The Loyal Order of Moose was founded in 1888 in Louisville, Kentucky, as a social and drinking club. It has since spread to Bermuda, Canada, Guam, and England but remains primarily a U.S. organization, though it changed its name to International Moose in 1991. It is open to men who believe in a supreme being, and publishes Moose Magazine monthly. There were 1,810,000 members in 1994.
The Moose and the Elks are the two biggest American “animal” fraternities, but in their early days the Moose came close to collapse. In the words of their own publicity department, “The Loyal Order of Moose began on a spring day in 1888 in Louisville, Ky., apparently for no better reason than that Dr. John Henry Wilson, a 52-year-old physician, wanted to organize a group of his friends into a fraternal order.” He was apparently inspired by “another recently organized benevolent order,” probably the Elks. Unfortunately, Dr. Wilson was unable to provide strong leadership, and within half a decade of the founding of the order, there were 1,000 members meeting in 15 “Watering Places” (Lodges). But in another half decade, three-quarters of the members had left. At the turn of the century, one authority, Stevens, dismissed the Moose in his Cyclopaedia of Fraternities as follows:
Loyal Order of Moose of the World – Cincinnati is credited with having given birth to the fraternity with this title, but no-one communicated with at that city has been able to vouch for its continued existence. It is a mere conjecture that attempted rivalry to the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks may have been responsible for the name of the society.
Matters got worse before they got better. By 1906, there were only three lodges with a total of 246 members, and at the National Moose Convention in that year, only seven delegates were accredited. This convention of 1906 was, however, an important one for the Moose, for it was there that James J. Davis was initiated. When he addressed the handful of Moose who were there with him, they were so stirred by his words that they appointed him Supreme Organizer then and there.
And Supreme Organizer he certainly turned out to be.
For more than 20 years, he travelled all over the United States setting up lodges and canvassing for members. By 1928 there were 650,000 members in 1,709 lodges, to say nothing of 59,000 in the ladies’ auxiliary.
He profited well from this activity. The former miner and steelworker, who was far from a rich man when he joined the Moose, received a commission on every Moose inducted — a commission that was sufficiently valuable that when his financial agent and secretary bought the rights to it in 1930, they paid $600,000. What was more, he was accused in 1932 of improperly receiving $173,000 from a lottery, which brought in $2,200,000 in ticket sales. He was acquitted after an initial mistrial.
The basic unit is the Lodge, which follows the usual plan: a club room or rooms, plus the lodge room with an altar. The orientation is also the usual approach based on Deism, with strong Christian overtones. Apparently, the Catholic church has no objection to anyone becoming a Moose, but the Lutheran Church has objected.
The ritual for the first degree was composed by James Davis and is relatively simple and straightforward, without any regalia. It is conducted in the evening, before nine o’clock, and it is administered by the Sergeant at Arms, upon the formal request of the Governor (the senior lodge official).
The candidates must (as usual) affirm belief in a supreme being and express their willingness to assume the obligation. The oath, taken with left hand over heart and right hand raised, is as follows:
I, [Name], solemnly promise that I will not in any manner communicate or disclose or give any information concerning anything I may hereafter hear, see or experience in this lodge or in any other lodge of the Loyal Order of Moose unless it be to one whom I know to be a Loyal Moose in good standing By this vow I bind myself for all time. Amen.
The initiate is then welcomed and instructed in the secrets of the Moose, including passwords and similar matters. At nine o’clock, all Moose turn toward Moose-heart and silently pray. The Governor leads them in a prayer, which goes, “Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven. God bless Mooseheart.”
After this Nine O’Clock Ceremony, which is observed by all Moose, the Junior Governor addresses the new members. The Prelate then delivers the 10 “Thou Shalts” which begin: ‘Thou shalt believe in God, and worship Him as they conscience dictates. Thou shalt be tolerant to let others worship each in his own way.” The Governor now shakes hands with each of the new members, and ‘Blest Be the Tie That Binds” is sung. Yet another official—the Orator—says his piece, and the Governor then administers the Obligation.
I, [Name], in the presence of Almighty God and those here assembled, do most solemnly promise that I will obey the Laws of the Supreme Lodge of the World —Loyal Order of Moose, and of the Lodge of which I am a member as well as all orders of the Supreme Council or of the executive officers of the Supreme Lodge or of the officers of the Lodge of which I am a member.
It continues with pledges to support Mooseheart, to spurn unauthorized Moose lodges, to try to keep disputes within the Loyal Order of Moose, and of course to help their brethren. The Obligation is followed by a prayer offered at the altar by the Prelate, after which all sing ‘Friendship We Now Extend,” and the Governor doses by exhorting the newcomers to be loyal members. The whole ritual takes about three-quarters of an hour.
