How Did It All Begin?
In the Beginning . . .
Though the Moose fraternal organization was founded in the late 1800’s with the modest goal of offering men an opportunity to gather socially, it was reinvented during the first decade of the 20th century into an organizational dynamo of men and women who set out to build a city that would brighten the futures of thousands of children in need all across North America.
When Dr. John Henry Wilson, a Louisville, KY, physician, organized a handful of men into the Loyal Order of Moose in the parlor of his home in the spring of 1888, he and his compatriots did so apparently for no other reason than to form a string of men’s social clubs. Lodges were instituted in Cincinnati, st. Louis, and the smaller Indiana towns of Crawfordsville and Frankfort by the early 1890’s, but Dr. Wilson himself became dissatisfied and left the infant order well before the turn of the century.
It was just the two remaining Indiana Lodges that kept the Moose from disappearing altogether, until the fall of 1906, when an outgoing young government clerk from Elwood, IN, was invited to enroll into the Crawfordsville Lodge. It was on James J. Davis’ 33rd birthday, October 27, that he became just the 247th member of the Loyal Order of Moose.
James J. Davis – Founder:
Mooseheart & Moosehaven
Davis, a native of Wales who had worked from boyhood as an “iron puddler” in the steel mills of Pennsylvania, had also been a labor organizer and immediately saw potential to build the tiny Moose fraternity into a force to provide protection and security for a largely working-class membership. At the time little or no government “safety net” existed to provide benefits to the wife and children of a breadwinner who died or became disabled. Davis proposed to “pitch” Moose membership as a way to provide such protection at a bargain price: annual dues of $5 to $10. Given a green light and the title of “Supreme Organizer” Davis and a few other colleagues set out to solicit members and organize Moose Lodges across the U.S. and southern Canada (In 1926, the Moose fraternity’s presence extended across the Atlantic, with the founding of the Grand Lodge of Great Britain.)
Davis’ marketing instincts were on-target: By 1912, the order had grown from 247 members in two Lodges, to a colossus of nearly 500,000 in more than 1,000 lodges. Davis, appointed the organization’s first chief executive with the new title of Director General, realized it was time to make good on the promise. The Moose began a program of paying “sick benefits” to members too ill to work-and, more ambitiously, Davis and the organization’s other officers made plans for a “Moose Institute,” to be centrally located somewhere in the Midwest that would provide a home, schooling a vocational training to children of deceased Moose Members.
The Birth of Mooseheart
After careful consideration of numerous sites, the Moose Supreme Council in late 1912 approved the purchase of what was known as the Brookline Farm – more than 1,000 acres along the then-dirt surfaced Lincoln Highway, between Batavia and North Aurora on the west side of the Fox River, about 40 miles west of Chicago. Ohio Congressman John Lentz, a member of the Supreme Council, conceived the name “Mooseheart” for the new community: “This,” he said, “will always be the place where the Moose fraternity will collectively pour out its heart, its devotion and sustenance, to the children of its members in need.”
So it was on a hot summer Sunday, July 27, 2913, that several thousand Moose men and women (for the Women of the Moose received formal recognition that year as the organization’s official female component) gathered under a rented circus tent toward the south end of the new property and placed the cornerstone for Mooseheart. The first 11 youngsters in residence were present, having been admitted earlier that month; they and a handful of workers were housed in the original farmhouse and a few rough-hewn frame buildings that had been erected that spring.
Addressing Need on the Other End of Life:
Mooseheart’s construction proceeded furiously over the next decade, but it only barely kept pace with the admissions that swelled the student census to nearly 1,000 by 1920. (Mooseheart’s student popular would reach a peak of 1,300 during the depths of the Great Depression; housing was often “barracks” style – unacceptable by today’s standards. Mooseheart officials now consider the campus’ ultimate maximum capacity as no more than 500.) Still, by the Twenties, Davis and his Moose colleagues thought the fraternity should do more – this time for aged members who were having trouble making ends meet in retirement. (A limited number of elderly members had been invited to live at Mooseheart since 1915.)
They bought 26 acres of shoreline property just south of Jacksonville, Florida, and in the fall of 1922, Moosehaven, the “City of Contentment,” was opened, with the arrival of its first 22 retired Moose residents. Moosehaven has since grown to a 63-acre community providing 1 comfortable home, a wide array of recreational activities and comprehensive health care to more than 400 residents.
As the Moose fraternity grew in visibility and influence, so did Jim Davis. President Warren Harding named him to his Cabinet as Secretary of Labor in 1921, and Davis continued in that post under Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover as well. In November 1930, Davis a Republican, won election to the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania, and he served there with distinction for the next 14 years. As both Labor Secretary and Senator, Davis was known as a conservative champion of labor, who fought hard for the rights of unions – but felt that the workingman should expect no “handouts” of any sort. In the Senate, it was Davis who spearheaded passage of landmark legislation to force building contractors to pay laborers “prevailing” union-level wages in any government construction work. The law bore his name: the Davis-Bacon Act.
