Saturday, April 24, 2010

Saturday's Symbol: Ancient Order of United Workmen (A. O. U. W.)

Ancient Order of United Workmen -
was the first fraternal organization to offer death benefits and life insurance to its members. The group dwindled in the early-20th century and does not exist today.

Founded on October 27th, 1868 in Meadville, Pennsylvania, By John Jordan Upchurch. He was a railroad worker who assembled 13 of his friends and coworkers and established the AOUW. The group was organized with rites of initiation and membership, very much like the Freemasons, but it would go one step further by offering death insurance to its members.

The AOUW constitution listed their objective as follows:
1. To unite into one common brotherhood all persons employed in the mechanical arts.
2. To create a means of prompt and effective co-operation in matters of common interest.
3. To oppose inimical legisltion and to foster favorable legislation.
4. To establish libraries, provide for lectures and other means of education.
5. To employ all legitimate means to establish and to maintain harmony and equity between employers and employees.
6. To ameliorate the conditions of unfortunate, afflicted, and oppressed members.
7. To establish an insurance fund out of which not less than $500 should be paid to the legal heirs of a deceased member.

To join the each new members paid $1 in insurance premium. Creating a fund which would pay a minimum $500 benefit to a deceased member's family, at which time all surviving members would have to contribute another $1 each to re-fund the account, called an 'assessment.' Each separate Great Lodge managed its insurance for its local members.

After many consolidations and conversions, the AOUW nearly ceased to exist. The mutualization of the Grand Lodge of the Dakotas in 1947, however, allowed the Grand Lodge of Washington to expand into states whose lodges had previously affiliated with North Dakota and now no longer existed. In 1966, the Grand Lodge of Washington took on the title of Supreme Lodge, re-constituting the AOUW with new or revitalized lodges in Montana, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska. In 1976, it ceased to underwrite its own policies, turning reinsurance to Early American Life Insurance Co.

Women's Auxillary -  The all-male AOUW offered an alternate membership for women. The Degree of Honor was the "ladies auxillary" of the AOUW, wokring in much the same way and structure regarding ritual, membership, and insurance. Also, much like the AOUW, during the period of falling interest they too became a fully-fledged fraternal insurance company, still in operation today.

Here are a few links with more information.
Ancient Order of United Workmen
Facts and Figures, 1895
Name and status changes of Fraternal Benefits Societies - this one give the list of which groups merged.
Degree of Honor - women's auxillary group

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