Odd Fellows

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For other uses, see Odd Fellows (disambiguation).
The triple links, a recurring symbol among odd fellows internationally, connoting the motto of "Amicitia Amor et Veritas"; English: "Friendship, Love and Truth".

Odd Fellows or Oddfellows, also Odd Fellowship or Oddfellowship,[1][2] is a fraternity consisting of lodges earliest documented in 1745 or 1730 in London, United Kingdom.[3][4][5] The first, Loyal Aristarcus Lodge No. 9, connotes earlier ones in the 18th century. Notwithstanding, convivial meetings were held "in much revelry and, often as not, the calling of the watch to restore order."[4] Names of several British pubs still today suggest past Odd Fellows affiliations.

In the mid-18th century, following the Jacobite risings, the fraternity split into the rivaling Order of Patriotic Oddfellows in southern England, favouring William III of England, and the Ancient Order of Oddfellows in northern England and Scotland, favouring the House of Stuart. Early known Odd Fellows from the time include John Wilkes (1725–1797) and Sir George Savile, 8th Baronet (1726–1784), advocating civil liberties and reliefs, including Catholic emancipation. Political repressions such as the Unlawful Oaths Act (1797) and the Unlawful Societies Act (1799),[6] resulted in neutral amalgamation of the Grand United Order of Oddfellows in 1798. Henceforth, the fraternity has remained religiously and politically independent. Notably, King George IV of the United Kingdom (1762–1830), admitted in 1780, was the first documented of many odd fellows to also attend freemasonry, yet with both societies remaining mutually independent.[3]

In 1810, further instigations had led to the establishment of Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity in England. Odd Fellows spread overseas, including with the latter formally chartering the fraternity in the United States in 1819.

In 1842, due to British authorities intervening in the customs and ceremonies of British Odd Fellows and in light of post-colonial American sovereignty, the Americans become independent as Independent Order of Odd Fellows under British-American Thomas Wildey (1782–1861), soon constituting the largest sovereign grand lodge. Likewise, by mid-19th century, also the Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity become the largest and richest fraternal organisation in the United Kingdom.[6]

To this day, beyond recreational activities, odd fellows promote philanthropy, ethic of reciprocity and charity, albeit some grand lodges implying Judeo-Christian affiliation. Still largest, the American-seated Independent Order of Odd Fellows enrolls some 600,000 members divided in approximately 10,000 lodges in 26 countries,[7][8] inter-fraternally recognised by the second largest, the British-seated Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity.[9] In total, international branches combined estimate millions of members worldwide.


Several theories aim to explain the etymological background of the name "Odd Fellows", often spelled "Oddfellows" in British English.

In the 18th century United Kingdom, major trades were organised in guilds or other forms of syndicates, but smaller trades did not have equivalent social or financial security. One theory has it that "odd fellows", people who exercised unusual, miscellaneous "odd trades", eventually joined together to form a larger group of "odd fellows".[10]

Furthermore, a theory states, in the beginning of odd fellowship in the 18th century, at the time of the early era of industrialisation, it was rather odd to find people who followed noble values such as fraternalism, benevolence and charity.[10] The name was supposedly 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.[11] Possibly, it met a mixed reaction from the upper classes, who saw them possibly as a source of revenue by taxes, but also as a possible threat to their authority.[12] More specifically, 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 anyone irrespective of class or standing, including those who at that time did not ordinarily belong to fraternities - thus "odd".

All these theories may or may not be true as odd fellows have been around for a long time and a good many things get lost in the fog of history,[13] with any implications of history before the 18th century considered mere speculations.


John Wilkes (1725–1797), initially a young radical journalist, then gradually more conservative; one of the first documented odd fellows.
Sir George Savile, 8th Baronet (1726–1784), an odd fellow who famously advocating civil liberties and reliefs in the United Kingdom, including Catholic emancipation. Subsequently, the odd fellows became religiously and politically independent.
King George IV of the United Kingdom (1762–1830), admitted in 1780, was the first documented of many odd fellows to also attend freemasonry, yet with both societies remaining mutually independent.[3]


The odd fellows are one of the earliest and oldest fraternal societies, but their early history is obscure and largely undocumented.