The “Proof of Our Value”:
For a quarter-century the Moose had directed it efforts almost completely toward Mooseheart and Moosehaven; now, with discharged WWII Veterans driving Moose membership to nearly 800,000 members, Director General Giles set out to broaden the organization’s horizons. In 1949 he conceived and instituted what was to become the third great Moose endeavor of the modern era, the Civic Affairs program (later renamed Community Service). Giles explained his rationale: “Only three institutions have a God-given right to exist in a community, the home, the church and the school. The rest of us must be valuable to the community to warrant our existence, and the burden of proof of our value is on us.” The Community Service program has since flourished into a myriad of humanitarian efforts on the local Lodge level, as well as fraternity-wide projects such as the Moose Youth Awareness Program, in which bright teenagers go into elementary schools, daycare centers and the like to communicate an anti-drug message to 4 to 9 year-olds.
An Independent, Autonomous
Katherine Smith is First Grand Chancellor of “Women of the Moose”
Though the Women of the Moose (Originally termed the Women of Mooseheart Legion) had received formal recognition as a Moose auxiliary in 1913, they at first had little structured program of their own beyond the Chapter level. That changed in 1921, when Davis met and hired a remarkable woman named Katherine Smith.
When the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote in 1920, Smith, (from Indianapolis,) reasoned correctly, that women in politics would be a “growth market.” She quit her secretarial job to go to work in Warren Harding’s successful Presidential campaign – and still in her 20’s, she was rewarded with an appointment as Director of Public Employment in Washington. Labor Secretary Davis was her boss, and he immediately recognized her talent and drive. It took him five years to convince her to quit her government job and go to work for him running the Women of the Moose. A stereotypical “women’s program” held no interest for her, Smith argued. :So get out there and make a program,” Davis retorted. She did exactly that, as the organization’s first Grand Chancellor, for the next 38 years until her retirement in 1964, at which point the Women of the Moose boasted 250,000 members. It has since grown to more than 540,000 in approximately 1,600 Chapters.
The Ladies Have An Idea That Grows
When Muskego Moose Lodge 1057 was instituted in 1966, the wives of the members met in the back room of Bob & Lee’s tavern as a social get-together while Lodge members held their meetings. Gradually the women decided to give themselves a name and meet on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday – the same time and day that the Lodge met. This ‘club’ was called “The Better Halves”.
On behalf of the lodge, these ladies held rummage sales, organized the children’s Christmas parties, helped with the annual picnic and just generally pitched in to assist Lodge members whenever and wherever needed.
In 1970 permission was granted by Mooseheart for the formation of a ladies auxiliary – a chapter. Fifty wives, mothers, sisters or daughters of Lodge members were need to complete a charter. Finally on May 3, 1970 – a rainy Sunday afternoon – members of Milwaukee Chapter 345 held an impressive ceremony at Bob & Lee’s instituting Muskego Chapter 1617 of the Women of the Moose.
State and national dignitaries took part in the ceremony including Past Grand Council Member Doris Zitelman, Deputy grand Regent Marion Noeth and Catherine Brown as instituting officers.
After the formal institution of the Chapter, another ceremony was held enrolling the 31 ladies present as charter members of Muskego Chapter 1617. This was a beautiful ceremony and included a special address from a 50 year chapter member of Milwaukee Chapter, Anna Gropp, who also presented the class with a copy of the General Laws.
The next step in organizing the chapter was to install the board of officers, appointed officers and chapter development chairman. The first board of officers were Fran Mickelson as Senior Regent, Beverly Chase as Junior Graduate Regent, Nancy Callies as Junior Regent, Carol Hilt as Chaplain, Barbara Thibedeau as Treasurer and Susan Krueger as Recorder.
Through the years the work of the chapter has been a continuous program of progress and growth, plus a wealth of memories to treasure. Such as the time in 1972 when co-workers were preparing for an installation of new officers when the Muskego area was hit by a severe thunder and electrical storm, leaving the entire Muskego area without electricity.
The installation was scheduled for 7:30 pm at Denoon Beach Resort with a dance to follow. With no electricity it took a lot of scurrying by Lodge members to round up candles, kerosene and Coleman lanterns just to give enough light to read the ceremony. This particular night was also filled with many other minor calamities – a dress not returned from the cleaners; a broken zipper just as the ceremony was about to begin; participants trying to arrange for alternative transportation because their streets and driveways were blocked with fallen trees from the storm! Believe it or not – the dance was still held – but without the benefit of an electric guitar. It was an evening never to be forgotten!
Throughout the years, the Chapter has always worked side by side with the Lodge for the good of the Order, and has made substantial financial contributions toward building and remodeling programs.
But it’s not been all work and no play! The different committees have held dances and social functions such as: an authentic Hawaiian luau with miniature orchids flown in for the the occasion, Hawaiian dancers and mai-tais; a Mr/Miss America contest (the men were the participants); Spahnfreckels; card parties and a really spectacular Arabian Nights evening. Five gutsy co-workers decided to take Belly Dancing lessons and have an Arabian nights event – and they were GREAT! The evening was complete with a sultan, his harem and several professional dancers who also entertained.
Now (2005) with a new building and many new members, everyone is looking forward to continuing the tradition of FUN while supporting the very important work of the Moose Fraternity.