- "The exact origin of Oddfellowship is involved in obscurity. It must have had a beginning, but just when and where, no historian has ever been able to ascertain. All of its history prior to the introduction of the Order into England is merely conjecture founded upon proofless, and, in most cases, absurd traditions."
The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica is more diplomatic:
- "Great antiquity has been claimed for the order ... Oddfellows themselves, however, now generally admit that the institution cannot be traced back beyond the first half of the 18th century."
With these caveats, here are some of the "explanations" for the origin of the name:
- One tradition says: it originated with the Emperor Nero, A.D.55, and that the members of the Society were called by various names until A.D. 79, when Titus Caesar dubbed them "Odd Fellows" because of the singularity of their signs and peculiar ceremonies.
- They were called "odd" because in the beginning of Odd Fellowship in the 18th century, at the time of industrialization, it was rather odd to find people who followed noble values such as benevolence, charity and fraternalism.
- The Odd Fellows, at least according to one story, got its curious name from the fact that it was a lodge that opened its doors to the working class who at that time did not ordinarily belong to fraternal orders—and were thus 'odd'. This may or may not be true as the Odd Fellows have been around for a long time and a good many things get lost in the fog of history.
- The name was adopted at a time when the severance into sects and classes was so wide that persons aiming at social union and mutual help were a marked exception to the general rule.
- Odd Fellows were people who engaged in miscellaneous or "odd" trades. In the 18th century, major trades were organized in guilds or other forms of syndicate, but smaller trades did not have any social or financial security. For that reason, people who exercised unusual trades joined together to form a larger group of "odd" fellows.
- By the 13th century, the tradesmen's Guilds had become established and prosperous. During the 14th Century, with the growth of trade, the guild 'Masters' moved to protect their power (and wealth) by restricting access to the Guilds. In response, the less experienced (and less wealthy) 'Fellows' set up their own rival Guilds. In smaller towns and villages, there weren't enough Fellows from the same trade to set up a local Guild, so Fellows from a number of trades banded together to form a local Guild of Fellows from an odd assortment of trades. Hence, Guilds of Odd Fellows."
- The idea of common people working together to improve their situation was "odd". It met a mixed reaction from the upper classes, who saw them possibly as a source of revenue (taxes) but also as a possible threat to their power.
Societies using the name "Odd Fellows" or variations
- A number of British friendly societies with origins in the 18th century
- 1748: The earliest surviving records of an Oddfellows Lodge is the manuscript of the rules, dated 1748, of the Loyal Aristarcus Lodge No.9 which met in the Oakley Arms in Southwark, the Globe Tavern in Hatton Garden and the Boar's Head in Smithfield in London.
- mid-18th century: The Order of Patriotic Oddfellows
- mid-18th century: The Ancient Order of Oddfellows
- 1798: The Grand United Order of Oddfellows[a][b]
- 1810: The The Independent Order – Manchester Unity[c]
- 1810: Nottingham Ancient Imperial Order of Oddfellows
- 1820: Improved Independent Order of Oddfellows (South London)
- 1827: The Caledonian Lodge of Oddfellows, based in Newburgh fife, is the only Lodge of Oddfellows left in Scotland
- 1832: The Ancient & Noble (Bolton Unity) split from the Grand United Order in 1832 (it was dissolved in 1962.)
- 1832: Ancient National Order of Oddfellows (Bolton)
- 1832: The Nottingham Odd Fellows split from the Manchester Unity, also in 1832.
- 1834: Leeds United Order of Oddfellows
- 1840: Independent Order of Oddfellows (Kingston)
- 1845: National Independent Order of Oddfellows
- 1849: Independent Order of Oddfellows (Norfolk & Norwich Unity)
- 1850: Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society[c]
- 1853: Improved Independent Order of Oddfellows (London)
- 1858: Free & Independent Order of Oddfellows
- 1861: Ancient Independent Order of Oddfellows (Kent)
- 1867: British United Order of Oddfellows
- 1883: The Scottish Order of Oddfellows
- 1900: The National Independent Order of Oddfellows
- 1910: The Caledonian Order of United Oddfellows
Other British Orders of Oddfellows
- The Union of United Orders of Oddfellows
- The Loyal Order of Oddfellows
- The Ancient and Noble Order of United Oddfellows
- The Independent Order of Oddfellows Bolton Unity Friendly Society
- The Independent Order of Oddfellows Kingston Unity Friendly Society
American Odd Fellows
- American Odd Fellowship is regarded as being founded in Baltimore in 1819, by Thomas Wildey
- The American Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) formed in 1819, receiving its charter from the British Manchester Unity. They separated from the British Order in the mid-1830s.
