The Maccabees was founded in 1878 in London, Ontario, as a fraternal order with mutual Assessment fraternal benefits. There were 3,500 members in the United States and Canada in 1994. The quarterly magazine, The Maccabees Bee Hive, is no longer published.
The Maccabeans or Maccabees were a Jewish tribe of the second century B C, which revolted against Antiochus IV of Syria in the name of freedom of religion. Judas Maccabeus was a leader of military genius who secured a Jewish state, Judaea, in 143—42 B C The exploits of the tribe are recorded in two eponymous books of the Apocrypha.
The aspects of Maccabeus’s feats that appealed to the founders of the modern Maccabees were steadfastness and persistence; his wisdom in the use of power; and (perhaps most relevantly) the fact that he seems to have been the first recorded military leader to order his soldiers to reserve a part of their spoils for the widows and orphans of their fallen colleagues.
Under the original title of the Knights of the Maccabees (the name was changed in 1914), each member of the society pledged to contribute 10 cents to the widow of a deceased “brother,” with a ceiling of $1,000 on the widow’s portion; any surplus was to be deposited with the treasurer. A constitution and rituals had been devised by the time of the first grand convention on August 7,1878.
The organization grew very rapidly — there were 10,000 members by 1880—but the leadership was marred by the kinds of factional struggles familiar in the history of fraternal societies, and actuarial soundness was still a dream; essentially, the Maccabees functioned by a well-ordered and institutionalized form of passing the hat. Under a Major Boynton, there were extensive reorganizations in both 1881 and 1883, so that by 1900 there were about a quarter of a million members, and by 1915 there were almost a third of a million.
The insurance aspect of the Maccabees has always been paramount. In 1921, the organization adopted the American Mortuary Table of Rates, and in 1961 it became a mutual life insurance company but retained the lodge structure for the benefit of those who had joined before the change and preferred to cling to the past. The lodges were called Subordinate Camps, with Great Camps at the district level and the Supreme Tent at the top. There are no more lodge publications, and the fraternal aspect of the society is probably on the way out, though the society apparently changed little in size in the whole of the 1980s.
In the middle of the Great Depression, in 1935, the Maccabees quietly absorbed the Brotherhood of America, an unremarkable society founded in 1890 in Philadelphia to provide fraternal insurance benefits for men and women on equal terms. By the 1920s almost four-fifths of the 14,000 or so members of the Brotherhood were “social” (uninsured), and this no doubt contributed to the end of the order. Then, in 1937, the Maccabees also absorbed the Slavic Progressive Beneficial Union, followed by the Michigan Union Life Association in 1941.
Moving in the other direction, the Western Bees seceded from the Maccabees in 1905, but merged with the Highland Nobles by 1911.
Ladies of the Maccabees of the World
This auxiliary was founded in Muskegon, Michigan, and merged with the Maccabees proper in 1926. It began in about 1885 as a local auxiliary; expanded to statewide status in 1888; and became a national auxiliary in 1892. The Supreme Hive of the Ladies of the Maccabees of the World seem to have been the first fraternal benefit group to have been managed by women. A splinter group, which split off in the very year of foundation (1892), first called itself the Ladies of the Modern Maccabees and then went on to become the North American Benefit Association.