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WoodmenLife (officially Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society) is a not-for-profit fraternal benefit society founded in 1890, based in Omaha, Nebraska, United States, that operates a large privately held insurance company for its members.[1]

The history of this organization includes numerous philanthropic efforts and community outreach projects; distinctive tombstones depicting tree stumps across the country before 1930, a program to present American flags, and broadcast interests that were to own the first television station where Johnny Carson worked.


The organization was founded in 1890 in Omaha, Nebraska, by Joseph Cullen Root. Root founded Modern Woodmen of America (MWA) in Lyons, Iowa, in 1883, after hearing a sermon about "pioneer woodsmen clearing away the forest to provide for their families". Taking his own surname to heart, he wanted to start a society that "would clear away problems of financial security for its members".[2]

After internal dissension within the MWA, Root was ejected from the organization that he had founded. When moving to Omaha, Root decided to start again with a new group he called the Modern Woodmen of the World. He soon dropped the "Modern", and the organization became "Woodmen of the World".[3]

Woodmen of the World began marketing itself as WoodmenLife on June 1, 2015.[4]


Over the years a number of smaller fraternal organizations have been absorbed into WoodmenLife, including the United Order of the Golden Cross in 1962, the Order of Railroad Telegraphers in 1962, and the New England Order of Protection in 1969.[5]

The Woodmen of the World had a female auxiliary called the Woodmen Circles from the early 1890s. Its local units were called local "Groves" and they were governed by a "Supreme Forest", subject to the Sovereign Camp of the Woodmen of the World.[6] The Circle eventually reached 130,000 members, but it was absorbed by the Woodmen in 1965.[7]

During the Woodmen Circle convention of 1897, delegates from nine western states declared their intention to leave the national organization. They formed a new organization called the "Pacific Circle, Women of Woodcraft". It changed its name to the Neighbors of Woodcraft in 1917,[8] but it merged with the Woodmen of the World in July 2001.[9]

The first Boys of Woodcraft unit was founded in Jacksonville, Florida in 1903, by J.M. Taylor.[10] In 1979, the Boys of Woodcraft Sportsmen's Clubs and the Girls of Woodcraft merged into the Woodmen Rangers and Rangerettes. This youth affiliate had 115,471 members in 1979.[11]

In the current constitution youth affiliates are called Youth Chapters which are affiliated to adult Chapters.[12]


The organization used to own a 19-story tower at 14th and Farnam Streets which was the tallest building between Chicago and the West Coast at the time of its dedication in 1912.[13] WOW built its current 30-story Woodmen Tower in 1969. It was Omaha's tallest building until the completion of the 45-story First National Bank Tower in 2002.

The original WOW building was demolished in 1977.[14]


The organization played an important role in broadcast history, until it was forced to divest itself of these holdings because of its not-for-profit status. On November 27, 1922, the society began broadcasting on the radio station "WOAW", with a signal that reached ships in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans from its 500-watt (later 1,000 watt, and eventually 5,000 watt) transmitters.[dubious ] In 1926, the station became WOW after the ship SS Henry J. Bibble, which had held the call sign, was retired from service.[15]

The organization's not-for-profit status was to cause a legal battle over ownership of the station. In 1943, the station was leased to an independent organization, Radio Station WOW, Inc. The U.S. Supreme Court voided this lease, returning it to the society, but keeping the license in the hands of the station. In 1949, the radio station began the television station WOW-TV. Among its first performers was Johnny Carson, who had a daily show called The Squirrel's Nest, where he told jokes, conducted humorous interviews and staged various skits.[16]

Stock in the broadcasting company was bought out by Meredith Corporation in 1958, effectively ending the society's relationship with the station, but the use of the "WOW" call sign continued. The television station became WOWT in 1975 to obtain FCC approval of its sale to Chronicle Broadcasting.

In 1999, Journal Broadcast Group changed the unusual three-letter radio call sign to KOMJ, later KXSP, for the AM station. The FM station became KQCH.

Cemetery stone with Woodmen logo.


A physical legacy of the organization are headstones in the shape of a tree stump. This was an early benefit of Woodmen of the World membership, and they are found in cemeteries nationwide. This program was abandoned in the late 1920s as it was too costly.

Typically the headstones would include a depiction of the WOW relics and symbols of the organization. These include most notably a stump or felled tree (inscribed into a more generic monument in some cases, rather than the more noticeable instances of the entire monument being in the shape of the log or tree-stump); the maul and wedge; an axe; and often a Dove of Peace with an olive branch. As Woodmen "do not lie", a common inscription was "Here rests a Woodman of the World".


