History of Odd Fellows

In 17th Century England, people were facing many challenges. Life was difficult, sometimes lawless and often desperate. Medicine was still primitive stage with more lore than science in evidence. Life expectancy was about 45 to 50 years of age, and infant mortality was high. There was rampant illness, many orphaned children, colonies of widowed mothers, and many people could not afford to pay for burial of dead loved ones. 

Ordinary people from different trades and walks of life found it necessary to group together as brothers and sisters to contribute some of their wages to a common fund which they could then use for life’s challenges, such as sickness, losing a job and even death. They decided to work together to help unfortunate families and individuals get back on their feet, whether it was rebuilding a barn that had burned or putting in a new crop after a devastating season.

This altruistic and friendly society came to be known as “Odd Fellows,” because it was odd to find people organized for the purpose of giving aid to those in need and pursuing projects for the benefit of all mankind. It was believed that only, “an odd bunch of fellows,” would behave in such a selfless and seemingly impractical fashion. Odd Fellows became known as, “The Three Link Fraternity,” which stands for Friendship, Love and Truth. 

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows was founded on the North American Continent in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 26, 1819, when Thomas Wildey and four members of the Order from England instituted Washington Lodge No. 1. That lodge received its charter from Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows in England.

At that time, the city was suffering both a yellow fever epidemic and mass unemployment so they dedicated the organization towards the goals of “Visiting the sick, relieving distress, burying the dead and educating the orphans.” Odd Fellows, and later Rebekahs, were the first fraternal organizations to establish homes for senior members and for orphaned children.

Odd Fellowship became the first national fraternity to include both men and women when it adopted the Rebekah Degree on September 20, 1851. This degree is based on the stories about women of courage and compassion which are found in the traditional writings of the Bible, yet today the lodge has members from all walks of life and from many spiritual beliefs, as only a belief in a Supreme Being is required.

The Rebekah degree was written by the Honorable Schuyler Colfax, the 17th Vice President of the United States under President Ulysses S. Grant, from 1868 to1873. 

Today, Odd Fellows and Rebekahs continue to exist with nearly 10,000 lodges in approximately 26 countries.

At lodges men and women unite together for mutual aid and conviviality, providing social and practical support for each other and their communities, in every way possible.

Working together to achieve these goals and help our fellow men creates a bond that cannot be described, a brotherhood and sisterhood of benevolence. Working together, we can really help to make a difference in our world and our neighborhoods. We invite you to join us in that worthy endeavor.

History of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows