Modern Woodmen of America

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Headquarters along the Mississippi River in Rock Island, Illinois

Modern Woodmen of America is the third-largest (based on assets) fraternal benefit society, with more than 770,000 members.[1] Total assets passed US $14.1 billion in 2014. Though having had the same founder, it is not affiliated financially in any way with another, similarly-styled fraternal benefit society, Woodmen of the World, and despite the name "Modern" is actually older than its counterpart.

Financial standing/rating[edit]

A. M. Best rates Modern Woodmen’s financial stability, security and management performance as A+ (Superior), the second highest of 15 ratings. The rating is based on a comprehensive quantitative evaluation of the organization’s balance sheet strength, operating performance and business profile. Insurers in the superior category are considered to have a superior ability to meet their ongoing obligations.[2]

Modern Woodmen follows a conservative investment approach, holding more than 80 percent of its portfolio in corporate and government bonds.[3] Currently, Modern Woodmen holds $111.69 for every $100 in liabilities.[4]


Modern Woodmen and its subsidiaries provide life insurance plus annuity, investment and banking products to the family market. Life insurance in force totaled over $37 billion in 2014.[5] Modern Woodmen has three wholly owned subsidiaries: MWA Financial Services Inc.,[6] founded in 2001, functions as a full-service broker dealer and distributes securities products; Modern Woodmen General Agency, founded in 2002, offers nonproprietary insurance products, including major medical, disability income and long-term care insurance; and MWABank,[7] founded in 2003 to offer checking, savings, and loan services as a direct bank.


Membership dues receipt circa 1923

Modern Woodmen is a tax-exempt fraternal benefit society. The membership organization sells life insurance, annuity and investment products not to benefit stockholders but to improve the quality of life of its stakeholders – members, their families and their communities. The organization accomplishes this through social, charitable and volunteer activities.

As a fraternal organization, the society is organized around a lodge system, called chapters.[8] Chapters offer fellowship and community service opportunities for members. Modern Woodmen members are part of more than 2,700 chapters nationwide and almost 800 youth service clubs.

Modern Woodmen members across the United States participate in Join Hands Day and Make a Difference Day, which are national days of service. Chapters and youth clubs also participate in social activities such as special dinners, recreational activities and outings, volunteer and social projects throughout the year. Members unite for volunteer projects that provide dollars, basic necessities and hands-on labor to improve lives in their communities. The organization’s Matching Fund Program matches money raised by individual chapters for community members or local organizations in need.

Modern Woodmen’s fraternal expenditures for member benefits and community programs totaled more than $19 million in 2014. These programs included fraternal aid, college scholarships, tree planting, testing kits, National Parks pass, newborn benefit, orphan benefit, final wishes resource, member discounts and educational programs.[9]


Modern Woodmen of America was founded by Joseph Cullen Root on Jan. 5, 1883, in Lyons, Iowa.[8] He had operated a number of businesses, including a mercantile establishment, a grain elevator, and two flour mills, sold insurance and real estate, taught bookkeeping classes, managed a lecture bureau, and practiced law.[10] Root was a member of several fraternal societies through the years. He wanted to create an organization that would protect families following the death of a breadwinner.[10]

During a Sunday sermon, Root heard the pastor tell a parable about the good that came from woodmen clearing away the forest to build homes, communities, and security for their families. He adopted the term "woodmen." [11] To complete the name, "modern" reflected the need to stay current and change with the times. "Of America" was added to symbolize patriotism.[11]

Originally, Modern Woodmen had a unique set of membership restrictions and criteria. Religiously, the group was quite open, accepting "Jew and Gentile, the Catholic and Protestant, the agnostic and the atheist." On the other hand, membership was restricted to white males between the ages of 18-45 and only in the 12 "healthiest" states – Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas. Residents of large cities were also disqualified from membership. Finally, those employed in a long list of professions were also prohibited from joining: railway brakemen, railway engineers, railway firemen, railway switchmen, miners employed underground, pit bosses, "professional rider and driver in races", employee in a gunpowder factory, wholesaler or manufacturer of liqueur, saloon keeper, saloon barkeeper, "aeronaut", sailor on the lakes or seas, plough polisher, brass finisher, professional baseball player, professional firemen, submarine operator or soldier in the regular army in a time of war.[12]

In 1884, the head office was organized in Fulton, Illinois. The first death claim of $698.58 was paid the same year.[13]

Modern Woodmen moved its home office to Rock Island, Illinois, in 1897.[14] In 1898, Modern Woodmen officially opened its home office at 1504 Third Ave. In 1967, Modern Woodmen opened a new facility, located at 1701 First Ave., to accommodate its rapid growth.[15]

Foresters drill teams[edit]

One of the most visible elements of the organization was its drill teams. These groups came to be known as Modern Woodmen Foresters and were well known in America. The first drill team was organized in Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1894.[9] These groups became nationally known for events held from 1890 to the late 1930s.[16] The Foresters were even honored by Herbert Hoover at the White House. “Rainbow Parades” were hosted by cities across the United States and included 10,000 units of Foresters, with more than 160,000 men participating.[9] Each group was differentiated by a different style and color of uniform. The last known “Rainbow Parade” was held in Chicago, on Michigan Boulevard, and halted traffic for more than two hours while thousands of spectators viewed the scene.


During the tuberculosis (TB) epidemic of the early 1900s, Modern Woodmen opened a 1,000-acre (4.0 km2) facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1907.[17] The facility cost $1.5 million to build and was named one of the most outstanding institutions for the treatment of tuberculosis by the American College of Surgeons. From 1909 to 1947, the sanatorium provided free treatment to more than 12,000 members. It offered board, lodging, treatment, medicine, dental work and laundering, all at no expense to the patient.

Tuberculosis was the leading cause of death among Modern Woodmen members when the society opened the Modern Woodmen Tuberculosis Sanatorium. Following World War II, antibiotics became available and TB declined in the United States. The facility closed in 1947, when TB ranked eighth in causes of death.[9]


External links[edit]