Showing posts with label Joseph Cullen Root. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joseph Cullen Root. Show all posts

Friday, June 14, 2013

The History of Woodmen of America and Those Amazing Tree Stones

I am out of commission for a couple of weeks, due to hand surgery.  Today's blog post, about Woodmen of the World, was originally published in 2011.

If you visit cemeteries often, you’ve probably noticed the tree stone monuments, especially in the West, Midwest and South.  As mentioned last Friday, two organizations are given credit for their proliferation, Modern Woodmen of America and Woodmen of the World.  Today we’ll explore the group that is responsible for the sheer number of them and why.

Joseph Cullen Root
Joseph Cullen Root originally founded the first group, Modern Woodmen of America (MWA), because he wanted to create a fraternal benefit society that would "bind in one association the Jew and the Gentile, the Catholic and the Protestant, the agnostic and the atheist."  While he succeeded with MWA being that type of organization, heated arguments resulted in Root and another man being evicted from the society.

Joseph Cullen Root originally founded the first group, Modern Woodmen of America (MWA), because he wanted to create a fraternal benefit society that would "bind in one association the Jew and the Gentile, the Catholic and the Protestant, the agnostic and the atheist."  While he succeeded with MWA being that type of organization, heated arguments resulted in Root and another man being evicted from the society.

Root kept the name ‘woodmen’ because he was inspired by a sermon that talked about “woodmen clearing the forest to provide for their families.”  Root saw Woodmen of the World as being an organization that would “clear away problems of financial security for its members.”

Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle
A women’s auxiliary for WOW was known as the Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle.  It was founded in 1892.  In 1895, Root and F.A. Falkenburg took control of the Circle and reformed it into the Woodmen Circle, which was incorporated into a separate fraternal benefit society.  In 1965, Woodmen of the World acquired it.  

Neighbors of Woodcraft
Another women’s auxiliary was formed in 1897, known as the Women of Woodcraft.  This organization encompassed nine western states.  In 1917 the Women of Woodcraft changed its name to the Neighbors of Woodcraft, to reflect the fact that both men and women were accepted in the group.  Neighbors of Woodcraft merged with Woodmen of the World in 2001.

Woodmen of the World Building
Woodmen of the World occupied the tallest building in Omaha, and the tallest building between Chicago and the West Coast, (19 stories) for many years.  In 1969 their current 30-story building was constructed.  It remained Omaha’s tallest structure until 2002.

Woodmen of the World Meeting
Similar to the Modern Woodmen of America, WOW became involved in the community by routinely holding dinners, dances and society events.  The organization also provided college scholarships for high school students and held summer camps for local youth.  By the beginning of the twentieth century, WOW had close to 1-million members and over 3,000 chapters or ‘lodges’ across the country.  By the 1920’s over one-quarter of American families belonged to some type of fraternal organization or society.

WOW Radio
In 1922, WOW began it’s own radio station, WOAW, as a way to reach out to thousands of people at one time.   At that time, WOAW’s 500-watt signal reached ships in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  In 1926 the call letters were changed to WOW and the power was increased to 1,000 watts.  In 1935 WOW was granted the right to operate at 5,000 watts, making it one of the most powerful radio stations in the country.   

Johnny Carson
Then in 1949, the broadcasting company decided to launch WOW-TV. One of the first performers on the television station was local resident, Johnny Carson, who had a daily show called The Squirrel’s Nest.  Meredith Corporation bought out the radio and TV station in 1958.  In 1999, the Journal Broadcast Group from Milwaukee purchased the stations and the historic call letters were changed.

The Woodmen of the World organization was probably best known for its gravestones. From 1890 to 1900, WOW’s life insurance policies had a proviso that provided for the grave markers, free of charge for members.  From 1900 to the mid- 1920’s, members purchased a $100 rider to cover the cost of the monument.  By the mid-20’s, the organization had discontinued the grave marker benefit due to the increased cost of the stones.

The society designed a four to five foot high tree trunk monument pattern for adults and three stacked logs for children.  WOW would send a copy of the pattern to the local stone carver in the deceased woodman’s hometown, so that all of the tree stones would be similar in appearance.  

But other decorations were added to the tree trunk, thereby making each marker more individualistic.  Many times, the tree stone pattern was altered; sized differently, cut in a different manner, or branches were added or broken off each time a family member was buried.

Symbols found on the tree stones include axes, mauls, wedges, any type of tool used in woodworking.  (An occupation, hobby or interest in the wood industry has never been required to be a member of Woodmen of the World.) Doves became popular and are also found on many WOW tree stones. 

WOW later created a simpler template of a log that would rest atop a regular gravestone.  The WOW motto  “Dum Tacet Clamet,” meaning, “Though silent, he speaks” was inscribed on the log.  Members could order the log to be placed on a deceased woodman’s regular grave marker. A woodman emblem is now available and can be attached to a regular gravestone.

Root declared that June 6th of each year to be ‘Woodmen Memorial Day” and woodmen who had died should be remembered and honored.  As with Modern Woodmen of America, Woodmen of the World held ‘remembrance celebrations’ when a woodman died.  A parade of members would march to the cemetery where the tree stone monument would be unveiled and dedicated in a moving ceremony held by the local lodge.

