A little over a month ago, in honor of Black History Month, I wrote about the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows (GUOOF) in Blacksburg. This month, in honor of Women’s History Month, I wanted to take a few moments to talk about the Household of Ruth, No. 5533. Household of Ruth is the women’s order of the GUOOF. In Blacksburg, Household of Ruth, No. 5533 was active for most of the time the Tadmore Lodge was active, starting a few years after the men’s group. The mission of the Household of Ruth is support of the men in their endeavors and relief of the needy, sick, and distressed. Among the papers we have from GUOOF there are papers from the Household of Ruth, including the General Laws and Regulations for the order.
Other papers from the Household of Ruth include general correspondence and a minutes book containing many notations about dues.
One of the most interesting items I found in the collection is a letter from the neighboring lodge in Radford, VA requesting assistance after their lodge building burned.
Letter from Radford lodge, Page 1. July 28, 1921.
Letter from Radford lodge, Page 2. July 28, 1921.
A particular highlight of the collection is a postcard addressed to Miss Nettie Anderson from another member of the lodge. The postcard is from around Thanksgiving in 1916 and features a scene with grapes and a turkey.
In honor of Black History Month, I thought I’d take this week to talk about the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. If you’ve watched television or attended a movie in the last 50-60 years, you’ve probably seen a reference to Freemasonry or Masons. While the Masons have become a mythic symbol in popular culture that is often associated with conspiracy theories and the Illuminati, they originated like many secret fraternal organizations in a much more mundane environment: essentially as a guild or union and likely in the 14th Century (depending heavily on the history you read and what you consider the meaning of “originate”). Over the centuries many similar organizations were formed or broke away from Freemasonry. One such organization was the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows (GUOOF).
According to their organization’s published history, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was formed as a fraternal society in similar fashion to other Masonic societies. Its primary defining characteristic was its inclusivity. Anyone was welcome to join regardless of social status. Unfortunately, that inclusiveness led to a division in the order around the topic of race. In 1842/1843 New York, an effort was launched by a group from the Mother A.M.E. Zion Church to found a chapter of the GUOOF in America. They petitioned the current existing Odd Fellows lodges in America (members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows) but were denied because the petitioners were black. Since one member of the church, Peter Ogden, was a member of a GUOOF lodge in England, he set sail to secure a charter for a new lodge. On March 1, 1843, the Philomathean Lodge No. 646 of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was established in New York. From that time on, the GUOOF in America became a fraternal organization with primarily (while not exclusively) black membership.
Sometime in the early 1900’s (likely around 1904), Tadmore Light Lodge No. 6184 of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was founded in Blacksburg, VA. By 1910, their roll showed 23 members.
According to the Blacksburg Museum & Cultural Foundation, Tadmore Light Lodge had built or occupied a lodge hall in Blacksburg by 1907. The Odd Fellows Hall became a central part of New Town, an African American neighborhood in Blacksburg. The records from Tadmore Light Lodge show that the organization was active from the early 1900’s through the late 1960’s, holding regular meetings and social gatherings, collecting dues, and supporting members financially.
In the 1930’s, during the Great Depression, the GUOOF, like many other mutual support organizations, coordinated economic support efforts, insurance, and estate management for its members. The organization had regular reports from its Endowment Department about the amount of funds raised and who had been helped by those funds.
In 1899, the GUOOF was the most powerful organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There were 19 lodges and over 1000 members in the city. The organization had $46,000 in property, including two lodge halls. The organization also had its own newspaper, The Odd Fellows Journal.
Members of the lodge in Blacksburg connected to the larger fraternal society through district conferences and national publications, including The Odd Fellows Journal. By the mid-1940’s, the Blacksburg lodge was receiving another publication: The Quarterly Bulletin. The Quarterly Bulletin was published in Philadelphia and appears to possibly have replaced The Odd Fellows Journal.
Of course, while the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was an integral part of the community and helped to keep black Americans on their feet through the Great Depression and the Jim Crow era, it was also a secret fraternal society. As with any fraternity, it had its initiation ritual and required a firm commitment from its members. As early as 1929, the Applicant’s Agreement was worded like a legal contract – binding unless the law said it wasn’t (and even then only the part the law struck down became null and void).
Applicant’s Agreement, 1929 (Front)
Applicant’s Agreement, 1929 (Back)
The ritual changed a few times over the years and we have at least 2 different versions in our records (possibly 3). Joining the GUOOF involved an elaborate and solemn ceremony. Everything from the positions of people in the room to what was said was laid out in detail in the ritual book. I’ll give just a glance at the ritual, showing the initial setup and definition of some roles within the organization (the full book is much too long to share here – AND as a member of a fraternity myself, I would feel guilty sharing another organization’s secrets). Enjoy!
