Knox County History

Part IX: Organizations & Societies


by Terry Hogan


By the late 1800's there was almost a Renaissance of organizations and societies throughout Knox County.  Secret societies, societies with stated purposes, and organizations with layers of officials and names that appeared to outdo the others.  These groups were still going strong in the mid- 1930s. But why?


Calkins, not disinclined to slide out on to a thin branch from time to time wrote:  "The ostensible purpose of all these societies is to unit people along the lines of their dominant interests, or to accomplish some needed social duty, but the prime urge back of it all is sociability, amusement, an excuse to get together; though vanity and social ambition may operate in respect to the supposably (sic) more exclusive organizations."  (Calkins, 1937).


As a matter of honesty, I really don't know.  I haven't read about this burst of social awareness, but I'm sure it has been studied.  So, I can only make some uneducated guesses.  My guess is that they appeared because they could.  By this, I mean that Galesburg and similar towns had grown prosperous enough, and the wealthier members had enough "free time" that time and money could be invested in organizations.  Motivations for the formation of various organizations may have varied as widely as the organizations themselves.  For some, it may have been a surrogate for the relatively classless society of the new wealthy.   For others, it was to implement a mission, driven by heart-felt or religious drive. Others were purely driven by economic advantage and what we call today "networking".


For example, Galesburg supported a number of different temperance organizations that were out to save men from the propensity towards evil ways.  There were labor unions of all types. And there were those secret societies that worked hard to make nonmembers feel excluded.  Although these secret societies tended to keep their purposes and bylaws secret, many did have a rigid and large hierarchy ("pecking order") to establish a class structure within the organization. These may well represent the desire for a class structure.  At least that is my guess.   Calkins (1937) noted that these organizations were still doing well as relatively recently as 1937 and that they still varied greatly in this structure. Calkins put it this way:  "In one the emphasis is on dignity and solemnity; in the other on good fellowship and informality - the difference between addressing the presiding officer as 'worshipful grand master' and calling him 'Bill'." 


But whether you agree or disagree with me, you cannot but agree that for whatever reasons, the late 1800's was a fertile ground for the growth and flourishing of organizations and societies too numerous to count.  Below I have listed just  a portion of these groups listed by Bateman's (1899) history of Knox County  and further restricted the listing to just Galesburg.


Ancient Order of Pyramids, Galesburg Council No. 136

The purpose was not given.  It was organized in 1898 with 25 members and by 1899 it had 73 members.  I have no idea what their purpose was. 


Ancient Order of United Workmen -  AOUW Hall 14.


Degree of Honor, Auxiliary to AOUW

This is the female counterpart to the Ancient Order of United Workmen. "Auxiliary" appears to be a fairly common "flag" denoting the female counterpart of a society.   They met on the first and second Wednesdays, but for what reason, I do not know. But their husbands met every Tuesday evening.  I suppose there is some logic there.


Supreme Court of Honor

This is another group associated with the AOUW, and if names mean anything, these members must be more honorable than the previous group as surely "supreme" must be greater that just a "degree of honor".  But seriously folks, no purpose is given for this group's existence and I don't know if these were parallel or sequential organizations.


Fraternal Tribunes

This group met on the first and third Mondays at the AOUW, which must have been a booming place.


Home Forum Benefit Order

This group met on the second and fourth Fridays at the Pythian Temple on North Cherry Street.


Independent Order of Forresters, Court Knox No. 1482.

Perhaps these were lumbermen who couldn't spell? (poor joke). Again, I do not know the nature or mission of this organization.


Independent Order of Odd Fellows

What can I say?  There must have been a great number of odd fellows in Galesburg as they had three different lodges and one "Encampment".  One of the lodges was even Scandinavian. The Odd Fellows must have been, at least collectively, one of the larger organizations in Galesburg, judging by the sheer number of "lodges".


Degree of Rebekah

This was the female auxiliary to the Odd Fellows.


Grand United Order of Odd Fellows "(Colored)"

Galesburg may have been a "hot bed" for abolitionists and greatly advocated the end of slavery, but apparently Galesburg's Odd Fellows were not in the forefront of the movement for integration. 


And then we come to the "Knights".  You may have thought that Knights wore armor and killed dragons that were hot after fair maidens.  But judging from the existence of all these societies, there must have been at least 28 Knights in every month.  Here are the Knightly listings:


Knights of the Globe

Knights of the Maccabees

Ladies of the Maccabees

Knights of Pythias

Dramatic Order Knights of Khorassan

Rathbone Sisters (Auxiliary to Knights of Pythias)

Select Knights of America


But there is light after knights and more groups to list:



Order of Eastern Star (Auxiliary to the Masons)


Miner of Honor Lodge - Galesburg Shaft No. 7


Modern Woodmen of America

Now, I think I know a little bit about this organization because my grandfather was a member as a young man of either this group or the next one below.  They had uniforms and often carried an ax. It was a fraternal order and at some point grew into an insurance organization that I think may still be in existence.


Knox County Association of Modern Woodmen

Royal Neighbors of America (Auxiliary to Modern Woodmen)


Mystic Workers of the World

National Union

Royal Arcanum

Royal Circle

Tribe of Ben Hur

McWade Auxiliary (of what, I don't know)


Of course any Galesburg listing of organizations could not fail to include the Temperance Societies -

Catholic Total Abstinence Society

Ladies' Auxiliary; Ladies Temperance Aid Society

Independent Order of Good Templars

Temple of Honor and Temperance


And even 30 years after the end of the Civil War, there were several Patriotic Societies:

Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) 

Women's Relief Corps (Auxiliary to GAR)

Auxiliary, Daughters of Liberty- Quaker Lady Council No. 1

Union Veterans' Union

Auxiliary, Women's Union Veteran's Union


Frankly the list goes on, if one wanted to list all the labor unions that ranged from boilermakers, to cigarmakers.  For example, the national headquarters of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen was located in Galesburg for years. There was also a great abundance of women's clubs that have interesting names such as Clio Club, Euterpean Club, and my all time favorite, "Mothers Club". The Mother's club had the stated purpose of "sympathy and counsel, and the instruction of the members in the general principles of child training and domestic science". Given the trials of mothers, I wonder if many of them were members of the temperance societies.  I'd think they'd need a stiff drink from time to time. It is hard on young mothers now, with disposal diapers, automatic washing machines, and childrenŐs videos and DVD's. I cannot imagine what young mothers had to deal with in the late 1800's. Even in this late era of history, women's day-to-day lives remain largely un-chronicled.


So there it is.  Our Galesburg ancestors were nothing more than "club hoppers" going from one club to another, night after night.  It's a wonder that the fields ever got plowed or the outhouse moved.  Admittedly, I have treated this period far too lightly.  It is an odd period of time in our history.  Much of the superficial treatment is, admittedly, a combination of lack of space and an abundance of ignorance. 


It was what it was, and I'll leave it to someone else to make sense of this period of time when there was a flair for organizations of all types, even if we don't know why or what they were all about.  But if you had ancestors in Galesburg in the late 1800's and early 1900's, just because of sheer numbers, they may have belonged to one or more groups.  Calkins noted that in the 1930's, Galesburg had so many clubs and societies that there was a club, on average, for every 100 residents.



Bateman, Newton, et al. 1899. Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and Knox County. Munsell Publishing Company. Chicago and New York.

Calkins, Earnest. 1937. They Broke the Prairie.  Charles Scribner's Sons. New York