Today, Woodmen of the World is one of the largest fraternal benefit society with open membership in the United States.  The organization provides not only insurance, but also investment, bonds, real estate and mortgage loans to its members. Its 2010 financial performance included gross revenue of $1.2 billion.  WOW is active in local communities, providing aid to senior citizens, the physically impaired and orphans.  Woodmen of the World has partnered with the American Red Cross to provide disaster relief nationwide. 
WOW celebrated its 120th Anniversary last year.  Its motto has changed over the years to "Woodmen of the World -With You Through Life."  Although Woodmen of the World made the tree stones popular, they were in use by the Victorian Rustic Movement many years before WOW was formed.  The Sears and Roebuck catalogue and the Montgomery Ward catalogue also offered variations of the tree stone to its customers at the turn of the century.

Even though monument benefits have not been included in the WOW package for years, the society makes sure that "no Woodmen shall rest in an unmarked grave."  A fitting tribute to WOW members, and a brilliant way to augment those striking and outstanding tree stone monuments into cemeteries everywhere.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Modern Woodmen of America

Tree Stone Grave Marker

If you've spent much time wandering cemeteries, you’ve come across those realistic, but sometimes ornate, tree stone grave markers.  While intriguing, there are always questions concerning them: How did they come about?  What do they represent?  And is there a difference between the organizations MWA and WOW?  Read on…….

Joseph Cullen Root
Joseph Cullen Root founded Modern Woodmen of America in Lyons, Iowa in 1883.  Root was a member of several fraternal organizations and wanted to create one that would provide insurance benefits to a family when the husband/father died.   Most fraternal organizations at the time were tied to religious orders.  But Root imagined one without religious ties, a society that would “bind in one association, the Jew and the Gentile, the Catholic and the Protestant, the Agnostic and the Atheist.”
Root decided on the woodmen name after hearing a minister describe his congregation as ‘trees in God’s forest.” When first founded, modern woodmen were white men between the ages of 18 and 45, from rural Midwestern states.  The home office of MWA began in Fulton, Illinois in 1884 and moved to Rock Island, Illinois in 1897, where it remains today.

Royal Neighbors
of America
In 1888, the ladies auxiliary of the MWA, the Royal Neighbors of America (RNA), was started.  Their symbol was a five-petal flower.

Woodmen of the World Logo
In 1890, after a heated dispute, Root left the Modern Woodmen of America to found another fraternal insurance benefit society, Woodmen of the World (WOW or WOTW) in Omaha, Nebraska.

Foresters Drill Teams

The Modern Woodmen of America (MWA) became well known for their drill teams.  Known as the Foresters, over 10,000 units, made up of over 160,000 men performed nationally from 1893 through the late 1930’s.   The Foresters Drill Teams performed at parades and festivals across the country, and even entertained at the White House for President Hoover.

MWA TB Sanatorium
MWA members were also known for their community assistance.  The organization built a 1,000-acre, $1.5 million dollar tuberculosis sanatorium in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1909, one of the largest in the country.  It was named as one of the most outstanding TB institutions by the American College of Surgeons. Over 12, 000 MWA members were treated there for free.   The recovery rate at the institute was an amazing 70%.  The facility closed in 1947 when drug treatments for tuberculosis showed promise and deaths began to decline. In 1910 MWA membership hit the one million mark.  By 1929 women and children were also being insured by the group.

MWA Marker
Founder Joseph Root wrote a funeral ceremony that was to be performed when a member died.  These ceremonies were held during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Today, memorial services are held during the month of June at each chapter to remember their deceased members.  

MWA Marker

Ornate and interwoven
MWA offered it's members the opportunity to purchase grave markers for deceased associates until the mid-1970’s.  Cemeteries around the country also have tree stone monuments, engraved with the MWA initials and symbols.  MWA did not supply these grave markers or provide any monetary assistance for their purchase for members.  Woodmen of the World did provide assistance for tree stone grave monuments for their members. 

Prices for MWA Logo

Montgomery Wards
Tree Stone Marker

Tree stone markers were also available for purchase from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue and the Montgomery Ward catalogue during the early twentieth century.  A tree stone marker does not necessarily mean that person was a member of MWA or WOW.  Only if the organizations' initials or symbols are located on the stone does it indicate that the deceased was a member of one of these organizations.

The MWA doctrine includes striving for family financial security, positive family life and service to the community.  MWA symbols include the axe to represent industry, the wedge to signify power and the beetle to illustrate progress.  The logo is made up of the capital letters M W A.  Their motto remains “Pour Autre Vie.” – ‘For the life of another.’

Today, the Modern Woodmen of American is the nation’s third largest fraternal benefit society, with close to 750-million members.  The group has assets of over $9 billion.  Close to 2,200 chapters or ‘camps’, exist in the U.S., mainly in the Midwest and the South.  MWA meetings are held throughout the year, along with parades, and community events.  The MWA also supports youth activities and organizations throughout the country.  In 2008, Modern Woodmen of America celebrated their 125th Anniversary.

Friday, we’ll explore Father’s Day in the cemetery.  
Next Tuesday we’ll take a look at the second fraternal benefit society that Joseph Root founded, Woodmen of the World. This is the organization known for the tree stone grave markers.

~ Joy