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How 6 Fraternal Organizations Got Their Names

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Traditional "old man" fraternal organizations are supposed to be cloaked in mystery, holding secrets that only fellow brothers may know. As a result, most of us outsiders only know a tiny bit about these orders. What's the real story behind these often inscrutable names and curious emblems? Here, some insight into how these lodges formed, and why they chose their baffling symbols.

1. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks

Image courtesy of Chestertown Lodge Facebook

The Elks (BPOE) are a relatively young fraternity in that they don't trace their beginnings to any ancient or noble guilds. The fraternity was started by actors and entertainers in the 1860s as a way to be able to drink on Sundays without having to pay extra taxes in the state of New York. Although the group originally called themselves "The Jolly Corks," in 1868 they decided to form a proper fraternal order, with an emphasis on benevolence and charity. They chose to be Elks because they believed them to be distinctly American animals. Their emblem is an Elk imposed over a clock tolling the 11th hour, as this is the hour Elks pause to give remembrance to their absent brothers.

2. Freemasons

Image courtesy of MesserWoland, used under Creative Commons license

Once upon a time, the Freemasons were a guild of actual stone cutters. In the Middle Ages, in order to get work, professional craftsmen had to belong to a guild (this proved he was properly trained and trustworthy). Though the Masons claim these beginnings, no one is sure exactly how a guild of laborers morphed into the modern fraternal order. There are some clues, though: The Masonic Square and Compass are builder's tools, and for the Freemasons, they represent forethought and good judgment.

3. Odd Fellows

Image courtesy of Bashereyre, used under Creative Commons License 

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) has a peculiar name with unclear origins, but it is generally accepted that "oddness" was a founding philosophy of the fraternity. Founded in the 1700s, it was intended that Odd Fellows would be so generous and kind to those in need, that society would consider them odd. This benevolent philosophy is represented by the three chain links, which stand for Friendship, Love, and Truth.

4. Loyal Order of Moose

Image courtesy of Loyal Order of Moose Avon Facebook 

The origin story of the Moose Lodge is perhaps the least intricate of all. In 1898, a man named Dr. John Wilson wanted to start a fraternal order that was similar to the Elks, but run kind of like the Masons — so he did. Although he didn't stick with it long, the Moose never died out, and four U.S. presidents (Harding, both Roosevelts, and Truman) became members. As for the Moose? We'll leave it to the order to explain: "He takes only what he needs, nothing more... yet for his great size and strength he lives in peace with other creatures. The moose uses his size and power not to dominate but to protect, not to spoil but to preserve. He is a fierce protector, a loyal companion, and a generous provider who brings comfort and security to those within his defending circle."

5. Knights of Columbus

Image courtesy of Kmcgrail, under fair use license 

Unlike most of the aforementioned fraternities, who only specify that members must believe in a "higher power," the Knights of Columbus is flat-out Catholic. The KofC was founded by Priest Michael J. McGivney in 1881 in Connecticut as a way to help new Catholic immigrants. McGivney also wanted to keep good Catholic men from being tempted to join other non-denominational secret societies.

The symbol of the KofC is complex. There is a shield, as a knight would use, protecting a cross pattee, which represents Christ. On the shield is a knife, an anchor, and an ax called a fasces. The knife is what a knight uses in battle, the anchor represents Christopher Columbus (for whom the order is named), and the fasces represents unified strength and embracing orderly authority.

6. The Shriners

Image courtesy of Shriners of North America, under fair use 

There's a reason the Shriners are famous for wearing silly hats and driving little cars in parades. The Shriners are a branch of Freemasonry that was started by Masons who wanted to focus more on fun and fellowship than ritual and sanctity. The order adopted an Arabian theme because one of the founders attended a cool party in France with that theme.

The many parts of their emblem all represent different things. The scimitar stands for the backbone of the fraternity (its members), the sphinx stands for the governing body of the Shriners, and the five-pointed star represents the many children helped by their philanthropy each year. The emblem also bears the phrase "Robur et Furor," which means "Strength and Fury."

