1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Oddfellows, Order of
ODDFELLOWS, ORDER OF, a secret benevolent and social society, having mystic signs of recognition, initiatory rites and ceremonies, and various grades of dignity and honour. Great antiquity has been claimed for the order of Oddfellows the most popular tradition ascribing it to the Jewish legion under Titus, who, it is asserted, received from the emperor its first charter written on a golden tablet. Oddfellows themselves, however, now generally admit that the institution cannot be traced back beyond the first half of the 18th century, and explain the name as adopted at a time when the severance into sects and classes was so wide that persons aiming at social union and mutual help were a marked exception to the general rule. Mention is made by Defoe of the society of Oddfellows, but the oldest lodge of which the name has been handed down is the Loyal Aristarcus, No. 9, which met in 1745 “at the Oakley Arms, Borough of Southwark; Globe Tavern, Hatton Garden; or the Boar's Head in Smithfield, as the noble master may direct.” The earliest lodges were supported by each member and visitor paying a penny to the secretary on entering the lodge, and special sums were voted to any brother in need. If out of work he was supplied with a card and funds to reach the next lodge, and he went from lodge to lodge until he found employment. The lodges gradually adopted a definite common ritual and became confederated under the name of the Patriotic Order. Towards the end of the century many of the lodges were broken up by State prosecutions on the suspicion that their purposes were “seditious,” but the society continued to exist as the Union Order of Oddfellows until 1809. In 1813, at a convention in Manchester, was formed the Independent Order of Oddfellows, Manchester Unity, which now overshadows all the minor societies in England. Oddfellowship was introduced into the United States from the Manchester Unity in 1819, and the grand lodge of Maryland and the United States was constituted on the 22nd of February 1821. It now rivals in membership and influence the Manchester Unity, from which it severed its connexion in 1842. In 1843 it issued a dispensation for opening the Prince of Wales Lodge No. 1 at Montreal, Canada. The American society, including Canada and the United States, has its headquarters at Baltimore. Organizations, connected either with the United States or England, have been founded in France, Germany, Switzerland, Gibraltar and Malta, Australia, New Zealand, the Fiji Islands, the Hawaiian Islands, South Africa, South America, the West Indies and Barbados, and elsewhere.
The rules of the different societies, various song-books, and a number of minor books on Oddfellowship have been published, but the most complete and trustworthy account of the institution is that in The Complete Manual of Oddfellowship, its History, Principles, Ceremonies and Symbolism, privately printed (1879). See also Friendly Societies.