Due to increased trade during the Middle Ages, guilds came to make up a part of the urban culture, grouping people from a number of trades banded together. Hence, people of odd assortment of trades speculatively brought the background of the early history of odd fellows.[14][15][16]

When the English King Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church, the guilds were viewed by him as supporting the Pope, and in 1545 he confiscated all material property of the guilds. Queen Elizabeth I took from the guilds the responsibility for training apprentices, and by the end of her reign, most guilds had been suppressed.[17][18][19][12]

Dubious traditions of minor fractions, tracing the fraternity's origins even back to Roman Emperors Nero in A.D. 55 and its name to Titus in A.D. 79 because of their odd signs and ceremonies, are at best considered peculiarities.[20]

Although some of these legends are at best, dubious, the evolution from the guilds is more reliably documented.[a] 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.[b][17][18][19][21]

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.

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.


The difficulty of ascerting the earlier history of such societies arises from the former secrecy observed by the members."

— The Sydney Mail, 7 August 1880[23]

Odd Fellowship began in England sometime previous to 1745, with the earliest mention being of a Loyal Aristarcus Lodge meeting held at the Oakley Arms, Borough of Southwark, London.

Also, it is said that Daniel Defoe, the British author of Robinson Crusoe (1719), in the same year 1745 referred to meetings of the Odd Fellows being "a place where very pleasant and recreative evenings are spent" in an issue of The Gentleman's Magazine, but his reference has proven to be somewhat elusive to those who have searched for it, and it now generally relegated to secondhand sources and folklore.[24] In 1696, Daniel Defoe, did indeed publish a work entitled An Essay on Projects in which he advocated promotion of societies "formed by mutual assistance for the relief of the members in seasons of distress", however, any further accounts and their certainty remain disputed.

"In all times and among all nations which have reached a sufficient level of cultural development, there have always been voluntary associations formed for higher purposes. It is admitted that 'mystery of long-past ages enshrouds the origin of Odd Fellowship'",[25] and that the exact date of its first founding is 'lost in the mist of antiquity'.[26] The Manchester Unity Oddfellows (in United Kingdom) state on their website that "Oddfellows can trace its roots back to the Trade Guilds of the 12th and 13th centuries.[27] Some believe that there are records in Scotland which show that the Oddfellows in its original form may have arisen in the 1500s.[28][29] Some historians claim that it existed before 1650.[30]

There were numerous Oddfellow organizations in England in the 1700s.[31] One Edwardian Oddfellow history argued that in 1710 there was a 'Loyal Lintot of Oddfellows' in London.[32] The first Oddfellows group in South Yorkshire, England, dates from 1730.[33] The earliest surviving documented evidence of an “Oddfellows” lodge is the minutes of Loyal Aristarchus Oddfellow Lodge no. 9 in England, dated 12 March 1748. By it being lodge number 9, this connotes that there were older Oddfellows lodges that existed before this date.[34]

As a result of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 (when the Protestant William of Orange replaced the Catholic King James II), by the mid-18th century, the Order of Patriotic Oddfellows had formed in the south of England, supporting William,[35] and The Ancient Order of Oddfellows had formed in the north, supporting the Stuarts.[33]

