Social Clubs vs. Fraternal Orders


Union Hall, Victor Colorado

Since my last post was on Social Clubs around the turn of the last century, I thought I would post a paper I did on Fraternal Orders.  It contrasts rich and working class organizations around this time period.


Sokolowski, Joe, Research Paper, Hist 3061, Fall 2009, Pam Laird.

Victor’s Fraternal Orders and Societies


Below Battle Mountain in Teller County lies Victor, Colorado.  Barely a shadow of the town it once was, its existing architecture was built at its heyday, just after the turn of the last century.  Exploring Victor this past summer, my wife made the comment that its given nick name, “city of gold” should be more like: “small town with buildings for fraternal orders.”  Her comment sparked my interest in the existing architecture and its origin. At first glance, a lot of the buildings had to do with past organizations in town.  The size of the lodge buildings contrasts with the present size of the town.  Why did a town of this size have such a noticeable presence of fraternal organizations, and what drew them to Victor?  This question led to my investigation of fraternal orders around the turn of the last century in Victor.


Victor was incorporated in 1894.  It is located a few miles south of Cripple Creek.  Although Cripple Creek had the fame, Victor had the gold.  The amount of gold mined in Victor surpassed its neighbor, bringing eight billion in today’s dollars out of the mines.  As mine production fluctuated so did the population.  Victor’s population changed year to year especially between 1897 and 1917.  Two years after the 1898 fire that destroyed a large portion of the town, the city directory listed the population as seventeen thousand.1  In 1903 labor strikes started, and in 1904 a bombing at the Independence Mine train station killed thirteen and injured over thirty.  By 1905 the population dropped to ten thousand.  Seven years later, in 1912, it was down to six thousand.  The mines were being played out and the price of a troy ounce of gold was set low, at $20.67.  Gold mining profits dropped.  Small ventures continue to mine gold until the 1990s when open pit mining and the rise in gold prices made gold mining profitable, again.  Victor, however, became a near ghost town, in 1990 its population was near two-hundred.  The population presently is about four-hundred and fifty.

The buildings in town that sparked my interest in this project were the Elks Lodge, Masonic Temple, Gold Coin Club, St. Victor Catholic Church, First Baptist Church, Miner’s Union Hall, and Victor High School.  Churches, I expected to see, as in any small town in Colorado. I didn’t expect to see such a large Elks Lodge or Masonic Temple in a town the size of Victor.  The assumption I made was that a large percentage of the town’s population belonged to these organizations.  All the buildings mentioned are still in use except for the Masonic Temple and the Miner’s Hall, both of which need extensive repair.   My research showed that Victor had many chapters of fraternal organizations in the years 1898 to 1917.  Surprisingly to me, there were far more organizations than I suspected from the architectural clues.  During research I found fraternal orders were popular in this time period and a lot of workers joined them for the order’s fringe benefits.  Victor and its neighbor, Cripple Creek, had eighty-seven lodges representing thirty-eight different orders.2  Along with the fraternal orders, Victor had seven churches to support.  They were the Baptist, Catholic, Christian Science, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian.  There were no schools associated with any of these churches.  If fraternal orders and churches were not enough to join, there were also numerous unions in Victor.

The Miner’s Union was the most known union in Victor.  The miner strike of 1903 put an end to miners belonging to unions, as mine owners would no longer hire union labor.  The Miner’s Union was thrown out of town after the 1904 bombing of the Independence railroad station.  The bombing was meant to scare off scabs from the mines, it resulted in an anti-union war in Victor and other parts of Colorado.  In 1905 the city directory listed unions for mill and smelters workers, clerks, cooks and waiters, painters and decorators, typographical, and carpenters.  Miners and women’s [miner’s] auxiliary No. 2 was still listed in the directory even though by 1905 they would have been run out of town.  Printing took time and changes did not happen that fast, most likely this is the reason unions were still printed in the 1905 Directory.  Not explored in this paper is the correlation between the numbers of fraternal orders that increased, while unions decreased, or disappeared altogether.

