The Origins of the BPOE
In New York City, a small
group of actors and entertainers, wishing to continue their social
gatherings on Sundays, when New York's blue laws prevented the opening of
public establishments, began to meet regularly as the "Jolly Corks," a
name derived from a bar trick introduced by the group's organizer. While
the meetings were held with regularity, apparently no form nor substance
resulted, except for the adoption of a toast to members of the group not
in attendance. Shortly before Christmas in 1867, only a few months after
the fellows began to meet, one of their number died, leaving his wife and
This event gave rise to the notion that, in addition to good fellowship,
the Jolly Corks needed a more noble purpose in order to endure, and
serving not only their own in need, but others as well, would be
appropriate. Two months later, on February 16, 1868, with a statement of
serious purpose, an impressive set of rituals, a symbol of strength and
majesty and such other elaborate trappings that might be expected of a
group of actors and musicians, the new fraternal order was launched.
Why the Name "Elks?"
Since its founding on February 16, 1868, the Benevolent and Protective
Order of Elks (BPOE) has been recognized by the noble creature that is the
symbol of the Order. The elk is a peaceful animal, but will rise in
defense of its own in the face of a threat. The majestic creature is fleet
of foot and keen of perception. A most fitting representation, the stately
elk is, for a distinctively American, intensely patriotic, family oriented
organization subscribing to the cardinal principles of Elkdom, "Charity,
Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity."
The 15 Founders of the BPOE desired a readily identifiable creature of
stature, indigenous to America. Eight members voted to adopt the elk,
seven favored the buffalo. The main Founder of the Elks, Brother Charles
Algernon Sidney Vivian, an English-born actor, was a member of the British
fraternity known as the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. Brother
Vivian especially desired to see the new Order adopt the title of
"buffaloes," but the vote carried with the name of "Elks."
Fraternal Traditions of the BPOE
The BPOE adopted several fraternal traditions similar to the Masonic
Fraternity. An altar, decorated with the Holy Bible, is found in the
center of every Lodge throughout Elkdom. Old Glory served as the altar's
drapery until 1956, when it was given its own distinct place of honor to
the right of the altar. An "Exalted Ruler" governs each Elks Lodge as the
"Worshipful Master" does in a Masonic Lodge.
Elk Officers wear formal evening dress (tuxedos) during the Initiation
Ritual and other ceremonials of the Order. Since 1874, the Exalted Ruler
and officers of every Elks Lodge began wearing the new Elks regalia,
composed of a purple velvet collar with a small, fawn colored roll and a
jewel with an Elk's head with a gilt edge on the collar.
A "Tiler" guards the entrance of every Elks Lodge, and this officer
prevents all outsiders from entering a Lodge without proving themselves to
be an Elk in good standing.
The BPOE originally utilized a two-degree ritual; the second degree was
discontinued in 1890. In fact, the BPOE Grand Lodge has outlawed any side
degrees. The solemn and dignified BPOE Initiation Ritual of today is
vastly different from the Initiation performed within our Lodges in those
early days, with the early minutes of several Lodges, describing the
now-solemn ritual in a far different vein.
Early candidates found that a physician's certificate of examination was
necessary as a part of the joining process, and the male prospect had to
be in top condition to even be considered. Then, once the candidate had
met that criteria and was in the Lodge room, he was blindfolded, and
instead of dimmed lights and beautiful words, he was subjected to much
horseplay. The minutes of the Ashland Lodge No. 384 describe in detail of
their candidates wearing shoes with lead soles designed to make the wearer
walk as though intoxicated.
The old Ritual Book spells out other trickery, with members agreeing with
the Exalted Ruler's declaration that the candidates be "shaved." Once this
decision was made, a "City Barber" appeared to the blindfolded candidates
whereupon, with a dull file simulating a straight razor, he literally
scraped the faces of the men to "shave" them. A few other jokes, all of
which were contained in the Ritual Book, described each ordeal in great
detail, such as "walking on broken glass," actually egg shells, and it
even mentioned how to end the "horseplay" session with real guns, loaded
with blanks, being fired off behind the now-weary and very confused new
In 1895, the Elks ceased the use of lambskin aprons in their initiatory
work, the password was eliminated in 1899, in 1902 the use of a badge was
eliminated, with the secret grip falling by the wayside in 1904 and the
"Test Oath" was removed in 1911. In 1952, candidates were no longer
blindfolded prior to the Initiation. 1995, women were admitted into the
The Eleven O'clock Toast
At every meeting of the BPOE, and every social function, when the hour
of 11:00 p.m. tolls, the Lodge conducts a charming ceremonial known as the
"Eleven O'clock Toast." In fact, the clock tolling the eleventh hour is
part of the BPOE official emblem, and is directly behind the
representation of an elk's head in the emblem of the Order.
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, the Brothers
made inquiries about the absent Brothers and expressed sympathetic
interest in the causes of their absence.
It soon became a custom for some member to propose a toast to the Brothers
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 was in
session at that hour, the regular order of business was suspended for a
few moments while the Exalted Ruler recited the beautiful ritual
prescribed, concluded with the words: "To our absent Brothers."
Since women were permitted to join the Elks since 1995, the toast is now
pronounced as "To our absent Members."
