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International Shipmasters Association, GLMS-28

Introduction | Agency History | Scope and Contents | Series Description | Inventory


The records of the International Ship Master's Association were transferred to the Historical Collections of the Great Lakes over the period from 1975 to 1989. The instrument of gift was signed in March 1989.

Literary and property rights have been dedicated to the public and duplication is permitted for the purposes of preservation and scholarly research. Final processing was completed in 1990 by Mark J. Barnes and A. J. Dufresne with the assistance of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

 Agency History

The origins of the International Ship Masters' Association lie in the efforts of the professional ship captains to cope with the hardships encountered by their families following the deaths of members of their trade. In late-nineteenth century America, benevolent societies grew with the demand for insurance coverage. The death of the first mate for the freighter BOSTON during the winter of 1886 in Buffalo, New York, initiated a chain of events leading to the birth of ISMA. On finding the widow of his friend to be destitute, Captain John H. Ivors collected money for her relief. Other ship maters contributed and plans were made to create a continuing organization to administer an endowment for their profession.

The Excelsior Marine Benevolent Association was chartered in 1886 with its first lodge in Buffalo. Ship masters in other locations were interested in the concept of a benevolent society that paid benefits to the survivors of deceased members. Lodges in other cities resulted. In 1891 the structure of a Grand Lodge overseeing local lodge activities was instituted and annual meetings were held thereafter with delegates attending from each affiliate to vote on issues raised by the members.

At the 1893 annual meeting the organization's name was changed to the Ship Masters' Association. By 1916 the presence of Canadian members resulted in the adoption of the current name, the International Ship Masters' Association.

ISMA was founded to serve as a benevolent society and not as a labor union. Nonetheless, members developed contracts with legislative bodies and trade associations to lobby for improvements in their working environment.

Today, ISMA is over a century old and remains a vital force in discussions on Great Lakes shipping policies in the United States and Canada. The following lodges are currently in operation:

  • Lodge 2 - Port Huron, Michigan
  • Lodge 3 - Chicago, Illinois
  • Lodge 4 - Cleveland, Ohio
  • Lodge 7 - Detroit, Michigan
  • Lodge 9 - Toledo, Ohio
  • Lodge 12 - Twin Ports (Duluth, Minnesota-Superior, Wisconsin)
  • Lodge 15 - Georgian Bay/Huronia (Owen Sound, Ontario)
  • Lodge 16 - Thunder Bay, Ontario
  • Lodge 17 - Ashtabula, Ohio
  • Lodge 18 - Green Bay, Wisconsin
  • Lodge 19 - Northeast Michigan (Alpena, Michigan)
  • Lodge 20 - St. Catharine's, Ontario
  • Lodge 21 - Muskegon, Michigan
  • Lodge 22 - Twin Sault (Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan - Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario)

 Scope and Content

Of particular interest to researchers studying the development of the Great Lakes maritime shipping industry, the ISMA records (17.5 cubic feet) are present from the inception of the Excelsior Marine Benevolent Association (ISMA's predecessor) in 1886 to 1990. Regrettably, documentation on the years before 1960 is sparse. Available in the largest volume are six cubic feet of membership files that include, in part, beneficiary certificates and membership information cards reflecting ISMA's interest in providing death benefits to members' families.

Files on the annual meetings (3.5 c.f.) provide an extensive set of proceedings with complete coverage from 1934 to 1989. Fifteen earlier sets of proceedings are present, but none predate 1906. Programs offer coverage in complete form for 1959-1990.

Correspondence files of the principal officers (3.5 c.f.) range from 1917-1990, but fall most heavily after 1960. Files of the Grand President, Grand Secetary, and Grand Treasurer comprise most of hte officer files. Primary topics in the correspondence are membership matters, benefit payments, lobbying agenda, and annual meeting preparations.

Correspondence with local lodges (2 c.f.) provides useful commentaries on the interaction of local members with Grand Lodge officers. Lodges in Cleveland, Ohio and Toledo, Ohio are heavily represented. Files are also present for lodges in Alpena, Michigan; Ashtabula, Ohio; Buffalo, New York; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; Georgian Bay-Huronia, Ontario; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Ogdensburg, New York; Port Huron, Michigan; St. Catharine's, Ontario; Twin Ports (Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin); and Twin Sault (Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Ontario). Significant portions of this correspondence pertain to positions taken on resolutions scheduled for discussion at annual meetings.

Financial records (1 c.f.) contain a fairly complete picture of the conditions of ISMA for the 1940s and for the period 1962-1985. Death claims are thoroughly documented for the period 1907-1976.

