History of the ELKS -
The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the USA

It was about 1968 when I applied and was accepted as a member of the Elks Lodge while living in Oxnard, California. Almost everybody is aware of the Elks, but many do not know much about the history and the beneficial service that the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE) provide for many worthy causes. You may be surprised to learn what you read.

BPOE CIVIC AND COMMUNITY AFFAIRS
Americanism · Drug Awareness · Community Welfare · Community Affairs · Law and Order · Elks National Home · Handicap Children · Camps · Scholarships · C. P. Kids · Essay Contests · Boy and Girl Scouts · Veterans Service · Make a Wish · Dare Program

FORMAL ORGANIZATION AND NAME

The Order of Elks was formally organized February 16, 1868 in the City of New York. Its full corporate name is "Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America." Its declared purposes are to practice four cardinal virtues: Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love, and Fidelity; to promote the welfare and enhance the happiness of its members; to quicken the spirit of American patriotism; and to cultivate good fellowship.

The animal from which the Order took its name was chosen because a number of its attributes were deemed typical of those to be cultivated by members of the fraternity. The elk is distinctively an American animal. It habitually lives in herds. The largest of our native quadrupeds, it is fleet of foot and graceful in movement. It is quick and keen of perception, and while it is usually gentle and even timorous, it is strong and valiant in defense of its own. A representation of the majestic head of the male, with its spreading antlers, was adopted as the first badge of the Order and is still the most conspicuous element of its copyrighted fraternal emblem.

SUBORDINATE LODGES
Subordinate Lodges of the Order are permitted to be established only in cities that are under the governmental sovereignty of the United States and have within their respective corporate limits not less than five thousand inhabitants, with certain exceptions under the control of the Grand Exalted Ruler. The name of a Lodge is that of the City in which it is located, with its assigned serial number.

QUALIFICATIONS FOR MEMBERSHIP
Membership in the Order is limited to any citizen of the United States, not under twenty-one years of age, who believe in the existence of God, who subscribe themselves to the objects and purposes of the Order and who have been duly initiated in a Subordinate Lodge. There are no branches or degrees of membership in the Order; there are auxiliary organizations, such as State Associations and Past Exalted Rulers' Associations.

STATE ASSOCIATIONS
Under the laws of the Order, State Associations may be formed in any or all states by such Subordinate Lodges as may voluntarily desire to organize into such groups. They have power to regulate their own internal affairs and are authorized to inaugurate and foster such benevolent activities as may be selected by them for their serious objectives. They are encouraged to promote better ritual exemplification in their member Lodges, and to provide for fraternal contacts that will afford opportunities for Elks in their respective jurisdictions to become better acquainted with each other. They also act in an advisory capacity as to the establishment of new Lodges therein. They are generally prohibited from exercising other functions and are specifically denied any jurisdiction over the Subordinate Lodges or their members. In their allotted fields they have proved peculiarly effective agencies, particularly in the conduct of charitable enterprises of extended scope and major importance, such as could not be successfully carried on by individual Lodges.

PAST EXALTED RULERS' ASSOCIATIONS

Recognizing the valuable advice and guidance that can come only from those who have served as chief executive officers of their Lodge, the Order has by Statute mandated that these experienced members form an association within every Lodge and provide its competent and helpful counsel to assist the officers, committeemen and members of their Lodge in conducting its affairs.

THE ELKS COLORS*
The Elk colors are Royal Purple and White, a combination deriving its origin from the history of the Clergy, Nobility and the People. Throughout Europe, the Orient and in Rome the symbolism of colors was associated with severity of laws and customs. Each color in each pattern was identified religious, or political, and to change or alter it was a crime of rebellion, a desertion of principles, party or cause. White denotes purity and absolute truth. When combined with Royal Purple it signifies the love of truth and the highest degree of virtue. Purple is the badge of Kingship, the color for the robes of Emperors and High Priests, and signifies highest favor. Blending of White and Royal Purple indicates the favor of the people, which bespeaks the status of Elk-dom.
* An Authentic History of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, by Charles Edward Ellis.

INITIATION
Naturally the ritual of initiation is the most important, as it is the most elaborate of any Lodge ceremonial. It is designed to instruct and inspire the initiate, and, in an appropriate setting, to secure his assumption of the solemn and binding obligation of membership.  It is conducted throughout with dignity and decorum.  It is wholly devoid of any feature that will embarrass or annoy the candidate, or subject him to ridicule or to any discomfort, physical or mental.

