Fraternal and social organizations were very popular both in the United States and Canada during the 1800s. Half the population of the United States in the 1920s belonged to at least one fraternal organization. In Canada, these same organizations were popular both in urban and rural settlements. Two thousand fraternal societies existed in North America in the mid-1800s.
Evidence of the popularity of fraternal societies can be seen in the number of grave memorials with fraternal symbols. Many fraternal societies that once were popular are now almost non-existent. Here are some of the most common fraternal societies and their associated symbolism:
Daughters Of The
Canadian Legion Crest
Daughters of Isabella
of Odd Fellows
Masonic Blue Lodge
Veterans of Foreign Wars
Veterans of Foreign Wars
Freemasons or masons are one of the oldest known fraternal organizations in North America. Masons trace the roots of their origins to the stonemasons guilds of England and Scotland. By 1730, the masons were already well established in the Eastern States. It is believed that they were also established in Canada by the late 1700s.
Masons are ranked on a pyramid of degrees or ranks. After passing the first three ranks a member is accepted in the Masonic Blue Lodge. The common expression to be put through the “third degree” derives from the Masonic ranking system. Masonic meetings and ceremonies include secret rituals, passwords, handshakes and mystical symbols. An interesting feature of masons is the mixture of Christian and pagan symbols they have adopted. During the 1800s and 1900s, it was common for men to belong to two or three fraternal organizations. Many grave memorials carry more than one organization’s symbol.
In British Columbia, some of the most common symbols associated with fraternal orders and their meanings are:
The All-Seeing Eye – watchfulness and God. Adopted from Christianity.
Beehive – industriousness and productivity
Open hand with heart – charity, one of the greatest virtues of masons, along with faith and hope. Commonly used by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
Woman with cross – faith
Woman with anchor – hope
Virgin standing over open-book – mourning
Two columns – The entrance to Solomon’s temple, sometimes labeled “B” for Boaz (strength), and “J” for Jachin, which means “to establish.” Usually seen as gateway columns; common on Masonic graves.
Mosaic pattern – good and evil in life. Commonly seen as black and white tile pattern on grave ledger top.
Square and Compass – reason and faith. The most-recognized Masonic emblem.
The letter “G” – God and for geometry, emblematic of the spiritual and material worlds. The most sacred Masonic symbol.
Eastern Star – A five-pointed pentagram star with multiple small symbols and the letters “F.A.T.A.L.” represent “Fairest Among Thousands, Altogether Lovely”. Masonic organization for women.
Three-linked chain with the letters “F.L.T.” – The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.). The three links represent the three degrees of friendship, love and truth.
Sawed-off Tree Stump – Often with an axe and the motto “Dum Tacet Clamet” (Though silent, he speaks). This is the Woodsmen of the World emblem. It should be noted that not all tree stump monuments are on the graves of Woodsmen of the World members.
Along with symbols for fraternal organizations there are also symbols associated with professional groups. Motifs may be associated with medicine, drama, music or trades such as carpentry and mechanics.