Although the original Elks were actors and entertainers, members of
other professions soon joined the organization. Today's Elks represent
just about the full spectrum of occupations in America. Throughout the
course of the Order's history, many celebrities from the entertainment
field, business and public service have been Brother Elks.
Presidents Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and
John F. Kennedy were all Elks. Former President Gerald Ford belongs to
Grand Rapids Lodge No. 48, where his father served two terms as Exalted
Ruler. Of course, many members of Congress have been Elks, too. Former
Speakers of the House Tip O'Neill, Carl Albert, John McCormick and Sam
Rayburn all belonged to the fraternity. Former Speaker Tom Foley belongs
to Spokane, Washington, Lodge. And the late Hale Boggs of Louisiana was
also an Elk.
General John "Blackjack" Pershing, American general and hero of the First
World War, hailed from New York Lodge No. 1 as a lifelong member. 70,000
Elks served in the First World War; 1,000 gave their lives in the service
of their country. 100,000 Elks served in the Second World War, over 1,600
made the supreme sacrifice for American freedom.
Entertainers Lawrence Welk, Will Rogers, Jack Benny and Andy Devine were
Brother Elks, too. Brother Devine served as Exalted Ruler of San Fernando
Lodge No. 1539. And Brother Clint Eastwood is a member of Monterey Lodge
No. 1285. William F. Cody, better known as "Buffalo Bill," was also a
Brother Elk. From the sports world, the Order has counted among its
members the likes of Vince Lombardi, Casey Stengel, Mickey Mantle, Whitey
Ford and Jim Finks.
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
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
* From "An Authentic History of the Benevolent and Protective Order of
Elks," by Charles Edward Ellis.
"Auld Lang Syne"
The old Scottish song, "Auld Lang Syne," is the fraternal anthem of the
Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. It has been used in Elk rituals
and fraternal occasions for over a century, and it is often sung after the
Eleven O'clock toast by Elks and their guests at social functions.
BPO of Does
A group of women of Omaha, Nebraska, wives of Elks, discussed the
forming of an order with similar ideals and precepts of the Elks. So
enthusiastic did they become that on February 9, 1921, invitations were
extended by Mrs. James H. Craddock, to sixty women in Omaha to meet at her
home, 3716 Hawthorne Avenue, for the purpose of laying the foundation for
Although independent, this organization would be in harmony with the
Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and organized along similar lines,
with its membership to be confined to wives, widows, mothers, daughters,
and sisters of Elks. Thirty-two women were present at this first meeting
and a temporary organization was formed that day. These women met for six
months until Omaha Elks Lodge No. 39 graciously invited the DOES to meet
in their Elks Lodge Room. A firm was employed to prepare the necessary
papers and Constitution.
The Grand Lodge was formed and chartered on February 12, 1921 by the State
of Nebraska with authority to charter subordinate lodges, called "Droves"These
ladies, with the assistance of the Elks, and with the desire to work in
harmony with and to always keep uppermost in their minds the idealism of
Elkdom, laid the foundation for a permanent organization dedicated to the
principles of Patriotism, Charity, Loyalty, and Love.
It was a trust, hope, and ambition that this organization would spread in
ever-increasing circles and, in the fullness of time, a Drove of DOES
would be in every city where there is an Elks Lodge.The Benevolent,
Patriotic Order of Does filled a need for a national women's organization
whose members met specified requirements and shared mutual interest with
the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.
The Officers of a Drove serve annually as follows:Elective: President,
First Counselor, Senior Counselor,Junior Counselor, Secretary, Treasurer,
Conductor, Inner Guard, Outer Guard,Musician, and three
Trustees.Appointive: Chaplain, Assistant Musician, Assistant Conductor,
four Color Bearers, and four Attendants.
Membership into our Order is by invitation of a Doe, who is the Proposer.
The application must be signed by the Proposer and two Members ofthe
Drove, who are References, as well as by an Elk Sponsor, other than
theApplicant, who must be an Elk in good standing. An Applicant must
believe in God, be an American citizen, and have attained the age of 21.
Additionally, the Order is non-sectarian and non-partisan.
Supreme Emblem Club of the USA
A small group of Elks' ladies began meeting together in 1917 to wrap
bandages for American troops during the First World War. They enjoyed the
sociability, and at the same time felt the joy of accomplishment. The
combination of assisting others and enjoying good fellowship appealed to
other women, and a community group came together.
Fifteen members of a group of ladies in Providence, Rhode Island, related
to members of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, who were active
under the name of Emblem Club, developed the idea of a national
organization of such groups. The organization was chartered in the State
of Rhode Island as the Supreme Emblem Club of the United States of America
by Esther A. Sweeney, Mary T. Duffy, Alice Farrell, Mary L. Clark, and
Charlotte O'Conner of the "original fifteen", on April 27, 1926, and filed
in the office of the Secretary of State of Rhode Island on May 3, 1926.
Nine Emblem Clubs were organized during the first year in the New England
States in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut.
This number has steadily increased and now, in more than seventy years of
formal existence, Emblem Clubs are located in every section of this
country, including Alaska and Hawaii. With this organization continuously
progressing, the future of Emblem is even more promising.
The Emblem Club attracts individuals of many diverse talents, abilities,
and ages, all of whom combine to make Emblem a very special organization.
In Emblem there is an important place for each member.