Founded in 1851 in Utica, New York, the Independent Order of Good Templars was the most successful secret society in the temperance movement. Its founder, Daniel Cady, had been a member of an earlier temperance order, and felt the need for a secret society along similar lines that concentrated its efforts entirely on opposition to alcohol, instead of combining its temperance activities with fraternal benefits and other activities.
Cady’s first attempt at a temperance society was the Knights of Jericho, founded in Utica in 1850. Within a year this society reorganized itself as the Order of Good Templars, drawing on the image and legends of the medieval Knights Templar as a basis for the new ritual. Members pledged never to drink alcohol, and campaigned for prohibition. A series of early political disputes saw a faction break away from the Order of Good Templars and rename itself the Independent Order of Good Templars; while the original order never got far, the IOGT expanded steadily and in 1868 established its first lodge in Great Britain at Birmingham. By 1900 it was the largest secret society in the temperance movement, with lodges in more than 30 countries.
Unlike most other secret societies of the time, the Good Templars admitted men and women on an equal basis and gave leadership positions to women. It also kept its original strict focus on temperance issues. Buoyed by these sources of strength, the IOGT became one of the major forces in the international struggle to prohibit alcohol. In 1902 it changed its name to the International Order of Good Templars.
The passage of Prohibition in the United States in 1919, however, convinced many people that the IOGT was no longer needed, now that its work was done, and the resounding failure of the new legislation in the 1920s caused it to lose credibility. The creation of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in 1937 posed an additional challenge, since AA quickly encroached on the IOGT’s role as an organization for reformed alcoholics, and its widely copied “12 step” program proved more popular than the IOGT’s moralizing approach. During the middle years of the twentieth century the IOGT abandoned the secret society traditions it had adopted from its fraternal roots, and now exists as an international federation of anti-alcohol organizations.
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006