Committee records (0.5 c.f.), primarily those of the Navigation and Legislative Committee used in conjunction with correspondence files lead to information on ISMA member reactions to legislation regarding maritime affairs. The increasing emphasis on discussion of technology in navigation after the 1930s is reflected in committee records.

A brief file on the history of ISMA is present (0.5 c.f.) that includes a copy of the original charter for the Excelsior Marine Benevolent Association from 1886.

Membership Directories are available for 1896-1967. These items have been assigned the Library of Congress call number GL/HE/565/V71/S5 (1910, etc.) and are shelved with the HCGL's book collection.

Researchers should note that photographs (24) have been separated from the collection and filed in the HCGL's main photograph collection and printed materials have been separated and cataloged with the book and pamphlet collection.

Note to researchers: ISMA's newsletter, ISMALetter is kept in the HCGL's main periodicals collection.

 Series Description


Box 1
Arranged chronologically for the correspondence and constitutions.
Series contains scattered correspondence documenting the history of ISMA, copies of constitutions and bylaws for the organization, copies of ritual books stored with bylaws, printed materials regarding annual meetings and other aspects of the organization's history, and a copoy of the 1886 articles of incorporation for ISMA's predecessor, the Excelsior Marine Benevolent Association.

Box 2
Arranged chronologically
Series contains files of the Navigation and Legislative Committee. Other committees are sparsely represented. The Navigation and Legislative Committee studies issues affecting maritime trade including, but not limited to, licensing of pilots, safety, channel marking, Coast Guard regulations, international cooperation on shipping matters, and pollution. Resolutions approved by the Navigation and Legislative Committee and proposed for discussion at ISMA annual meetings accompany the correspondence in these files.

Boxes 3-4
Arranged chronologically
Series contains printed and typescript copies of ISMA annual meeting proceedings. Information centers on reports of ISMA officers, statements of condition for local lodges, and records of discussions held at each session.

Box 5
Arranged chronologically
Series contains printed programs for the ISMA annual meetings. Information includes schedule of events, lists of ISMA officers, historical information on the organization, and advertising provided to sponsors of the meetings.

Box 6
Arranged chronologically
Series contains credential forms for members of local lodges attending the annual meetings. The credentials certify that the delegate is authorized to vote on meeting proposals and resolutions for the local lodges.

Box 6
Arranged chronologically
Series contains resolutions for discussion at annual meetings prepared by local lodge members or ISMA officers. These resolutions cover such topics as legislation that ISMA supports or opposes, shipping regulation issues, membership rules, and other matters of concern to ISMA.

Box 6
Arranged chronologically
Series contains correspondence regarding planning and conducting activities for ISMA meetings.

Boxes 7-12
Arranged alphabetically by surname
Series contains certificates that serve as notice that the recipient is an ISMA member and is entitled to have death benefits paid to the beneficiary noted on the document. Related correspondence accompanies the certificates. Cards from Rosters of Grand Lodge and Local Lodge Officers (see below) are also frequently present.

Box 13
Arranged by lodge, then chronologically, then alphabetically by surname
Series contains a handwritten record of dues payments by members of the local lodges. Coverage is for the period 1966-1969. Section one covers lodges 1-18 for 1966-1967 (pp. 1-237). Section two covers lodges 1-18 for 1968 (pp. 238-347). Section three covers lodges 1-18 for 1969 (pp. 348-445).

Box 14
Arranged chronologically
Series contains rosters of members listing names, addresses, member numbers, local lodge in which member participates, and membership status (active, associate, new, professional).

Box 14
Arranged by lodge number, with the Grand Lodge preceeding the local lodges
Series contains rosters of the Grand Lodge officers in a cumulative form for 1891-1987. Information includes names, years served, position held, and home city. Rosters for local lodge officers give the lodge name, year, name of officer, and position held.

Box 14
Arranged by lodge number and then chronologically
Series contains reports that record changes in membership categories for local lodges on an annual basis.

Box 14
Arranged chronologically
Series contains correspondence between Grand Lodge and local lodges regarding membership in ISMA.

Card file
Arranged alphabetically by surname
Series contains 3 x 5" note cards recording ISMA members' names, lodge numbers, beneficiary certificate number, age at initiation, address, beneficiary name and relation to member.

Boxes 15-16
Arranged by lodge number
Series contains correspondence, membership records, minutes, and printed material on Lodges 1-4, 6-7, 9-10, 12, 15, 17-19, 20, and 22. The most extensive files are on Lodge 4 in Cleveland, Ohio and Lodge 9 in Toledo, Ohio.


