24 October 2013

Fraternal Societies Defined

What exactly is a fraternal society?

That appears to vary, according to who you ask and what terms you use. Let's start simple. Wikipedia tells us:
"fraternity or fraternal organization is an organized society of men associated together in an environment of companionship and brotherhood; dedicated to the intellectual, physical, and social development of its members."

The American Fraternal Alliance publishes an explanation of a Fraternal Benevolent Society:

"Fraternal benefit societies are membership groups that unite individuals with a common bond, provide them the ability to secure their families’ financial security through a variety of life insurance and investment products, and form one of the nation’s most effective and efficient volunteer networks, delivering billions of dollars of direct financial aid and community service to those who need it most."

To me, this is a modern definition, as from what I have read and learned over the years, the societies created in centuries past had many more goals than just to provide financial security and to raise funds for various projects. The article goes on to discuss some of the origins of these concepts, although rather vaguely. This was not the answer I was looking for when I set out to define the term, "fraternal society." I wanted this done in a historical context.

Let's make it even simpler... the dictionary. From Webster's Universal College Dictionary, (Gramrercy Books, 1997),
fraternal : adj. 1. of or befitting a brother; brotherly. 2. of or being a society of men associated in brotherly union, as for mutual aid or benefit. 

Image: Ancestral Journeys, 2013

Now this, I like. Simple and clearly stated.  All three examples seem to share the following: a membership group or association, and there seems to be at least the implication that they are united for some overall good purpose.

However, we know historically that there are numerous types of fraternal societies. In order to apply this information in a more specific and helpful way, it seems necessary to apply certain terminology. Benevolent, auxiliary... just a couple of the necessary additions in the task of defining the concept of a fraternal society.

benevolent : adj. 1. characterized by or expressing goodwill or kindly feelings: a benevolent smile. 2. desiring to help others; charitable. 3. established for good works: a benevolent society
auxiliary : adj. 1. additional; supplementary; reserve: an auxiliary police force. 2. used as a substitute or reserve in case of need: an auxiliary power system. 3. subsidiary  secondary. 4. (or a boat) having an engine that can be used to supplement the sails: an auxiliary yawl. 5. giving support; serving as an aid. -n. 6. a person or thing that gives aid; helper. 7. a subsidiary organization allied with a main body of restricted memberships; the women's auxiliary. 8. Auxiliary verb. 9. auxiliaries, foreign troops in the service of a nation at war. 10. a naval vessel, as a supply ship, designed for other than combat purposes.

Am I the only one that finds it interesting that societies such as are in question are used to provide examples for each of these terms? It seems obvious the importance of these organizations on history as a whole. With a basic understanding of what the words actually mean, we can move forward into their history, their goals and their impact.

(Selly sell : I wrote a Legacy QuickGuide on the subject of researching fraternal societies. You can find it via my website.)