Subsequent to the failure of Bonnie Prince Charlie's uprising, in 1789 these two Orders formed a partial amalgamation as the Grand United Order of Oddfellows. These days they are more commonly known as "The Grand United Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society" (GUOOFS),[36] abandoning all political and religious disputes and committing itself to promoting the harmony and welfare of its members. Some books mention that there was a lodge of a 'Union Order of Oddfellows' in London in 1750, and one in Derby in 1775.[37] The Oddfellows Magazine of 1888 included a picture of a medal presented to the secretary of a lodge of the Grand Independent Order of Oddfellows in 1796. On a magazine review of a 1798 sermon preached in the Sheffield Parish Church, the "Oddfellows appear to be very numerous with about thirty-nine lodges of them in London and its vicinity, two at Sheffield, and one at each of the following places: Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Shrewsbury, Windsor, Wandsworth, Canterbury, Liverpool, Richmond in Surrey and Lewes".[38] This suggested that the "Original United Order of Oddfellows" consisted of a total of 50 lodges at that time.

In 1810, various lodges of the Union or United Order in the Manchester area declared themselves as an "Independent Order", and organized the "Manchester Unity of Oddfellows" which chartered the Odd Fellows in North America in 1819.[39][40]

Timeline and international evolvement[edit]

Oddfellows in the United Kingdom[edit]

British friendly societies with origins in the 18th century
  • 1748: 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, London.[41][16]
  • mid-18th century: Order of Patriotic Oddfellows[6]
  • mid-18th century: Ancient Order of Oddfellows[6]
  • 1798: Grand United Order of Oddfellows[c][d]
  • 1810: The Independent Order – Manchester Unity[e]
  • 1810: Nottingham Ancient Imperial Order of Oddfellows[42]
  • 1820: Improved Independent Order of Oddfellows (South London)[42]
  • 1827: Caledonian Lodge of Oddfellows,[43][44] based in Newburgh fife, is the only lodge of oddfellows left in Scotland
  • 1832: Ancient and Noble (Bolton Unity) split from the Grand United Order in 1832, dissolved in 1962[citation needed]
  • 1832: Ancient National Order of Oddfellows (Bolton)[42]
  • 1832: Nottingham Odd Fellows, split from the Manchester Unity in 1832.[citation needed]
  • 1834: Leeds United Order of Oddfellows[42]
  • 1840: Independent Order of Oddfellows (Kingston)[42]
  • 1845: National Independent Order of Oddfellows[42]
  • 1849: Independent Order of Oddfellows (Norfolk & Norwich Unity)[42]
  • 1850: Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society[e]
  • 1853: Improved Independent Order of Oddfellows (London)[42]
  • 1858: Free and Independent Order of Oddfellows[42]
  • 1861: Ancient Independent Order of Oddfellows (Kent)[42]
  • 1867: British United Order of Oddfellows[42]
  • 1883: Scottish Order of Oddfellows[43][45]
  • 1900: National Independent Order of Oddfellows[45][46]
  • 1910: Caledonian Order of United Oddfellows[43][45]

Other Oddfellows in the United Kingdom[edit]

  • Ancient and Noble Order of United Oddfellows[43][45]
  • Independent Order of Oddfellows Bolton Unity Friendly Society[43][45]
  • Independent Order of Oddfellows Kingston Unity Friendly Society[43][45]

Odd Fellows based in the United States[edit]

British-American Thomas Wildey (1782–1861) founded the Washington Lodge No 1 in Baltimore in 1819, subsequently the Independent Order of Odd Fellows since 1842.

Oddfellows around the world[edit]


  • Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF)[48]
  • Grand United Order of Odd Fellows (GUOOF)
  • Manchester Unity Order of Odd Fellows (MUOOF)


The Odd Fellows have been subject to controversy, notably in the 19th century, mainly due to attributions - right or wrong - of doubtful secrecy.

