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Overheard in GenForum: Ladies Clubs and Lodges from 1880s
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

February 24, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I am trying to identify a photo of one of my ancestors from approx. 1880. The women are dressed in white dresses with aprons shaped like clovers and they are wearing hats with clovers on them as well. I know from her obit that she was involved with the Rebekahs, Eastern Star and Ladies Aide Societies. Does anyone know anything about these groups or any group that used a clover as part of their uniform? -- Lisa

A: As you may be aware, some of the societies that you have mentioned are female affiliates to fraternal organizations. It was not unusual for the wives to join these female organizations.

Fraternal organizations abound and many of our ancestors joined one or more of them. These organizations were a chance for the men to get together in a brotherly situation to help them grow spiritually.

Many of our ancestors joined one or more of the many fraternal organizations that were in existence.

The Rebekahs

Let us first look at the Rebekahs. This was the female organization of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Known as the Rebekah Degree, it was originally written in 1851 by Schuyler Colfax.

It was at the annual session in 1851, held in Baltimore, Maryland, that Schuyler Colfax and his committee gave their report. It turned out to be quite a heated action. There were many schemes to try and get it postponed, but in the end, the women made sure that it was decided on during the annual session. Some of them went so far as to tell their husbands that if they didn't vote yes, they need not come home.

It would be another sixteen years before it became a fully recognized Degree with all the rights and laws of other Degrees. However, it would not be until 1889 that the first National Convention of the Degree of Rebekah would be held.

The Rebekahs, like the Oddfellows, have different levels. In the Rebekahs, Colfax chose them from the Bible: Rebekah for affection; Esther for patriotism; Sarah for faith; Deborah for courage; Miriam for zeal and devotion; and Mother of Sampson and Hannah for piety. The name of the degree as Rebekah came from the unselfishness symbolized by Rebekah.

The Order of the Eastern Star

Like the Rebekahs, this is open to women aged 18 years and older. The Eastern Star is associated with the Masons, and Master Masons in good standing can also be members of the Order of the Eastern Star. And like the Rebekahs, this order can trace its roots back to the mid 1800s.

Originally conceived and created in 1850 by Dr. Rob Morris, it was based on the lives of five Biblical women. The women, Adah, Ruth, Esther, Martha, and Electa were chosen because of their examples for the tenets of the Order. These women each represent one of the tenets, those being fidelity, constancy, loyalty, faith and love.

The history of the Eastern Star has been divided into three Eras:

  • The First Era (1850-1866) under the leadership of Dr. Rob Morris
  • The Second Era (1860-1876) under the leadership of Robert McCoy
  • The Third Era (1876 to present) under the leadership of the General Grand Chapter, Order of the Easter Star

In Conclusion

To find out more, along with who to contact to find out about your ancestor's involvement in these organizations, you will want to visit the following sites:

While you are researching your female ancestor, remember that she was a member of these societies, so it is likely that her husband was a member of the Independent Order of Oddfellows and Freemasonry.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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