Friday, September 15, 2017

The History of the Order of Knights of Pythias

The Knights of Pythias was founded during the Civil War in Washington, D.C. and was the first fraternal organization to be chartered by an act of Congress. Justus H. Rathbone founded the group based on the legend of Damon and Pythias, a Greek story of honor and friendship. 
Membership in the organization required a belief in a supreme being and was open to men in good health. According to the secret rituals of the organization, when a man was inducted into the group, he received a ceremonial sword usually bearing the letters FCB, which stood for Friendship, Charity, Benevolence – the three attributes of the organization. Their motto is “to speak the truth and to render benefits to each other."

Pythian Sisters
The fraternal group was comprised of three tiers – Castles made up local meeting places, state buildings were called Grand Lodges, and Supreme Lodges were the designation for national buildings. Officers included the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Prelate, Secretary, Treasurer, Master at Arms, Inner Guard, Outer Guard and the Past Supreme Chancellor. The organization also had a women's auxiliary – the Pythian Sisters, along with the Pythian Sunshine Girls and the Junior Order of Princes of Syracuse for boys.

Knights of Pythias at the turn of the century
During the high point of fraternal groups, the Knights of Pythias had close to one million members, but once interest in secret societies died off, numbers dropped. There were fewer than 200,000 members by 1980. Today, there are more than 2,000 lodges in the world with membership over 50,000.

The Knights of Pythias of North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa (KPNSAEAA) was formed in 1869 after an African American lodge was denied membership. By the turn of the century, the KPNSAEAA had close to 40,000 members with lodges in 20 U.S. states and countries around the world.
By the 1870s, the organization began offering fraternal insurance benefits to members. In the 1930s, this endowment group broke from the mainstream Pythians and became the American United Insurance Company.
The Improved Order, Knights of Pythias began in 1892 as the result of a ruling that only English could be spoken at meetings. Many members also spoke German so in the 1895, the group fractured yet again but mended itself a few years later.

Louis Armstrong
Well-known Knights of Pythias included Presidents William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Vice Presidents included Nelson Rockefeller and Hubert H. Humphrey along with numerous Supreme Court justices, members of Congress and state representatives. Jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong was also a member.

The Knights of Pythias still exist in more than 20 states in the U.S. along with international groups. The Pythians provide camps for under privileged children, and homes for older members. The American Cancer Society is the national charity of the group.
Pythian Castle in Missouri
Pythian Lodge structures can still be found throughout the United States. Many of these grandiose castles and lodges have been listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and with the National Park Service.
Although a central register of deceased members does not exist, the organization is happy to answer genealogy questions. Contact them at
~ Joy

My new book The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide will be hitting bookshelves across the country this month. Click here for book information.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

It's National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, reports that each year in the United States, over 22,440 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. That means 1 in 75 women will develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime. More than 14,000 will die from it!  

I began researching this disease after finding the grave of Jane Todd Crawford in Sullivan County, Indiana several years ago. Jane was the first person to survive abdominal surgery – for a 22-pound ovarian tumor.

Jane Todd Crawford
It was December 1809 when Jane Todd Crawford became concerned about a pregnancy that was long overdue. At the age of 46, and as a mother of four, she knew something was wrong and that she needed medical attention.

Ephraim McDowell
Jane wrote to Dr. Ephraim McDowell in Danville, Kentucky, explaining her condition. McDowell traveled to Green County, Kentucky and diagnosed a 22-pound ovarian tumor. He was interested in performing an experimental abdominal surgery that might save her life, but he warned her that so far the surgery had never been performed successfully.  Knowing that her condition was fatal, Crawford agreed to allow Dr. McDowell to operate on her.

Dr McDowell's Surgery Tools
It was a harsh December day when she set out on horseback from south of Greensburg to Danville, Kentucky, a journey of 60 miles. McDowell had refused to do the surgery anywhere but at his home where he had the necessary assistance and equipment available.

The operation took place on Christmas Day in McDowell’s home. (McDowell hoped the church music and bells would diminish the sounds of Jane's agony.) Jane was strapped down to a table and given an oral dose of opium before being cut open. (Anesthesia did not exist yet.) Jane recited the Psalms while the operation took place. During the 25 minute procedure, McDowell removed a twenty-two pound tumor in two sections. This was the first successful abdominal surgery, and the first successful removal of an ovarian tumor, in the world!

Crawford’s recovery was uneventful. She returned home at the end of January 1810. A few months later, the Crawford’s’ sold their land in Kentucky and moved to Indiana. 

McDowell became famous as the pioneer of abdominal surgical techniques. He performed the same operation on two more women within the next few years and published his report “Three Cases of Extirpation of Diseased Ovaria” in 1817.  He continued practicing medicine until his death, ironically from an apparent appendicitis, on June 25, 1830.  His home in Danville, where the operation took place, is now a museum and National Historic Landmark.

Jane's Grave
Jane Todd Crawford died in 1842, at the age of 78, at her son’s home in Graysville, Indiana. She is buried in the Johnson Cemetery, near Graysville, Indiana in Sullivan County.  In 1871, the Women’s Auxiliary to the Southern Medical Association dedicated a stone for her grave.  In 1940, the American Hospital Association placed a granite monument near her grave.

Not only did Jane Todd Crawford make history as the first woman to survive ovarian surgery, she gave thousands of women hope concerning a disease that is slow, cruel, and still difficult to survive.

I am currently working on a full-length play about Jane’s life. Keep apprised of how the work is going on Facebook at A Grave Interest’s page.
~ Joy

My first book, The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide, will be out in bookstores nationwide the end of September. To order an advanced copy, visit Family Tree.