For instance, the Catholic Church in the 19th century spoke out against secret societies such as freemasonry deemed "pseudo-religious", but also addressed other organisations, including expressing suspicions against the stated religious neutrality and independence of odd fellows.[49]

In 1907, the Apostolic Delegate to the United States, the Mt. Rev. Diomede Falconio, in reply to a query from the Rev. Novatus Benzing, OFM of Phoenix, Arizona, determined that the Daughters of Rebekah, the auxuiliary of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, as well as the female auxiliaries of other condemned secret societies, fell under the same category of condemnation. However, permission for "passive membership" in female groups affiliated with societies condemned by the church in 1894 (including the odd fellows, Knights of Pythias and Sons of Temperance) could be granted individually under certain conditions, viz. that the person in question had joined the group in good faith before the condemnation, that leaving the group would cause financial hardship due to the loss of sick benefits and insurance, that if permission is granted dues would only be paid by mail, the parishioner would not attend any lodge meetings, and the society would not have anything to do with the person's funeral.[50]

Since 1975, however, several Catholic priests have become members of the Odd Fellows. One of them was Father Titian Anthos Miani who joined Scio Lodge No.102 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Linden, California.[51] As soon as the controversy declined and religious leaders began to accept secular organizations, numerous pastors, priests, bishops and rabbis from different religious sects have become members and some even held leadership positions in the Odd Fellows.[52]


  1. ^ Both History of the Oddfellows  and The Oddfellows Over the Years  describe the evolution of the Guilds, and Oddfellow terminology derived from the guilds. For example, each Guild was headed by a Grand Master, the name that the odd fellows use to refer to their annually elected Head.
  2. ^ History of the Oddfellows : The "Master" required that guild members wear expensive uniforms and jewellery to meetings; as the less wealthy "Fellows" could not afford these, they were thus precluded from membership. Lodge "collars" and "jewels" have their origins in this guild-masters' "restrictive trade practice".
  3. ^ The Grand United Order of Oddfellows are now more commonly referred to as The Grand United Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society (GUOOFS) .
  4. ^ a b 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.
  5. ^ a b The Manchester Unity of Oddfellows is also known as The Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society [16]