There was a broad array of organizations in Victor between its founding and 1917.  Religious, union, and fraternal organizations were established in short order after the town was plotted.   The fraternal organizations outnumbered unions and churches listed in the directories.  The lodges and societies offered something the unions or churches didn’t offer.  I tabulated, similar to Elizabeth Jameson’s suggestion, in her book All that Glitters, four advantages the lodges and societies offered to its members, socializing, networking, benefits, and rituals.3  Lodges were formed for social contact.  Societies were interested in benefits they could provide members, the most common being insurance.


The city directories between 1898 and 1917 listed the organizations in Victor.  The directories listed Societies and Lodges, not distinguishing between the two.  Unions and churches were listed under separate sections.  The city directories from 1898 to 1917 records the number of orders with forty-two being the most listed in one year, 1912.4  The age of the lodges could be tracked by the lodge number.  In many cases the lodge, society, or union local number follows the name of the organization.  A low number denotes an organization that was chartered nationally at an early date.  For instance, the Victor’s Elks Lodge No. 367, was established on March 22, 1897.  In contrast, Elks Lodge No. 17 the first lodge established between the Mississippi River and California was founded in Denver on April 22, 1882.  Victor’s lodge came three hundred and fifty lodges and fifteen years later than the lodge in Denver.

Fraternal lodges and societies were founded on different principles, objectives, or ideas.  Men, and women, were drawn to different organizations because of the lodge’s policies or beliefs. Each fraternal organization could provide socializing, networking, insurance, and rituals but with in a framework of preferred a religion, ethnicity, economic standing or prejudice.  Fraternal societies and lodges were established by small groups tied to an idea, like socializing or providing workman’s benefits.  If the idea caught on, the organization grew.  Many times the organization grew because of salesmen promotional efforts.5  Other organizations required an existing member to nominate a new candidate to membership.  The fraternal order someone chose to join reflected their beliefs, needs, or prejudices.

The Masons are the oldest fraternal order and established the custom that lodges invoked secret rites and rituals when initiating or promoting member within the order.6  The Elks began as a social drinking club called the Jolly Corks.  The Woodman of the World started as a fraternal society that provided death benefits to its members.7  The Catholic Knights is an example of a fraternal organization that was established because its members were shut out of other lodges or societies.  All lodges socialized, had their rituals, and provided charity but membership was restricted in some manner and candidates may not have qualified to join a lodge.

Religion was a barrier to joining fraternal orders.  A Catholic would not join the Masons, The American Protective Association,8 or the Junior Order of American Mechanics.9  Catholics could join the Knights of Pythias, but with the condition that they could be in disfavor with the church.10  Consequently lodges were started just for Catholics such as Victor’s Catholic Knights and Ladies Lodge No. 146.  They would have been tied to Saint Victor Catholic Church in Victor.  The Vasa Lodge was a Swedish-American fraternal order that was associated with the Lutherans, who also had a church in Victor.  Filtering membership by religion was not the only restriction to joining a lodge.

Three unchangeable requirements determined which lodge a person joined.  Race, age, and sex prequalified someone from joining a lodge or society.  Racially segregated lodges or societies were not listed in the Victor City Directories.  In my research the African-American hard rock miners were not mentioned in Victor although there is some mention of them in Cripple Creek.  I assumed because no African-American fraternal orders were listed, that a sufficient population did not exist to start any African-American lodges.  There was however a White Cooks & Waiters Union No. 9 listed in the 1900 City Directory.  There must have been enough non-whites in the area to distinguish between Black and White food service workers.  Fraternal orders, like the Macabees and, ironically, the Improved Order of the Redman, would write into their bylaws that membership was open to “white males.”11

Age was an issue to the fraternal societies.  By limiting membership to younger members, and those in less hazardous career fields they were able to limit the society’s risk to claims.  Age, like race, was not specifically mentioned in the make up in Victor’s fraternal orders but there were requirements to take a physical if a person was to join the Elks or Knights of Maccabees.  Societies that provided insurance wanted to limit their exposure to risk.  The Maccabees considered coal mining dangerous and excluded these miners from membership.12  Yet, Victor was home to the Knights of Maccabees Lodge No. 27, hard rock miners, perhaps, did not fall into the same risk as coal miners or the rules were not enforced.

