1915: Uncle Albert joins the Masons and the Odd Fellows

Sepia Saturday 530. Eighth in a series about Albert Barney Charboneau — my paternal grandfather’s brother who died in the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

Albert Barney Charboneau circa 1910. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Apart from his work and family life, my dad’s uncle Albert B. Charboneau also got involved in local fraternal societies.

My research indicates that some time before 1915 he joined a couple of fraternal organizations then active in Dolgeville, N.Y. — the Freemasons and the International Order of Odd Fellows.

The fraternal society era

Albert became active toward the end of a 50-year period when U.S. social life centered around such clubs, according to a 2015 Detroit News article titled “Clubbing in days past: When fraternal societies ruled.”

Dolgeville Masonic Lodge 796 (2105). My dad’s Uncle Albert was an officer of this lodge circa 1915-1918. Yet his affiliation with the Masons and the Odd Fellows came with serious pitfalls. Photo by Molly Charboneau

The article sums up the sweep of these clubs from the 1870s to the 1920s:

In the 1870s men began founding and joining new clubs by the thousands from all levels of society. Immigrants organized clubs, as did African-Americans. Women would not be left out either and created auxiliaries of men’s clubs or founded major new sisterhoods. From 1870 to the end of the 1920s Americans’ social life centered on these clubs. Prior to the Civil War the U.S. had just two well-known fraternal societies: Freemasonry and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

The pitfalls of fraternalism

Yet Albert’s fraternal affiliations came with serious pitfalls. The elite exclusivity of the Masons and Odd Fellows, their whites-only policies and their refusal to admit women except to auxiliary organizations are a disturbing legacy.

These discriminatory practices set them apart from the more egalitarian Grand Army of the Republic — which Albert’s maternal grandfather, Union Army veteran Arthur T. Bull, belonged to. The GAR admitted African American Union veterans on an equal footing.

Dolgeville column of the Little Falls Journal (21 Dec. 1915). In 1915, Albert became senior warden of the Dolgeville Lodge — the second-ranking post. Source: fultonhistory.com

Some of these groups became more inclusive over time and, according to the Detroit News article, “Virtually all surviving clubs have community service as the linchpin of their organization.”

Unfortunately, I have no documentation to indicate why Albert joined. Was it for the networking these groups offered, as well the charitable and social programs they supported — or simply because they were the only shows in town? Was he on board with their biased elitism — or  just enamored of the secret ceremonies and handshakes? The records are silent on this.

Rising in the ranks

What I can document is that Albert not only joined but rose in the ranks — particularly in Dolgeville Lodge 796 of the Masons.

According to a 21 Dec. 1915 article in the Little Falls Journal, Albert became the senior warden of the Dolgeville Masons that year — the second-highest rank in the lodge.

Dolgeville Masonic Lodge 796 photo of Albert “Burt” Charboneau. My dad’s Uncle Albert was the head of the Dolgeville lodge in 1918 — the same year he died in the Great Influenza Pandemic. Re-photo by Molly Charboneau

My dad told me that Albert had also been the “head Mason” of his lodge — an anecdote I finally confirmed during a 2015 trip to Dolgeville with my sister Amy for the town’s annual Violet Festival.

On that trip we visited the Mason’s hall shown above — which was open to the public for the festival flower show.

Learning that we were related to a Charboneau who was once the lodge’s “worshipful master,” a woman from the Order of the Eastern Star — the women’s auxiliary — took us to the photo display room.

And there on the wall was a photo of Albert, who had headed the lodge in 1918 — the same year he died in the Great Influenza Pandemic.

Albert’s story will resume after an August recess. Enjoy your summer and please stop back in September! Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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5 thoughts on “1915: Uncle Albert joins the Masons and the Odd Fellows”

  1. We don’t think about those stray places that might feature an ancestor’s photo.
    We went to a church supper in Maine last year and found that there was a wall of photos of WWII veterans which included my husband’s father and uncle.

  2. That’s a wonderful discovery to see Albert’s photo still displayed at his Masonic lodge. Judging by the great number of fraternal groups listed in city directories, it must have been rare for a man of Albert’s time to not be a member of at least one “secret” society.

    I’ve been intrigued by the insurance benefits these societies provided to members. For a married man it must have been one of the advantages to joining. There might have been other financial benefits like small loans or savings accounts. Dues were sometimes reported in the newspapers and they don’t seem exorbitant, certainly not as restrictive as country club memberships. Unions often had similar death benefits that were important protection for workers with families. I think the lack of a government social safety net in this era motivated people to seek membership in these mutual aid groups.

  3. Ah – the Masons, the ladies of the Order of the Eastern Star, and the Rainbow Girls. I used to sing for the female organizations’ special events. I remember wishing I could be a Rainbow Girl and dress in beautiful formals, but we had no idea, until much later, our family had any connection to the Masons. Oh well.

  4. I have relatives who were Masons but I know nothing of their involvement. However, I have found lots of news articles about one who was a big wig in VFW.

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