In 2006 during the remodeling of the house at 507 Jones street, Ray City, Georgia a small cache of sooty, crumbling documents were retrieved from where they had fallen behind the fireplace mantel. Among these items was a 1917 form letter from Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle, addressed to Kate Fountain Nobles, wife of Jasper Nobles.
According to Dr. David Beito, Professor of History at the University of Alabama, fraternal organizations were among the largest organizations of any type in late 19th and early 20th century America. By some estimates nearly one out of every three American men belonged to a fraternal organization in 1910. There were fraternal organizations for every ethnic and religious group in American.
At that time, Woodmen of the World and its sister organization Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle were fraternal insurance organizations that particularly appealed to white, native born Americans. Both organizations were national fraternal insurance organizations founded by Joseph Cullen Root.
“A notable accomplishment of fraternal orders was to spread life insurance among the masses. Between 1890 and 1910, the number of people belonging to societies offering death benefits increased from 1.3 million to 8.5 million. By the end of this period, fraternal policies represented nearly half the value of all life insurance.”
“A key reason for the strength of fraternal networks of trust and cooperation was a shared code of values among the members. Although the details varied, nearly all societies trumpeted the virtues of thrift, self-reliance, reciprocity, self-government, and civility. Taken together, these and related ideals constituted a kind of fraternal consensus.”
The distinctive headstones of Woodmen of the World members in local cemeteries are public testimonies to the historical presence of fraternal organizations in Ray City and Berrien County, GA. Documents like the one above attest that at least some Ray City,GA women were members of these organizations as well.
For more on Ray City History and the Nobles Family, see http://raycity.pbworks.com/
For more on the impact of fraternal organizations in America, read:
To Advance the “Practice of Thrift and Economy”: Fraternal Societies and Social Capital, 1890-1920
David T. Beito
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 29, No. 4, Patterns of Social Capital: Stability and Change
- Ray City Masons Celebrated Saint John the Baptist Day In 1936 (raycityhistory.wordpress.com)
- Tombstone symbols