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Oak Grove #18 of the Woodmen Circle (North Baltimore, Ohio) - MS 198

Introduction | Agency History | Scope and Content | Series DescriptionInventory


The records of Oak Grove #18 of the Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle, North Baltimore, Ohio, date from 1912 to 1931. The history and workings of this fraternal society are reflected in one-half linear foot of minutes, constitution and by-laws, correspondence, financial reports, catalogs, brochures, and various membership and insurance forms.

The records were donated to the Women's Studies Archives Project (WSAP) of the Center for Archival Collections in October 1981 through the cooperation of Margaret Foltz, North Baltimore, and Jill Gates Smith, field specialist for the WSAP. Literary and property rights have been dedicated to the public and duplication is permitted for the purposes of preservation and scholarly research. The register was prepared by Paulette Weiser, graduate assistant for the WSAP, in March 1981.

Agency History

The Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle was affiliated with the Sovereign Camp of the Woodmen of the World (WOW) and both were secret fraternal societies organized primarily to provide life insurance for members, and secondarily, to serve social purposes.

Fraternal life insurance groups grew out of a distrust for commercial insurance companies in the latter half of the nineteenth century and had the added appeal of mutual aid, cooperation, social features, ritual, and secrecy. Many were based on the occupational, moral, racial, or religious similarities of members and were connected with skilled trade unions. They fostered a feeling of solidarity, especially for immigrants and uprooted Americans who had moved to the West or to the industrial centers of the East, filling a social void and providing group unity and personal bonds.

The first fraternal insurance group was organized in Meadville, Pennsylvania, in 1868 and was called the Ancient Order of United Workmen. Most in their original form had no reserve, and members paid as they went. When a member died, each other member paid a set amount, often $1, as a death benefit to survivors, or an annual assessment was levied to cover the year's estimated benefit needs.

The fraternal groups proliferated in the late 19th century and by 1895 their insurance in force surpassed regular insurance companies. By 1910 they had decreased to 2/5 of all insurance and from there declined rapidly, particularly during the Depression years. Many suffered financial problems and had to adopt such commercial methods as reserve funds and full-time agents. By 1933, only 6% of the country's insurance was written through fraternal insurance groups.

The Woodmen Circle was founded in 1891 by Joseph Cullen Root, and incorporated in 1895 with headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. Root had founded Modern Woodmen in 1883, which has its headquarters in Rock Island, Illinois, and severed ties with that group to found WOW and Woodmen Circle.

The Woodmen's Circle's stated objectives were to combine white males and females of sound health and moral character between ages of 16 and 52 into a secret, fraternal, beneficiary, and benevolent order. Members were to provide funds and comfort for relief of the sick; help educate members in moral, social, and intellectual matters; promote fraternal love and unity; create a fund for death benefits; and erect a monument at the grave of each deceased member with a certificate of $500 or more. Additionally, members were not to be engaged in the sale or making of alcoholic beverages. WOW was for men and the Woodmen Circle originally for women, with male members of WOW being allowed to participate. Juvenile membership was added to the Woodmen Circle by 1921.

The national organization was known as the Supreme Forest and was comprised of national officers and delegates from the states. National officers included the Supreme Guardian (presiding officer), Supreme Advisor (vice president), Supreme Clerk (recording, corresponding, and accounting secretary), Supreme Banker (custodian of funds and payer of warrants), five Supreme Managers (examiners, auditors, and in charge of all property), Supreme Chaplain, Supreme Inner and Outer Sentinels (greeters and sergeants-at-arms), and Supreme Physician (examiner of Grove physicians' qualifications, approver of beneficiary and death benefit applications, and keeper of records of applicants and deceased members). Biennial national meetings took place in odd-numbered years at the same time and location as the WOW.

The State Conventions were composed of state officers, committee members and delegates from the Groves. Officers were addressed as "Grand" on the state level, and officers' positions conformed to the national pattern.

Local groups were known as Groves, whose members were addressed as "Sovereign." Ten members were needed for organization and fifteen for charter. Groves were required to meet at least once a month. When youth were added, they could form Junior Circles, or be included in Grove membership. Groves usually sponsored drill teams which competed at state and national conventions. Officers again conformed to the national pattern, with three Sovereign Managers, instead of five, and a Sovereign Attendant, whose duty was to see that costumes and ceremony met prescribed form.

Applicants to Groves were given "careful investigation" before approval. Three negative votes within membership denied approval of any applicant. A $5 admission fee was charged, plus a $1 physical examination fee for the Grove physician. After approval by the local membership and Grove physician, final approval came from the Supreme Physician. Monthly assessments for insurance benefits were based on age at the time of membership.

Little is known of Oak Grove #18 of North Baltimore, Ohio, except for what can be gleaned from the records. They were found in the garage of the donor in an old suitcase, and Mrs. Foltz had no idea from whom or where they came from.

Modern Woodmen of America, Joseph Cullen Root's first insurance endeavor, still functions as a fraternal life insurance group with quarterly local camp meetings. The Camps, which correspond to Groves, now serve social and charitable purposes, often conducting fund-raising activities at meetings for donation to health and social organizations.

Scope and Content

The records of Oak Grove #18 of the Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle document some of the history, structure, and procedures of a secret and ritualistic fraternal life insurance organization from 1912 to 1931. The bulk of the records, however, date from 1919 to 1929.

The 1927 Ohio Convention proceedings are a full report of both business and social activities and reflect members' attitudes about their organization, its purposes, and about their fellow members. Unfortunately, the minutes of the Oak Grove #18 do not offer much more than a record of financial business transacted at meetings with only an occasional reference to more social activity and none to ritualistic activity.

The constitutions and by-laws offer the most complete record of the group's objectives, structure, and procedures relating to official and financial business. They, however, cover none of the ceremony.