Women auxiliaries were popular in Victor, there were many of them.  Some were social organizations like the Masonic sponsored Order of the Eastern Stars.  Other organizations were charitable such as Women’s Relief Corps which was the Grand Army of the Republic’s auxiliary.  Their focus was helping women and orphans of civil war veterans.13  The Rebekahs were the female auxiliary to the Oddfellows.  They were a social and charitable organization ministering to the sick and needy.  Besides charity the women’s auxiliaries were also interested in the benefits fraternal orders provided.  Victor’s Ladies of the Macabees No. 22 were a ladies life insurance society, and met at Ducey’s block that housed an assay office and the Palace Saloon in 1900.  Unique to the Maccabees was that they offered maternity benefits of fifty dollars a child.  Insurance benefits were the attraction of fraternal societies whether for men or women.14

Fraternal societies were founded as a way to give their members death benefits.  And many of the lodges in Victor provided these benefits to their members.  According to the 1915 Knights of Pythias lodge 95, bylaws a member in good standing would receive one dollar for the first week of sickness and seven dollars for the next six weeks.  A seventy-five dollar death benefit was paid to a deceased member’s family.  Twenty dollars was paid to the family of a member who committed suicide.15  Other organizations had similar benefits.  The Modern Woodman of America provided free treatment to members who contracted Tuberculosis.  They had a facility in Colorado Springs, which didn’t close until 1947.  The Knights of Maccabees also provided sick benefits and benefits to any member that had a total and permanent disability.  Women’s organizations such as the Royal Neighbors and the Degree of Honor also provided life insurance and fixed annuity products.

The Knights of Pythias also paid a twenty dollar funeral benefit.  This benefit would explain why the Sunnyside Cemetery in Victor is divided into lodge sections.  Although not an accurate count of the past members, it gives a relationship between the numbers of members belonging different lodges.  The Sunnyside cemetery in Victors has the graves of two-hundred and one associated with the Elks, Eighty-seven buried in the Masonic section, thirty-three in the Moose area, and sixteen connected to the Oddfellows.16  Other lodges did not have separate cemetery sections.  Death benefits paid by the lodges insured a resting place to those wishing to stay in Victor indefinitely.


Fraternal lodges and clubs provided benefits that were not available through employers.  As men came to Victor to work the mines lodges provided a “means of coping and adjusting to change.”17  These organizations provided a place to socialize.  Victor had thirty-seven saloons at the turn of the last century.18  Saloons were meeting places, but they were still drinking establishments.  They did not provide other functions the lodges offered such as the rituals and socializing without alcohol.  The last third of the nineteenth century was called the “golden age of fraternity.”19  The socializing done at lodges and societies had an element of morality, many used Christianity as a basis for the organization.  What is ironic is that Christianity is also used as a restricting clause to these societies.  Christian did not mean open to all, it meant open to those like us. Using an anti-immigration stance, a lodge could exclude a nationality labeled unacceptable.  It was an easy step from disallowing certain religious groups to preventing unwanted immigrant groups.  The American Order of Protection, Victor Harbor No. 40 would have had an anti-Catholic oath and believed in restricting Catholic immigration.20

Other restrictions were written into bylaws.  Allowing only white males was a popular exclusion in many fraternal bylaws.  Economics was often a qualifier when admitting members.  If a lodge felt they were not attracting the correct economic status of member they would discuss raising dues.  The Victor Elks Lodge No. 367 in 1915 proposed dues of fifty dollars to keep out the undesirables.  High dues would eliminate everyone but rich farmers and mine owners.21  The Elks could then keep out undesirables who could not afford higher dues.  As a comparison, about the same time period, Victor Knights of Pythias’ dues were nine dollars a year.22  According to Mark C. Carnes, in his book Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America fraternal movements were an urban middle class phenomenon.23  Joining an organization gave a member a status or position, unlike a what a saloon offered.  Different income levels joined different lodges.  If you were a white collar worker, joining lodges, it wouldn’t be unusual to be associated with more than one lodge.  Even Victor’s famous millionaire Winfield Scott Stratton, at one time a carpenter, belonged to both the Elks and Masons.24  Another example of multiple memberships, was Wesley C. “Buster” Primm of Victor, born in 1902.  In his obituary it was recalled that he was “the Exalted Ruler of the Elks, member of the Order of Eastern Star, and past Master of the Masons”.25