The exact origins of the name are unknown, but the initials for Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S.) are an anagram for "A MASON," and many scholars think this isn't a coincidence.

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Museum of the City of New York
New York City Exhibition Celebrates the Rebellious Victorian-Era Women Who Made History
Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

At a time when women wore corsets and hooped skirts, the American Jewish actress Adah Isaacs Menken caused quite a stir when she appeared onstage in men’s clothing. It was the early 1860s, and her portrayal of a man in the play Mazeppa saw her ride into the theater on a horse while wearing a flesh-colored body stocking. Critics were shocked, but Menken paid no mind. Both on stage and in her daily life, she continued to disregard the norms of that era by cutting her hair short and smoking cigarettes in public.

Menken is just one of the daring women featured in a new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. Rebel Women: Defying Victorianism celebrates the New York women who challenged the rigid expectations of the Victorian era, and includes a collection of photographs, clothes, and prints from the period.

A caricatures of the "Grecian bend"
Museum of the City of New York

The 19th century was a period of constraints for women. "During this era, a woman could be considered a rebel simply by speaking in public, working outside the home, or disregarding middle‐class morality or decorum," according to a museum statement. “Yet 19th‐century New York City was full of women who defied those expectations in both overt and subtle ways.”

The exhibit highlights the accomplishments of historic figures who contributed to the advancement of women’s rights, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, but it also casts a light on lesser-known figures—many of whom history was unkind to.

A photo of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
Museum of the City of New York

An illustration of women voting
Museum of the City of New York

There’s Ann Trow Lohman, also known as “Madame Restell,” who was dubbed “The Wickedest Woman in New York” for providing birth control to women. Similarly, Hetty Green earned the moniker “The Witch of Wall Street” for her successful career as a stock broker.

Visitors will also learn about a predecessor to Rosa Parks: Elizabeth Jennings Graham, a black New Yorker who refused to get off of a segregated street car in 1854.

Not all of the women had such noble goals, though, and the exhibition shows that men didn’t have a monopoly on crime. Notorious pickpocket and con-woman Sophie Lyons used her smarts and beauty to steal from wealthy men and earned a reputation as "the most notorious confidence woman America has ever produced."

The exhibition will be on view until January 6, 2019, and tickets can be purchased online.

Marshall McLuhan, the Man Who Predicted the Internet in 1962

Futurists of the 20th century were prone to some highly optimistic predictions. Theorists thought we might be extending our life spans to 150, working fewer hours, and operating private aircrafts from our homes. No one seemed to imagine we’d be communicating with smiley faces and poop emojis in place of words.

Marshall McLuhan didn’t call that either, but he did come closer than most to imagining our current technology-led environment. In 1962, the author and media theorist, predicted we’d have an internet.

That was the year McLuhan, a professor of English born in Edmonton, Canada on this day in 1911, wrote a book called The Gutenberg Galaxy. In it, he observed that human history could be partitioned into four distinct chapters: The acoustic age, the literary age, the print age, and the then-emerging electronic age. McLuhan believed this new frontier would be home to what he dubbed a “global village”—a space where technology spread information to anyone and everyone.

Computers, McLuhan said, “could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization,” and offer “speedily tailored data.”

McLuhan elaborated on the idea in his 1962 book, Understanding Media, writing:

"Since the inception of the telegraph and radio, the globe has contracted, spatially, into a single large village. Tribalism is our only resource since the electro-magnetic discovery. Moving from print to electronic media we have given up an eye for an ear."

But McLuhan didn’t concern himself solely with the advantages of a network. He cautioned that a surrender to “private manipulation” would limit the scope of our information based on what advertisers and others choose for users to see.

Marshall McLuhan died on December 31, 1980, several years before he was able to witness first-hand how his predictions were coming to fruition.

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