After six months’ membership in good standing, Moose are eligible for the second degree, Legion of the Moose. A Legionnaire may wear a ‘tah” with purple tassel, and a Legion jacket, tie, and lapel pin. The third or Fellowship degree is awarded for service to the fraternity; regalia include a white shirt, lapel pin, tie, and Alice-blue blazer, and the right to wear an Mice-blue tassel on the “tah.”
The fourth and highest degree, that of Pilgrim, is again honorific and is awarded to perhaps one Moose in 5,000: Pilgrims wear a black and gold Pilgrim cape and tie, a gold tassel on their “tah,” and a Pilgrim lapel pin. It is conferred at the House of God (otherwise known as the ‘Children’s Cathedral”) at Mooseheart.
The order in England has some more degrees: the Degree of Purity, the Degree of Aid and the Degree of Progress.
Mooseheart in Illinois and Moosehaven in Florida are the best-known charitable/fraternal activities of the Moose. Sometimes known as the “City of Children,” Mooseheart is something between an orphanage and a town, with its own hospital, church, sports stadium, and schools at all levels, as well as both Catholic and Protestant ministers—according to the publicity sheets, more than 20 denominations of Protestant are to be found in Mooseheart, where children are brought up in the faith of their parents.
Initially conceived in 1911, Mooseheart began as a circus tent in a field in 1913, when it was dedicated by the then Vice President of the United States, Thomas R. Marshall. Since then, it has grown to almost 100 buildings on more than 1,000 acres and caters to the children of deceased Moose, their mothers, and other fatherless or motherless children. The population varies considerably, but there are typically 300-500 children at the Village, and perhaps a tenth as many mothers. Children may stay at Mooseheart until they are 18.
Mooseheart is vocational rather than academic in its orientation: It runs a very fine dairy farm, and pupils at the school are required to learn at least one of a dozen or so trades. When they graduate, they receive not only a high school diploma but also a vocational education certificate. The regime is based on old-fashioned values and timetables: rising at 6:30, breakfast at 6:50, school from 8:00 to 11:30 and 1:00 to 3:30, sports after school, and supper at 6:00. Younger pupils start later: 8:30 for elementary school, 8:45 for primary school.
The Supreme Lodge of the World is also located at Mooseheart, in a two-story colonial-style brick building.
Moosehaven, a retirement home for Moose and their wives, was founded in 1922 on the banks of the St. John’s River at Orange Park, 14 miles south of Jacksonville, Florida. There are more than 30 buildings on about 60 acres of land, with more than a third of a mile of river frontage. “Every resident whose physical condition will permit is assigned to some daily duty usually not to exceed three hours,” and everyone receives a monthly allowance. Those no longer able to work are called “Sunshiners.” Their job is to sit in rocking chairs in the sun, and smile at passers-by. There is a well-equipped 150-bed hospital, in addition to many other facilities.
Aside from Mooseheart and Moosehaven, Moose lodges also support a number of health-oriented charities, such as the March of Dimes, Muscular Dystrophy, Heart Fund, Cancer Crusade, Cerebral Palsy, and much more. Many lodges are also active in highway safety, Boy and Girl Scouting, civil defence cooperation, and local community activities of all kinds.
Membership of the Loyal Order of Moose has grown steadily since the 1960s: There were just over 1 million members in 1965, 1,323,240 members in 1979, and 1,765,333 members in 1988; a remarkable accomplishment. It seems likely that it is the “service” element of the organization that tips the balance in the organization’s favour, though it must be admitted that Moose lodges provide a convivial and very economical place to eat and drink.
Women of the Moose
The Women of the Moose had its informal origins in “Women’s Circles,” associations of wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters of Moose. These “‘Women’s Circles” were formally recognized by the 1912 International Convention, and in 1913 the name was changed to ‘Women’s Moose Circles.” In 1916 the Circles were unified into the “Women of the Mooseheart Legion,” organized in chartered Chapters; and in 1933, the name changed yet again to its present form.
The Women of the Moose works two degrees: the Academy of Friendship and the College of Regents. As with the two highest degrees of the Moose proper, these are earned honours. The Friendship Degree originated in 1927; changed its name to Academy of Friendship in 1935; and was joined in 1935 by the College of Regents Degree. The “Star Recorder” is not a degree, but an honour first awarded in 1946 to women who keep perfect records.
In addition to practical work in Mooseheart, Moosehaven, and elsewhere, Women of the Moose fund scholarships for Mooseheart graduates in music, nursing, and business and raise money for building and other one-off projects. For example, the Mooseheart Health Center had cost about $1 million when it was dedicated in 1974, and the Women of the Moose made a substantial contribution to this. The Women of the Moose is also active in community work of many kinds.