ELEVEN O'CLOCK TOAST
Regular meetings of Subordinate Lodges have always been held at night. In the earlier days, they were usually held on Sunday nights and were concluded about eleven o'clock. As the participants departed, they naturally made inquiries about the absentees and expressed sympathetic interest in the causes of their absence. It soon became a custom for a member to propose a toast to the members who were not present. And in the course of time this custom was quite generally observed whenever a group of Elks were together at eleven o'clock.  Eventually the Grand Lodge specifically provided for such a ceremonial to be observed during Lodge sessions, and designated it as "The Eleven o'clock Toast." Under this provision, whenever a Lodge is in session at that hour, the regular order of business is suspended for a few moments while the Exalted Ruler recites the beautiful ritual prescribed, concluding with the words: "To our absent Members." Upon other strictly fraternal occasions, this "golden hour of recollection" is generally observed in somewhat the same manner. A designated member, with or without a few preliminary remarks, proposes the toast to which all members respond with the words: "To our absent Members." Even when small groups of Elks are together at this hour, although it is not a formal fraternal occasion, it is not inappropriate to recall the sentiment with a moment of dignified silence. The ceremonial is a very effective one, distinctively associated with the Order of Elks. The sentiment it embodies is wholesome and commendable, and it is therefore obvious that the designed effect should not be marred by any lack of dignity or decorum; and that it should never be cheapened by observance in inappropriate surroundings.

MEMORIAL SERVICE
It was another early, but voluntary, custom among Elks for the Subordinate Lodges to conduct a formal service in tribute to a brother who had died. With the growth of the Order, this custom became more and more general, and the appealing sentiment of which it was born was crystallized in a Statute of the Order.

Under its provisions the first Sunday in December of each year is designated as "Elks Memorial Day," and it is mandatory upon each Subordinate Lodge to commemorate departed members on that day. A definite ritual has been prescribed for this annual event, which lends itself with equal effectiveness to the simplest or the most elaborate of permitted programs. The Memorial Service may be conducted in the Lodge room for members only, but it is often observed as a public ceremonial with a program of special music and other appropriate features.

FLAG DAY SERVICE

It is to be expected that an organization dedicated to patriotic service should seek to promote a proper knowledge of, and respect for, the American Flag and all that it represents. The Order of Elks has done this in many ways. Perhaps the most effective of its prescribed activities is the Flag Day Service. Each Subordinate Lodge is required to conduct this service annually on the 14th of June, the anniversary of the birth of the American Flag. The idea of a Flag Day Service was first suggested to our Order by the then Grand Exalted Ruler at the 1907 Grand Lodge Session in Philadelphia. Of the dates submitted for consideration at that time, June 14 was adopted by the session and was called "Elks Flag Day." The following year, in Dallas, the Grand Lodge approved a ritual for the Flag Day ceremony. The 1911 Grand Lodge Session at Atlantic City made the observance of Flag Day mandatory for Subordinate Lodges by the adoption of Section 229 of the Statutes: "It shall be the duty of each Subordinate Lodge to hold the service known as "Flag Day Services" at the time and in the manner prescribed by the ritual of the Order. Later on - at the Grand Lodge Session in Atlantic City in 1930 - there was added to this statute an amendment reading: "The Grand Exalted Ruler may, in exceptional cases and for good cause, grant a dispensation for a different day or to any two or more Lodges to hold such services jointly." It was not until August 3, 1949 that the President of the United States signed Public Law 203, designating June 14 as Flag Day. Thus our Order was not only the first fraternal organization to celebrate Flag Day, but made this ceremony mandatory long before the date on which the observance became a nation-wide practice by legal decree. The ritual for the occasion is an elaborate one, and it is quite generally conducted as a public ceremonial. It is designed to be informative as well as inspirational, and the colorful pageantry provided lends itself admirably to the achievement of these objectives.

MOTHER'S DAY
The sentiments that are naturally and universally inherent in the relationship of mother and child led to the designation of the second Sunday in May of each year as Mother's Day, upon which all people are encouraged to pay appropriate tribute to motherhood and to perform acts of filial affection and devotion. The Grand Lodge, by resolution, has accorded permission to Subordinate Lodges to celebrate Mother's Day, if they so desire, either for their own members or for the public. A ritual has been provided, which they may use for the occasion, but its use is not mandatory.

FUNERAL SERVICES
It is not infrequently that the family of a deceased member of the Order desire the Lodge to conduct a funeral service incident to their interment, either in supplement of the usual religious rites, or as the only ceremonial to be used. A ritual for such a service has been provided, to be conducted by the officers and members of the Lodge. Without any suggestion of sectarianism, it is beautiful and impressive, and it is appropriately designed for use in the Lodge room, in a funeral home, or at the grave. This ceremonial is designated - "Lodge of Sorrow."

OTHER OCCASIONAL CEREMONIES
Under Grand Lodge authority other rituals have been provided for various occasions, which are appropriate to be marked by such fraternal participation. These include the dedication of an Elk building, an Elk's Rest or burial plot, or a public building, and the celebration of the laying of the cornerstone of such structures, and other like occasions.