  1. ^ "Odd-fellow | Define Odd-fellow at Dictionary.com". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  2. ^ "Urban Dictionary: Odd Fellowship". Sv.urbandictionary.com. 2009-09-16. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  3. ^ a b c "The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Odd Fellows, The Independent Order of - Wikisource, the free online library". En.wikisource.org. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  4. ^ a b "Read all about our history and origins". The Oddfellows. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  5. ^ "A LIBRARY AND MUSEUM OF FREEMASONRY INFORMATION LEAFLET : THE ODDFELLOWS" (PDF). Freemasonry.london.museum. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Read all about us and where we came from". The Oddfellows. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  7. ^ "About". Ioof.org. 2013-04-19. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  8. ^ "Deutscher Odd Fellow-Orden: Geschichte des Ordens". Oddfellows.de. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  9. ^ IOOF International Network, IOOF Grand Lodge of South Australia, www.keyinvest.com.au/ioofsa
  10. ^ a b 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 14 October 2009.
  11. ^ a b  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Oddfellows, Order of". Encyclopædia Britannica 19 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 996. 
  12. ^ a b Weinbren, Daniel (2010) The Oddfellows 1810–2010: Two Hundred Years of Making Friends and Helping People Lancaster: Carnegie Publishing, ISBN 978-1-85936207-5
  13. ^ Burkley M. Gray (n.d.) Fraternalism in America (1860 - 1920), Phoenixmasonry Masonic Museum, www.phoenixmasonry.org.
  14. ^ History and Traditions, (U.K.), www.oddfellows.co.uk. Retrieved 11 November 2009.
  15. ^ 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 2 September 2007. 
  16. ^ a b c "History of the Oddfellows". Manchester, UK: The Oddfellows (The Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society Limited). Retrieved 1 January 2015. 
  17. ^ a b "History of the Oddfellows". Manchester, UK: The Oddfellows (The Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society Limited). Archived from the original on 27 February 2007. Retrieved 2 September 2007. 
  18. ^ a b "History of the Oddfellows". Manchester, UK: The Oddfellows (The Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society Limited). Retrieved 1 January 2015. 
  19. ^ a b "The Oddfellows Over the Years". Manchester, UK: The Oddfellows (The Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society Limited). Retrieved 1 January 2015. 
  20. ^ a b "History". Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America. Retrieved 3 January 2015. 
  21. ^ "The Oddfellows Over the Years". Manchester, UK: The Oddfellows (The Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society Limited). Retrieved 1 January 2015. 
  22. ^ "History Of The Order". Guoofamerica.com. 1943-01-06. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  23. ^ [1][dead link]
  24. ^ "Fraternal Research : History of Odd Fellowship" (PDF). Fraternalresearch.wordpress.com. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  25. ^ Oddfellows in Australia 100 years, p.5.
  26. ^ "What is Odd Fellowship" slideshow by Sovereign Grand Lodge[not specific enough to verify]
  27. ^ Frequently Asked Questions, The Oddfellows Over the Years, Manchester Unity, www.oddfellows.co.uk
  28. ^ "The website of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Sweden mentions that historians believe there are records in Scotland which show its original form sometime in the 1500s". Oddfellow.org. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  29. ^ The website of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Australia[which?] states that "The exact origin of the Odd Fellow fraternities is unknown. The earliest written record is in a public museum in Scotland and is a Charter granted to a 'Society of Odd Fellows' under seal dated 6 May 1557."
  30. ^ Historian Greer[who?] claimed that Oddfellowship dates from sometime before 1650.[citation needed]
  31. ^ Most statements here can be found in Weinbren, D. (2010). "The Oddfellows: 200 years of making friends and helping people". United Kingdom: Carnegie Publishing
  32. ^ Birdely, G. "The origin, rise and progress of Oddfellowship. Manx Quarterly, 7, 1909.
  33. ^ a b History, Manchester Unity, www.oddfellows.org.uk
  34. ^ About the Odd Fellows Fraternity, ioofphilippines.yolasite.com
  35. ^ Our History, Grand United Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society (GUOOFS)
  36. ^ GUOOFS, Grand United Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society (U.K.), www.guoofs.com
  37. ^ Oddfellows Magazine, Oct 1838, p.171
  38. ^ From a review of '"A Sermon, delivered in the Parish Church of Sheffield, to the Original United Order of Oddfellows", on Monday, 9 July 1798, by George Smith MA, curate of the said Church, and late of Trinity College, Cambridge' in Gentleman's Magazine, September 1798, pp.785–6.
  39. ^ Mark A. Tabbert (2003) The Odd Fellows, Masonic Papers, first published Dec. 2003, "The Northern Light", Scottish Rite Freemasonry, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, USA.
  40. ^ "The Oddfellows", (Manchester Unity), were established in 1810 and celebrated their bi-centenerary in 2010.
  41. ^ Solt-Dennis, Victoria (2005). Discovering Friendly and Fraternal Societies: Their Badges and Regalia. Princes Risborough, UK: Shire Publications. p. 90. ISBN 0-74780628-4. 
  42. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Wilkinson, JF (1891), The Friendly Society Movement (extracts), Longmans 
  43. ^ a b c d e f The History of the Oddfellows in Scotland, UK: RLS 
  44. ^ "Friendly Societies". HistoryShelf.org. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  45. ^ a b c d e f "Oddfellows Orders in Scotland", Friendly Societies, History shelf 
  46. ^ "The Oddfellows", Friendly Societies, History shelf 
  47. ^ The (American) Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), Ioof.org, retrieved 2015-11-24 
  48. ^ "Odd Fellows Lodge of South Australia". Ioofsa.org.au. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  49. ^ "Should Catholics join the Odd Fellows? | Catholic Answers". Catholic.com. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  50. ^ Preuss p.104
  51. ^ p.122-123 Christy, F. & Smith, D. (1995). Six Links of Fellowship. CA: Linden Publications
  52. ^ Christy, F. & Smith, D. (1995). Six Links of Fellowship. CA: Linden Publications


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.