Historically, the top of the organizational structure of WoodmenLife was the "Sovereign Camp", which met quadrennially. When the Sovereign Camp was not in session the organizations was run by a board of directors. States were called either "Jurisdictions" or "Head Camps". Local groups were called either "Camps", "Courts" or "Groves". There were 4,000 locals in 1979.[17]

Locals are now called Chapters which are part of geographical Jurisdictions. Chapters elect delegates to the Jurisdictional Conventions held every two years who in turn elect delegates to the National Conventions which are held every four.[18] The governing body of WoodmenLife is the National Convention.[19] In between conventions the organization is run by a Board of Directors which includes the President and CEO, Executive Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel, Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer (COO) and up to ten additional members.[20]

WoodmenLife provides financial services to approximately 700,000 members in the U.S.


There are more than 900 community-based WoodmenLife chapters throughout the nation. Chapters conduct volunteer and charitable activities.

The organization's annual In Honor and Remembrance ceremonies pay tribute to those involved in the Sept. 11 attacks of 2001. More than 2,400 In Honor and Remembrance ceremonies have been held since the program began in 2002. To mark the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, WoodmenLife hung two 50 x 100-foot American flags on the WoodmenLife Tower. Twin beams of light, with a combined 10 billion candela, illuminated the Omaha skyline each evening during the week of Sept. 11, 2006, in tribute to the World Trade Center.

The organization's patriotic program includes presenting flagpoles and American flags to schools, fire departments, parks, and other public places. WoodmenLife is the second-largest distributor (after the U.S. government) of flags throughout the U.S., distributing more than 2.5 million flags since 1947.

With the WoodmenLife/American Red Cross disaster relief partnership, the organization's members were encouraged to support the disaster relief work of their local Red Cross chapters. In 2005, following the Gulf Coast hurricanes, WoodmenLife members reported more than 206,000 hours of volunteer assistance. This included preparing more than 175,000 meals for storm victims, evacuees and rescue workers. WoodmenLife camp facilities in several states were also used as mass shelter sites.

In film[edit]

In the film About Schmidt (2002), Jack Nicholson plays a retired Woodman executive actuary.

Financial standing[edit]

WoodmenLife has been awarded a rating of A+, the second highest ranking out of 15, for its financial strength and operating performance by A.M. Best.[21]


  1. ^ Schmidt, Alvin J. Fraternal Organizations Westport, CT; Greenwood Press p.355
  2. ^ "Joseph Cullen Root - Giant Of American Fraternalism". srjarchives.tripod.com.
  3. ^ Schmidt p.355
  4. ^ Woodmen of the World Adopts New Service Mark
  5. ^ Alan Axelrod International Encyclopedia of Secret Societies and Fraternal Orders New York; Facts on File, inc 1997 p.265
  6. ^ Stevens pp.195-6
  7. ^ Schmidt p.354
  8. ^ Schmidt pp.236-7
  9. ^ Woodmen of the World's Storied History
  10. ^ Woodmen of the World's Storied History
  11. ^ Schmidt p.356
  12. ^ The Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society Articles of Incorporation and Constitution and Laws Article 6 Section 1(a)
  13. ^ "Woodmen of the World Building". emporis.com. Retrieved 6 October 2010.
  14. ^ "Woodmen of the World Tower and First National Tower". unl.edu. Retrieved 6 October 2010.
  15. ^ "A Tribute To A Midwest Broadcast Legend WOW 590AM". tripod.com. Retrieved 6 October 2010.
  16. ^ "Carson, Johnny". museum.tv. Retrieved 6 October 2010.
  17. ^ Schmidt pp.355-6
  18. ^ [The Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society Articles of Incorporation and Constitution and Laws |https://www.woodmen.org/file-downloads/ConstitutionandLaws.pdf] Articles of Incorporation. Article 8
  19. ^ The Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society Articles of Incorporation and Constitution and Laws Constitution Article 1 Sec. 1
  20. ^ The Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society Articles of Incorporation and Constitution and Laws Constitution Article 2 Sections 1(a) and 2(a)
  21. ^ http://www3.ambest.com/ratings/entities/CompanyProfile.aspx?BL=0&ambnum=7259&AltNum=10137259&AltSrc=3

External links[edit]