For some, the draw of the fraternal orders was the rituals.  The rituals took on two elements.  First, members were attracted to the intense secret initiation rights.  Masonic-type secret initiation rights were copied by most fraternal organizations.  Secret pass words, kangaroo courts, blindfolds, mock hazing, readings, and ceremonies lasting an hour or two was routine when joining most lodges.  This “performance of elaborate sequences of initiation rituals”26 insured a member something special was occurring.  Not only were there initiation rituals, but additional rituals as members obtained the next degree of advancement.  In this way “fraternal orders provide average men with avenues for achieving distinction.” 27

The second part of the ritual was the expensive dress.  In some orders the cost of the required ceremonial dress could be prohibitive.  For example, in the Victor Knight of Pythias rules it describes on six pages how a ranking member would dress in elaborate regalia.28  The ritual dress could not be compromised.  Lodge No. 95 by-laws article XVII states:  “No member while in uniform…shall enter…any public bar.”29  Dress was an important and protected facet of lodge membership, taking a military or authoritative demeanor.  Reinforcing the idea that rank could be attained and status achieved.  It rounded out the idea that the lodge was a way to express “respectable virtues of industry, sobriety, self-restrain, honesty, and faith in God.” 30

The rituals played a part in validating the lodge.  This was a binding factor for lodge inductees.  The lodge rituals gave the new members more than just life insurance.  Assessing a value to one’s family seems cold and calculating.  But to include the rituals, brotherhood, Christian ideas, and morals, the sale of insurance made it a more humanistic approach to the valuing one’s family.  If something happened, they were not going to be “paid off,” they were going to be “taken care of.”  According to Jeffery A. Charles in his book Service Clubs in American Society adding ritual to the benefit societies “softened harsher realities of social insecurity and inequality.”31

The investigation of rituals in fraternal orders is a study in and about itself.  Psychology studies have been made how men could spend so much time wrapped up in long, pre-scripted ceremonies, afterwards socializing, networking or enjoying companionship.  The rituals validated the lodges, validated the leadership and advancement structure, and insured a perhaps sterile but accessible companionship that may have been missing from men’s lives.  Unions addressed a business sphere, religion a spiritual sphere, and fraternal organizations a social sphere.  In an article in the October 1932 Elks newsletter C. R. (Pete) Peterson, a member who joined the Victor Elks March10, 1898 was impressed to see the lodge still going.  Visiting the Victor Elks lodge in 1932 he “stood before the tablets of loving memory…and scanned the names…of men he had called brother and friend…”28   The rituals cemented the relationships Peterson made many years before.


The terms lodges and societies have been used interchangeably so far.  There is an important difference, lodges were founded as social clubs.  They didn’t ignore charity, but it was not the reason they were founded.  It was not unusual for lodges to take up a collection to help families of deceased members.  Charity was part of the lodges as when the Victor Elks donated “fifty turkeys and all the trimmings to the needy of the city” at Christmas, 1905.29

The important difference is that benefit societies were founded to fill an economic need of protecting wives and children of workers.  Disability benefits from the state or employer did not exist.  Railroading, mining, and other industrial fields were dangerous.  Fraternal benefit societies were able to offer a safety net to workers whose families depended on a single wage earner.  When a claim was paid, an assessment was charged to surviving members.  Each member would be charged a dime or more to replenish the benefit fund.  Eventually fraternal societies changed from making assessments to offering insurance policies.  Then annuity products, sick benefits, and disability benefits became part of membership.  These societies still had rituals, ceremonies, and meetings as was the trend of the day.  Some of the organizations went farther than just insurance, some had orphanages, vocational schools, and sanitariums for members with tuberculosis.



There were other economic by-products of the fraternal organization movement.  First were the promoters themselves.  Lodges orders were sold by sales people as an economic opportunity.  In the case of the Order of the Moose, James Davis a union leader, credited efficient salesmanship to the spread of Moose lodges.  Once established, Davis gained a seat in the U.S. Senate and sold his Moose interest for $600,000.30  Promoters were guaranteed a percentage of dues from every new member.31  For the promoters, money was the motivation, not the ideas the lodges or societies represented.