The correspondence, legal, and financial records reflect more of the structure and procedures of the group, the number of members in Grove #18 and how that number decreased in the later 1920s, the cost of membership, and the encouragement by national officers to local groves to recruit new members. The printed material contains both in-house newsletters with information on other groves' and other fraternal organizations' social and charitable activities and promotional brochures explaining the benefits of membership in Woodmen Circle to prospective members. The catalog and premium list give the only evidence of the ceremonial aspect of Woodmen Circle with its photos and listings of such items as jewelry, badges, banners, sabres, costumes, and other paraphernalia for sale to members only.

While far from complete, with many series containing only scattered records, the collection does provide information on how and why a fraternal life insurance group organized and reflects some of its social appeal.

Series Description


November 4, 1919-June 18, 1923
Arranged chronologically in oversize volume.
Contains officers' names, meeting dates, results of elections of officers, financial transactions, treasurer's reports, and occasional comments on refreshments and social facets of the organization.

April 24-25, 1927.
(One item).
Contains a narrative explanation of the activities at the 1927 state convention of Woodmen Circle including an address by the national president, a drill team competition, entertainment, business meeting with committee and officers' reports, Grove reports, resolutions, a tribute to a deceased national director, an application drive, the election of state officers, and a list of delegates.

1917, 1921, 1925.
Arranged chronologically
Contains organizational objectives, list of officers and their duties, allowances for mileage and per diem, compensation of officers, membership requirements, application procedures, meeting order of business, insurance rates, explanation of benefits paid out, emergency fund, Grove and state convention organization, proofs of death, relief of aged and sick, and discipline of members.


August 23, 1919-January 1931 (scattered), n.d.
Arranged chronologically
Contains letters from national and state officers regarding new by-laws and procedures; individuals' applications, certificates, transfers and deaths; the group's Home for Aged Members and Orphan Children; requests for financial and membership reports; membership campaigns; and notices of meetings; also letters from members regarding benefits and transfers.

February 28, 1920-May 28, 1926.
Arranged chronologically
Contains letters from members and national officers regarding membership dues, insurance rates, benefits paid, assessment reports with a list of Grove #18 members, certificate numbers and types, rates paid by members, number of assessments, and total assessments paid for January 1921.


Arranged chronologically
Contains completed report forms with dates of reports; numbers of members; value of assessments forwarded; members' names, certificate numbers, and their advance assessments paid.


1912, 1921.
Arranged chronologically
Contains agreements for office and meeting space and includes leasers' names, date of lease, annual rental fee, length of lease, location of space, and officers' signatures.


1920-1925, 1929, n.d.
Arranged chronologically
Contains receipts for refreshments and assessments and dues paid, a receipt for a beneficiary certificate as proof of death, an invoice for transfer cards, and a list of liens of individual members.

July, October 1929.
Arranged chronologically
Contains completed forms with grove's name, date of report, monies collected and disbursed during quarter, funds being forwarded to national headquarters, and auditor's name and address.


1926, 1930, n.d.
Arranged chronologically
Contains a national fraternal society magazine with news of several organizations' activities; a newsletter with clippings of local grove activities; a bulletin regarding a competition in sales of insurance by Woodmen Circle members around the nation; and brochures on Woodmen Circle, its objectives, insurance options available, insurance rates, benefits, and salesmanship.

1916, 1920.
Arranged alphabetically, then chronologically.
Contains catalog, order blanks, price list, and premium list for Woodmen Circle sashes, badges, banners, costumes, jewelry, Bibles, watches, sabers, seals, gavels, ballot boxes, toiletry articles, pens, bags, spoons, dishes, and utensils.

1919-1925, n.d.
Arranged alphabetically by form title, then chronologically.
Contains membership applications, assessment notices and assessment report form, sample benefit certificates, Grove report forms, state convention delegate credentials forms, transfer card, notice of death, notice of marriage and name change, application for additional insurance and petition for referendum.


Box 1

  1. Proceedings of the Ohio Convention of the Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle (Additional membership information in folders 28-29), April 24-25, 1927
  2. Constitution and by-laws, 1917, 1921, 1925
  3. Incoming correspondence, August 23, 1919-January 21, 1926
  4. Incoming correspondence, December 28, 1927-January 3, 1931, n.d.
  5. Incoming financial correspondence, February 28, 1920-May 28, 1926
  6. Grove #18 monthly reports, 1919
  7. Grove #18 monthly reports, 1920
  8. Grove #18 monthly reports, 1921
  9. Grove #18 monthly reports, 1922
  10. Grove #18 rental agreements, 1912, 1921
  11. Receipts, invoices and lien list, 1920-1925, 1929 (scattered)
  12. Auditor's quarterly reports, July, October 1929
  13. Fraternal Monitor, October 1926
  14. Field Work Bulletin #8 "Omaha Trip", May 1926
  15. Grove Reporters News, August 1930
  16. Informational brochures, n.d.
  17. Benefits brochures, n.d.
  18. Salesmanship quotes, n.d.
  19. Woodmen Circle catalog and price list, 1916, 1920
  20. Woodmen Circle premium list, ca. 1916
  21. Applications for membership (7 blank, 2 completed), 1923, n.d.
  22. Assessment notices and blank report, 1919-1920
  23. Benefit certificates (sample), n.d.
  24. Grove reports (blank), 1921, n.d.
  25. State convention delegate credentials (blank), 1925
  26. Transfer card (blank), n.d.
  27. Death, membership and insurance forms (blank), n.d.
  28. Clerk's cash book, December 1912-March 1915
  29. Petition for charter, Woodmen Circle, n.d.

Oversize volume

  1. Minutes of Oak Grove #18, November 4, 1919-June 18, 1923

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