same time a closer look at Mooseheart and the SBA home reveals features that appeared across the wide spectrum of fraternal orphanages. Neither Mooseheart nor the SBA home received governmental subsidies. Both appealed to the lodge model of the extended family. Each faced tensions between the stated ideals of the founders and practical realities. The differences serve to enrich the comparison. Mooseheart and the SBA home exhibited notable contrasts in discipline, degrees of social isolation, and postgraduate preparation.

The SBA (named the Knights and Ladies of Security prior to a merger with a smaller organization in 1920) started to lay the groundwork for an eleemosynary institution in 1916 when the National Council outlined plans to establish a hospital and home for “Old Folks, Invalids and Orphans. ” The first item on the agenda was a building site. After a spirited round of bidding among local lodges (or “councils”), Topeka, Kansas, the site of the national headquarters, won the prize. The deal was sealed when the Chamber of Commerce “and other citizens” donated 260 acres of farmland just outside the city. 2

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