CHARITABLE AND PATRIOTIC SERVICE

The primary object of the Order is the practice of Charity in its broadest significance, not merely that of alms giving. Its service in this wide field necessarily involves a great diversity of activities, which naturally are influenced by local conditions. It, therefore, early adopted the policy of permitting its Subordinate Lodges to select for themselves the benevolent endeavors in which they severally desired to engage, rather than to require them to participate solely in national projects undertaken by the Order as whole. However, throughout its history, the Order has endeavored to maintain itself in readiness, as a national body, to extend its aid in cases of major catastrophe and misfortune. Through its official agencies in all parts of the country, it has been able to render such assistance with a promptness, effectiveness, and lack of red tape, which have tremendously enhanced the practical helpfulness of its adopted measures.

For many years the aggregate expenditures of the Subordinate Lodges for charitable purposes have run into millions of dollars each year, covering humanitarian services of infinite variety. Among the most usual of such activities may be mentioned the following: food to the hungry; shelter for the homeless; clothing and fuel for the needy; milk for the undernourished babies; medical attention to the sick; baskets to the poor at Christmas and Thanksgiving; outings for underprivileged children; entertainment for shut-ins; education for young people; artificial limbs for the maimed; hospital beds; free clinics; night schools; and the list might be indefinitely extended.

All of the State Elks Associations have undertaken important and extensive charitable works within their own several jurisdictions, determined by the particular conditions therein existing and the preferences of their constituent members. They include rehabilitation of crippled children, treatment of indigent tubercular patients, provision for scholarships to worthy students, maintenance of orphans, boys' camps, training of the blind, eyeglasses for needy boys and girls, cerebral palsy clinics, cancer clinics, and other statewide projects of similar character and of equal worthiness that are being carried on as continuing activities. No history of social service in the United States would be complete without an inspiring chapter devoted to the achievements of the Order of Elks in this field.

In the field of patriotic service, the Order of Elks has likewise proved itself an agency of singular force and effectiveness. Organized at a time when the bitterness and rancor of the Civil War had left their wounds on every heart on both sides of the Mason and Dixon line, the Order patiently taught its members through the years, drawn as they were from all sections of the country, that bitterness ought to be sweetened; that rancor ought to be assuaged; those wounds ought to be healed. Through the widening influence of its members, thus bound together by the ties of brotherhood, and thus fraternally schooled, the restoration of national accord was assuredly hastened, and a patriotic service of superlative importance was thus performed. Never an altar is erected in all its jurisdiction, but that the first emblem to benevolently be placed beside it is the American Flag. No man is permitted to stand in front of that flag and altar and assume the obligation of membership unless he be an American citizen. And at the close of every Lodge session he attends he is required to renew his pledge of allegiance to that flag and all for which it stands.

OVERVIEW
The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America is one of the oldest and largest fraternal organizations in the country. Since its inception in 1868, the Order of Elks has grown to include nearly 1.2 million men and women in almost 2,200 communities.

The BPO Elks is committed to the ideals of charity and patriotism. To that end, Elks have now disbursed over the Order's 132 years more than $2.69 billion in cash, goods, and services to the nation's youth, its veterans, the disadvantaged and handicapped, and in support of patriotic and civic programs. In the 1998-99 fiscal year alone, the BPO Elks expended in such fashion over $160 million, and the Order ranks as one of the largest private providers of college scholarships in the nation.

The Elks have created a quiet network of good deeds that has profoundly changed millions of lives for the better, yet there is little public awareness of the impact of their vital work. Why is this so? Quite simply, the Elks have rarely sought recognition, neither have they gone to the general public with fundraising efforts nor received monies from any level of government. Indeed, the flow of money and goods moves in the opposite direction: the Elks donated to the government the first veterans hospital; contribute regularly to schools and police and fire departments; and assist the young and the needy throughout this great nation.

How could this powerful force have come into being? And where does all this charitable giving come from? From the generous hearts of Elks members whose willingness to share, whose prudent long-term planning, and whose time devoted to serve--for free and with enthusiasm--infuses the Order with an exuberant and enduring expression of the true volunteer spirit.

Of note is that the elected leadership of the BPO Elks--from the Exalted Rulers of the local Lodges to the national president, known as the Grand Exalted Ruler, and other decision-makers at the various levels--serve without salaries.

The organization of the Elks is democratic representation, with overall statutes set through voting at national conventions. The BPO Elks national headquarters is based in Chicago. The Chicago campus is also the site of the Elks Veterans Memorial Building; the home of the Elks National Foundation, the Order's charitable trust; the Elks National Veterans Service Commission; and The Elks Magazine, the official publication that is sent to every member of the Order.

This history was made available to us by Bob Murphy of the Bergenfield, NJ. Lodge #1477
Thank You Bob

Contact Noah at:
Noah@SemperFidelisNoah.com

(Archive - Week of April 23, 2005)

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