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

By David T. Beito | Go to book overview

BIBLIOGRAPHIC ESSAY:
SOURCES ON FRATERNALISM AND RELATED TOPICS

Although the historical literature on fraternal societies is still thin, there is an abundance of primary sources. Researchers do not always have an easy task, however. With notable exceptions, libraries and historical societies have made only sporadic preservation efforts, and few published guides exist.


Archives and Manuscripts

The national headquarters of the societies often provide the best starting points for research. A few organizations that maintain archives are the Woman's Life Insurance Society (formerly the WBA) in Port Huron, Michigan; Security Benefit Life (formerly the SBA) in Topeka, Kansas; Moose International (formerly the Loyal Order of Moose) in Mooseheart, Illinois; the IOOF in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; the IOF in Toronto, Ontario; the Degree of Honor in Minneapolis, Minnesota; and the MWA in Rock Island, Illinois. These collections tend to be better endowed on published matter, such as periodicals, proceedings, and ritual books, than they are on unpublished sources, such as membership lists or internal correspondence. To locate the phone numbers and addresses of fraternal home offices, see Sandra Jaszczak, ed., Encyclopedia of Associations: An Associations Unlimited Reference (New York: Gale, 1997), 1:1853-79.

Uncovering sources on fraternalism at the local level can be far more daunting. Of the thousands of lodges that once existed, only a small fraction left any trace, much less records of consequence. This makes the full story difficult to tell. Often it is only through records maintained at the lodge level, including membership lists, minutes, and account books, that scholars can adequately evaluate sick benefits, lodge practice, and other locally controlled services. The paucity of lodge records even applies to such leading groups as the FOE, the Loyal Order of Moose, the IOF, and the WBA. These local sources are more likely to turn up at historical societies and in the special collections departments of libraries.

Some of the most complete collections, for both lodges and national offices, are for the societies of the new immigrants and their descendants. The Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota has a superb collection. It contains holdings on the Polish National Alliance, the Order of the Sons of Italy, the Slovene National Benefit Society, the First Catholic Slovak Union, and many others. Other good collections are at the Balch Institute of Philadelphia, the YIVO Institute of New York City, and the Western Reserve Historical Society of Cleveland. The Records of Ethnic Fraternal Benefit Associations in the United States: Essays and Inventories (St. Paul: Immigration History Research Center, 1981) is an outstanding research guide.

The challenges of finding primary sources on black societies can be even greater. Only recently have libraries and special collections departments made sustained efforts to incorporate them into their collections. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Cul

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