Boxes 17-19
Arranged chronologically
Series contains correspondence of the Grand President, Grand Secretary, and Grand Treasurer. Frequently discussed topics are membership issues, legislative interests of ISMA, committee functions, and annual meetings.

Box 19 Arranged chronologically
Series contains correspondence sent and received by the Grand Lodge. This series differs from the above, in that the files were not kept by individual officers, so one may expect to see files of several officers mixed in a reader file. Correspondence of the Grand Secretary tends to be predominant in quantity. For some years, files were divided by sent and received categories, in other years, they were mixed.

Boxes 19-22
Arranged alphabetically by subject, then chronologically
Series contains subject files on such topics as the US Coast Guard, the ISMA Directory, Local Lodges, and the ISMA Newsletter. See the Inventory for all subject headings.


Box 23
Arranged chronologically
Series contains financial statements, cash receipt and disbursement statements, reports of examination, and other audit related reports.

Box 23
Arranged chronologically by death date
Series contains certificates regarding proof of death of an ISMA member filed by beneficiaries. Of note are lists of holders of assessment cards showing members who paid into the endowment fund from 1933-1976 (arranged by assessment card number). Also present is a list of persons to whom checks from the endowment fund were written for 1932-1958.

Box 23
Arranged chronologically
Series contains correspondence, benefit certificates, records of Grand Lodge meetings regarding the endowment fund, and member survey forms regarding the administration of the endowment fund.

Box 23
Arranged chronologically
Series contains monthly and annual financial reports prepared by the ISMA Grand Secretary.

Box 23
Arranged chronologically
Series contains correspondence and US Treasury Department circulars regarding taxes.


Box 1


1-2, Historical Files on ISMA, 1891, 1920, 1922, 1927, 1964-1965, 1972, 1975-1976, 1986-1992, n.d.
3-9, Constitution and Bylaws, 1933, 1952, 1970, 1973, 1980, 1983-1985, n.d.
10, Inland Navigation Rules, 1980
11, "The International Ship Masters' Association," Captain Herbert W. Dosey, Inland Seas, v. 33, no. 4, Winter 1977
12, Articles of Incorporation for the Excelsior Marine Benevolent Association, 1886

Box 2


1-20, Navigation and Legislative Committee, 1923, 1939, 1963-1964, 1966, 1968-1976, 1982-1994
21, Committees, General, 1985-1987, 1993

Box 3: Printed Proceedings of ISMA Annual Meetings


1-49, 1906, 1908-1911, 1914-1915, 1917, 1921-1923, 1925, 1927, 1929, 1932, 1934, 1967

Box 4


1-22, Printed Proceedings of ISMA Annual Meetings, 1968-1989, 1991-1993
23-47, Typescript Proceedings of ISMA Annual Meetings, 1969-1970, 1973-1974, 1976-1978, 1980-1986, 1989
*, See Box 22 for a continuation of the proceedings file

Box 5: Programs for ISMA Annual Meetings


1-40, 1948, 1951, 1957, 1959-1996

Box 6


1-13, Credentials for Delegates from eacah local lodge attending the Annual Meetings, 1964, 1966-1974, 1976, 1986
14-22, Resolutions upon which votes were taken at the ISMA Annual Meetings, 1914, 1921, 1929-1930, 1934-1937, 1939, 1941-1942, 1944, 1962, 1964-1965, 1968-1969, 1971-1972, 1975-1977, 1980, 1982-1987
23-50, Correspondence regarding ISMA Annual Meetings, 1961-1992

Box 7: Membership Beneficiary Certificates, A-B

Box 8: Membership Beneficiary Certificates, C-F

Box 9: Membership Beneficiary Certificates, G-J

Box 10: Membership Beneficiary Certificates, K-M

Box 11: Membership Beneficiary Certificates, N-Si

Box 12: Membership Beneficiary Certificates, Sk-Z

Box 13: Membership Dues Book for Local Lodges, 1966-1969

Box 14


1-15, ISMA Membership Rosters, 1971, 1973, 1976, 1980, 1985-1990
16-29, Rosters of Officers in Local Lodges, [1891-1962], 1963-1973, 1983-1987
30-46, Rosters of Local Lodges, 1964-1988
47-62, Membership Status Reports from Local Lodges, 1964-1974, 1986-1987
63-69, Membership Correspondence, 1960, 1962-1974, 1979, 1981, 1983-1987

