History of the BPOE
The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE); also often known as the Elks Lodge or simply The Elks, is an American fraternal order and social club founded in 1868. It is one of the leading fraternal orders in the U.S., claiming nearly one million members.
Grand Lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, 2750 No. Lakeview Avenue, Chicago, Illinois. Photograph taken on February 27, 2004 by Cosmo 1976
The Elks had modest beginnings in 1868 as a social club (then called the “Jolly Corks”) established as a private club to elude New York City laws governing the opening hours of public taverns. After the death of a member left his wife and children without income, the club took up additional service roles, rituals and a new name. Desiring to adopt “a readily identifiable create of stature, indigenous to America”, fifteen members voted 8-7 to favor the elk above the buffalo. Early members were mostly from theatrical performing troupes in New York City. It has since evolved into a major American fraternal, charitable and service order with more than a million members, both men and women, throughout the United States.
Membership was opened to African Americans in the 1970s and women in the mid-1900s, and currently excludes atheists. The opening of membership to women was mandated by the Oregon Public Accommodations Act, which was found by an appeals court to apply to the BPOE, and it has been speculated that the religious restriction might be litigated on the same basis. A year after the national organization changed its policy to allow women to join, the Vermont Supreme Court ordered punitive damages of $5,000 for each of seven woman whom a local chapter had rejected citing other reasons. Current members are required to be U.S. citizens over the age of 21 and believe in God.
The Hour of Recollection
Deceased and otherwise absent lodge members are recalled each evening at 11pm when the lodge esquire intones,, “It is the Hour of Recollection”. The exalted ruler or a member designated by him gives the 11 o’clock toast, of which this version is the most common:
“You have heard the tolling of eleven strokes. This is to remind you that with Elks, the hour of eleven has a tender significance. Wherever Elks may roam, whatever their lot in life may be, when this hour tolls upon the dial of night, the great heart of Elkdom swells and throbs. It is the golden hour of recollection, the homecoming of those who wander, the mystic roll call of those who will come no more. Living or dead, an Elk is never forgotten, never forsaken. Morning and noon may pass him by, the light of day sink heedlessly into the west. But ere the shadows of midnight shall fall, the chimes of memory shall be pealing forth the friendly message: To our absent members”.
Elks National Foundation
Established in 1928, the Elks National Foundation is the charitable arm of the BPOE. the foundation, with an endowment valued at more than $400 million (2008 figure), has contributed $253.5 million toward Elks’ charitable projects nationwide.
An interesting physical artifact of the order is the number of communal cemetery plots once favored by the group. Often these are marked with impressive statuary.
Due to the willingness of most Elk Lodges to respond to community needs and events, it is common to turn the BPOE abbreviation into a backronym for “Best People on Earth”.
Thanks go out to www.Wikipedia.org as well as www.elks.org for much of this history and other information throughout this site.