- The American Grand United Order of Odd Fellows (GUOOF) formed in 1843,[b] receiving its charter from the British Grand United Order of Oddfellows (rather than the American IOOF).
Oddfellowship around the world
- Oddfellowship has spread around the world. Two examples
In Australia, Lodges formed for:
- The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF)
- The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows (GUOOF)
- The Manchester Unity Order of Odd Fellows (MUOOF)
The IOOF has lodges in at least 29 countries (Examples)
- The Grand United Order of Oddfellows are now more commonly referred to as The Grand United Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society (GUOOFS).
- The Grand United Order of Oddfellows, established in England in 1798, should not be confused with the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, established in the USA in 1843.
- The Manchester Unity of Oddfellows is also known as The Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society 
- "History". Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America. Retrieved 3 Jan 2015.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Oddfellows, Order of". Encyclopædia Britannica 19 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 996.
- Müller, Stephanie (2008): The name Odd Fellows, from Concept and contents of Odd Fellowship, Chapter 4 of Visit the Sick, Relieve the Distressed, Bury the Dead and Educate the Orphan: The Independent Order of Odd Fellows. A scientific work in the field of cultural studies, Volume 10 of the "Cultural Studies in the Heartland of America" project, Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, Trier, Germany. ISBN 978-3-86821-093-4. Retrieved on 2009-10-14.
- Burkley M. Gray (n.d.) Fraternalism in America (1860 - 1920), Phoenixmasonry Masonic Museum, www.phoenixmasonry.org.
- Beresford, Rachael (8 February 2006). "History of the Oddfellows". Manchester, UK: The Oddfellows (The Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society Limited). Archived from the original on 26 June 2008. Retrieved 2007-09-02.
- "History of the Oddfellows". Manchester, UK: The Oddfellows (The Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society Limited). Retrieved 1 Jan 2015.
- "The Oddfellows Over the Years". Manchester, UK: The Oddfellows (The Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society Limited). Retrieved 1 Jan 2015.
- Weinbren, Daniel (2010) The Oddfellows 1810–2010: Two Hundred Years of Making Friends and Helping People Lancaster: Carnegie Publishing, ISBN 978-1-85936207-5
- Solt-Dennis, Victoria (2005). Discovering Friendly and Fraternal Societies: Their Badges and Regalia. Princes Risborough, UK: Shire Publications. p. 90. ISBN 0-74780628-4.
- Wilkinson, JF (1891), The Friendly Society Movement (extracts), Longmans.
- The History of the Oddfellows in Scotland, UK: RLS.
- "Oddfellows Orders in Scotland", Friendly Societies, History shelf.
- "The Oddfellows", Friendly Societies, History shelf.
- The (American) Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF).
- The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, South Australia, Retrieved on 4 Jan 2015.
The origins and history of the Oddfellows are not easily verified; some of the possible facts are mixed with unverifiable myth, legend, folklore and opinion. The following is a far-from-exhaustive list of "histories" of Oddfellows – unfortunately, few of them quote their sources.
- Burn, PPGM, of Glasgow (c. 1846), Historical Sketch of Oddfellowship, Manchester: A. Heywood.
- James, Dr Bob (2010), They Call Each Brother – Secret Societies and the Strange Death of Mateship in Australia, 1788–2010. Self-published.
- James, Dr Bob, Odd Fellows, The Australian Centre for Secret Societies, Fraternalism and Mateship (i.e. Self-published.). Contains numerous articles and, according to its author, "is constantly being updated".
- Moffrey, Past Grand Master Robert (1904), The Rise and Progress of the Manchester Unity of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, 1810–1904, Manchester: The Grand Master & Board of Directors of the Order, Printers John Heywood.
- Spry, J (1867), History of Oddfellowship, Paternoster Row, London: Fred Pitman deals, as set forth on its title page, with "Its origin, tradition, and objects, with a general review of the results arising from its adoption by the branch known as the Manchester Unity from the year 1810 to the present time." The book was published by Fred Pitman, of London, and by the author at Plymouth.
- "History : The history of our society". GUOOFS (The Grand United Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society). Retrieved 1 Jan 2015.
- History of the IOOF in Marin County, archived from the original on 19 January 2013.
- "Odd Fellows Cemetery, Knoxville, KT". wbir.com. Retrieved 3 Jan 2015.
- Odd Fellows Rest, the history of an IOOF cemetery in New Orleans.
- Brooks, Charles H. (1902), The Official History and Manual of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America, Odd Fellows' Journal Print., p. 274
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