Card File: Membership cards, A-Z

Box 15: Local Lodges


1-5, Lodge 1 - Buffalo, New York, Correspondence, 1965-1973, 1977-1978
6-7, Lodge 2 - Port Huron, Michigan, Correspondence, 1963-1973, 1989-1993
8-11, Lodge 3 - Chicago, Illinois, Correspondence, 1963-1974, 1989-1993
12-36, Lodge 4 - Cleveland, Ohio, Chronologic correspondence, 1961, 1963-1976, 1989-1993
Subject correspondence:

  1. Annual Ball, 1960, 1977
  2. Ladies Auxiliary, 1977
  3. Leases, 1963-1964, 1968-1978, 1975
  4. Leases File, 1950, 1960, 1963
  5. Certificates, n.d.
  6. Membership Book, 1890-1893
  7. Minutes, 1890-18932, 1959-1975

37, Lodge 6 - Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Correspondence, 1891, 1968
38-40, Lodge 7 - Detroit, Michigan, Correspondence, 1963-1974, 1980-1981, 1983-1985, 1987-1993
Minutes, 1987-1988
Printed Material, 1988, n.d.

Box 16: Local Lodges--Lodge 7, Detroit, Michigan


  1. Financial Records, 1937-1965
  2. Minutes, January 14, 1937-January 15, 1957
  3. Minutes, January 29, 1957-December 21, 1965
  4. Minutes, January 6, 1970-December 9, 1975
  5. Minutes, January 6, 1976-January 30, 1979

Box 17: Local Lodges--Lodge 7, Detroit, Michigan


  1. Minutes, February 6, 1979-February 19, 1985
  2. Minutes, February 26, 1985-January 8, 1991

Box 18


1-8, Lodge 9 - Toledo, Ohio, Correspondence, 1962-1977, 1980-1983, 1989-1993
Membership Book, ca. 1930-1970
Minutes, 1944-1948
9-11, Lodge 10 - Ogdensburg, New York, Correspondence, 1939-1931, 1963-1973
Dues/Membership Book, 1917-1951
12-14, Lodge 12 - Twin Ports--Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin; Correspondence, 1963-1973, 1989-1993
15-16, Lodge 15 - Toronto, Ontario, Correspondence, 1962-1972, 1989-1993
17, Lodge 16 - Thunder Bay, Ontario, Correspondence, 1989-1993 18, Lodge 17 - Ashtabula, Ohio, Correspondence, 1963-1974, 1989-1993 19-23, Lodge 18 - Green Bay, Wisconsin, Correspondence, 1963-1974, 1989-1993 24, Lodge 19 - Alpena, Michigan, Correspondence, 1983, 1989-1993 25, Lodge 20 - St. Catharine's, Ontario, Correspondence, 1985, 1989-1993 26, Lodge 21 - Muskegon, Michigan, Correspondence, 1989-1993 27, Lodge 22 - Twin Sault: Sault Ste. Marie,
Michigan and Ontario, Correspondence, 1988, 1989-1993 28, Lodge 23 - Grand Traverse, Correspondence, 1991-1993

Box 19: Subject Correspondence, Grand Officers


1-29, Grand President, 1962-1995
30-46, Grand Secretary, 1920-1939, 1960-1969

Box 20: Subject Correspondence, Grand Secretary


1-56 Grand Secretary, 1970-1993

Box 21: Subject Correspondence


1-6, Grand Treasurer, 1963-1967, 1971-1975, 1979
7-27, Grand Lodge, 1973-1992
28, Cleveland Harbor Study, 1980-1983
29-31, Coast Guard, 1963-1977, 1981, 1983
32, Cowan, James A, [1960-1988]
33-46, Directory, 1944, 1953-1974, n.d.
47-48, Expenses, [1917-1978]
49, Form Letters, [1943-1973]

Box 22: Subject Correspondence


1, Literary Productions, n.d.
2-10, Local Lodges, 1965-1968, 1974-1976
11, Logo for ISMA, 1989
12, Miscellaneous, 1961-1963, 1966, 1976
13-21, Newsletter, 1982-1992
22, Poe Lock Study, 1983
23, Proceedings, 1994-
24, Walters, Burris, 1970-1971
25, Weather Bureau, 1962-1963, 1967-1969, 1972-1973

Box 23


1-13, Audits, 1932, 1943-1944, 1946-1947, 1962-1974, 1976-1978, 1980-1985
14-28, Death Claims, 1907-1976
29-39, Endowment Fund, 1938, 1945-1963, 1975-1976
40-44, Grand Secretary's Financial Reports, 1962-1973
45, Taxes, 1940, 1942-1943, 1945, 1957-1959, 1961, 1963

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