If you want to know more, stop by Special Collections and ask for the Blacksburg [Virginia] Odd Fellows Records, 1902-1969, Ms1988-009. The records include financial records, correspondence, minute books, brochures of several annual conferences, by-laws and odd issues of the Odd Fellows Journal for the men’s lodge. There are also correspondence, minutes, and financial records for the women’s group – the Household of Ruth (check back next month for a blog post about the Household of Ruth in honor of Women’s History Month).
This week, I really wanted to do a post highlighting materials related to the various wintertime holy days and celebrations that happen during December. That didn’t exactly work out. I did find some materials in our rare books collection that were Christmas related but I had trouble finding things for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Yule, and Eid (I would have included it even though it’s not really the same and was in September this year). So, I shelved that post for another year when we’ve made better progress increasing the representation in our collections.
As I searched for something else to post about, I saw them: Wood and Metal book covers. They were just my style and I had to share them. The wood-bound (and metal housed) books I’ve chosen today are from our History of Food and Drink Collection and focus on Southern cuisine, Astrology/Mixology, and general cookery.
First, a little bit about wood book covers in general. If you take a moment and do a quick Internet search (I’ll wait…), you will likely discover that there are hundreds upon hundreds of sites providing instructions on how to make your own wood book cover. Wood has been a popular material for electronics cases and other applications for a few years now (I’ve personally watched as the number of products in this space has increased exponentially). Not surprisingly, this is a phenomenon that falls squarely into the category “everything old is new again”. The covers from our rare books collection are not freshly made. They mostly hail from the late 1930’s (one is on a book from the 1970’s – another period where wood was exceedingly popular on everything from cars to walls). Going back a few centuries further, the Copts of North Africa lent their name to the technique of binding with wooden covers sewn together around pages. So, that hip new trend is actually ancient – – and still amazingly beautiful (if you can get past the problematic racial issues raised by the illustrations).
Our first two examples both focus on Southern style cuisine. They also rely on the Jim Crow mammie caricature. The introduction from the 1930’s volume reads “The very name ‘Southern Cookery’ seems to conjure up the vision of the old mammy, head tied with a red bandanna, a jovial, stoutish, wholesome personage . . .”
Clearly that Jim Crow era attitude was still around in the 1970’s when the mammy image cover was placed around this cookbook with the ’70s dinner party cover.
Our next two offerings both focus on astrology and mixology, or the fine art of combining cocktails with mysterious planetary influences on our destinies. I ask you: What could go wrong?
Well, to start, how about this cover from Zodiac Cocktails (1940). The artwork, while creatively using the tools of the bartender’s trade, manages to evoke racial and religious stereotypes about Caribbean Islanders and Voodoo priestesses. Surprisingly, once past the cover, the illustrations are more referential toward medieval British conceptions of the mystical.
The content of this volume is as it would be with any book of cocktail recipes: useful in making cocktails. Still, it’s hard to take the author seriously in his attempt to “. . . demonstrate that people born under one sign of the zodiac are capable of drinking one or more combinations of liquor without ill-effect, whereas other combinations bring less pleasing results.” He has formulated a cocktail for each sign that he believes is the ideal cocktail for anyone born under that sign. Since we are currently under Sagittarius, I share with you the ideal cocktail for that sign:
1 Lump Sugar
2 Dashes Cocktail Bitters
1 Glass Rye or Whiskey
Crush sugar and bitters together, add lump of ice, decorate with twist of lemon peel and slice of orange, using medium glass, and stir well.
This cocktail can be made with Brandy, Gin, Rum, etc., instead of Rye Whiskey.
The next item from 1939 will tell you your Bar-o-scope. This one is definitely not taking itself too seriously. It is described as:
Spiced with “Astro-illogical” guidance in rhyme + pictures for those REborn under the different signs of the Baroscope.
The cocktails are arranged in chapters by type and each chapter contains a little poem about a zodiacal sign:
Nov. 23 to Dec. 23
Are idealists at heart
And to parties and functions
Good spirits impart.
It’s a fun little book, but it’s actually not bound in wood. It’s really press board (sometimes called particle board). It’s tied with leather thongs and is very similar to the traditional coptic binding style but has a spine added where one would not normally be present in coptic style.
Finally, there is a glorious metal “bound” cookbook from Pillsbury (1933). Right in the heart of the Art Deco period, this book incorporates elements of that iconic style into a housewife’s reference book titled Balanced Recipes.
The book includes sections for bread, cakes, cookies, desserts, luncheon and supper dinners, macaroni and spaghetti, meat and fish, pies, salads, soups and sauces, vegetables, and menus. The recipes included were developed in Pillsbury’s “home-type experimental kitchen” in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Of all these books, this one is by far my favorite. It avoids the caricatures and racial issues of the others while being really cool to look at. It also has a connection to Minneapolis (my favorite big city). Plus, when I was flipping through, it gave me a holiday surprise and landed on a recipe for that perennial holiday favorite: fruit cake. Enjoy!