Doctors profited from the fraternal orders because some orders required a physical exam before membership.  Since sick benefits were part of a lodge membership and it would be in the lodge’s best interest to eliminate those with prior health concerns before membership.  The doctor would in turn join a lodge to keep the membership as patients.  In some cases pre-paid medical coverage was part of lodge membership, thus once again the attending physician is associated with the lodge membership insuring a source of patients.  This gave both the lodge and the doctor something they needed.32  This arrangement was frowned upon by medical associations believing the doctor’s services were cheapened because the lodge set prices they would pay for service rendered.  This effective way of holding down medical costs eventually disappeared.33

The death of W. S. Stratton in 1902 began the consolidation of mines under corporations in Victor and the surrounding area.  Before his death he spent seven million dollars buying one-fifth of the area’s mines.  The high cost of mining had to be underwritten by large corporations or investors, individuals such as Stratton were no longer available to finance the mining.  Labor prices were controlled by the mine owners.  The union wars and bombings of 1903 and 1904 proved that fraternal orders, nor unions, could bridge the economic gaps of Victor.  In the period leading to the strikes in 1903 Elizabeth Jameson in her book All That Glitters writes, “Cross-class tied, knit in daily exchanges at work, in recreation, and in the lodges to which both employers and workers belonged, drew the middle class to local union halls and Labor Day celebrations.”34.  She observed that the managers and laborers belonged to the same lodges.  There were members that crossed religious affiliations to join lodges that supposedly didn’t allow membership.  Father Edward Downey of the Catholic parish belonged to the Elks for instance.35  Lodges and unions managed to interact in Victor.  Then changes came.  After 1904 the unions were driven out, starting with the Western Federation of Miners.  The union members left town voluntarily or by force.  The mixing of classes in the fraternal orders declined.


The social contact, business networks, insurance benefits and lodge rituals were not strong enough to overcome the economic realities of Victor.  Each lodge and society had their bylaws and their benefits as an enticement to join.  But, as the economy left so did the lodges. The fraternal organizations and societies did give the residents of Victor some where to go, acting as community centers.  All have closed except the Elks lodge which still performs that function.  The numerous fraternal orders touched many in Victor and provided a community with social contacts, insurance for a dangerous jobs, and individual advancement in lodge rituals.  Victor’s Elks Lodge No. 367, the last fraternal order remaining, still provides the community with a place to meet, socialize, and draw the town together.  It is still there, long after the churches and unions have left.



Axelrod, Alan. The International Encyclopedia of Secret Societies and Fraternal Orders.

New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1997


  1. P. O. Elks, Bulletin No. 27. Victor: B.P.O. Elks, 1932.


Carnes, Mark C. Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America. New Haven: New Haven

Press, 1989.


Carnes, Mark C. and Griffen, Clyde , eds. Meanings for Manhood Constructions of Masculinity

     in Victorian America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.


Charles, Jeffery A. Service Clubs in American Society. Urbana: University of Illinois Press,



Clawson, Mary Ann. Construction Brotherhood Class, Gender, and Fraternalism.

Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989.


Cripple Creek District Directory. Denver: Gazetteer Publishing Co., 1902.


Drake, Raymond L. and Grimstad, Bill. The Last Gold Rush, A pictorial history of Cripple Creek, and Victor gold mining district (Victor: Pollux Press, 1983).


Dumenil, Lynn. Freemasonry and American Culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press.



Ferguson, Charles W. Fifty Million Brothers. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1979.


Harwood, Jeremy. The Freemasons. London: Anness Publishing, 2008.


Keske, Miralyn S. Residents of Sunnyside Cemetery, victor, Colorado and Fourmile Cemetery,

     Fourmile Community, Co. 1875-1988. Victor: Keske Pub Co., 1989.


Knights of Pythias. By-Laws of Victor Lodge, No. 95 Knights of Pythias. Victor: Knights of

Pythias, 1915.


Leitz, Leland. Quick History of Victor Colorado’s “City of Mines”, Colorado Springs: Little

London Press, 1969


Jameson, Elizabeth. All That Glitters Class, Conflict, and Community in Cripple Creek. Urbana:

University of Illinois Press, 1998.


Noel, Thomas J. The City and the Saloon: Denver, 1858-1916. Lincoln: University of

Nebraska Press, 1982.


Schmidt, Alvin J. Oligarchy in Fraternal Organizations. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1973.


Turkey and all the trimmings, Victor Daily Record. December 24, 1905, 3.



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This entry was posted on November 10, 2019 by in Larimer Street.
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