FORMAL ORGANIZATION AND NAME
The Order of Elks was formally organized February 16,1868, in the City of New York. Its full corporate name is "Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America." Its declared purposes are to practice its four cardinal virtues, Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity; to promote the welfare and enhance the happiness of its members; to quicken the spirit of American patriotism; and to cultivate good fellowship.
The animal from which the Order took its name was chosen because a number of its attributes were deemed typical of those to be cultivated by members of the fraternity. The elk is distinctively an American animal. It habitually lives in herds. The largest of our native quadrupeds, it is yet fleet of foot and graceful in movement. It is quick and keen of perception; and while it is usually gentle and even timorous, it is strong and valiant in defense of its own.
A representation of the majestic head of the male, with its spreading antlers, was adopted as the first badge of the Order; and is still the most conspicuous element of its copyrighted; fraternal emblem.
QUALIFICATIONS FOR MEMBERSHIP
Membership in the Order is limited to any citizen of the United States, not under twenty-one years of age, who believe in the existence of God, who subscribe themselves to the objects and purposes of the Order and who have been duly initiated in a Subordinate Lodge.
There are no branches or degrees of membership in the Order; there are auxiliary organizations, such as State Associations and Past Exalted Rulers' Associations.
Under the laws of the Order, State Associations may be formed in any or all states by such Subordinate Lodges as may voluntarily desire to organize into such groups.
They have power to regulate their own internal affairs, and are authorized to inaugurate and foster such benevolent activities as may be selected by them for their serious objectives. They are encouraged to promote better ritual exemplification in their member Lodges, and to provide for fraternal contacts that will afford opportunities for Elks in their respective jurisdictions to become better acquainted with each other. And they also act in an advisory capacity as to the establishment of new Lodges therein.
They are generally prohibited from exercising other functions, and are specifically denied any jurisdiction over the Subordinate Lodges or their members. In their allotted fields they have proved peculiarly effective agencies, particularly in the conduct of charitable enterprises of extended scope and major importance, such as could not be successfully carried on by individual Lodges.
PAST EXALTED RULERS' ASSOCIATIONS
Recognizing the valuable advice and guidance which can come only from those who have served as chief executive officers of their Lodge, the Order has by Statute mandated that these experienced members form an association within every Lodge and provide its competent and helpful counsel to assist the officers, committeemen and members of their Lodge in conducting its affairs.
THE ELKS COLORS* . . .
The Elk colors are Royal Purple and White, a combination deriving its origin from the history of the Clergy, Nobility and the People. Throughout Europe, the Orient and in Rome the symbolism of colors was associated with severity of laws and customs. Each color in each pattern was identified religious, or political, and to change or alter it was a crime of rebellion, a desertion of principles, party or cause.
White denotes purity and absolute truth. When combined with Royal Purple it signifies the love of truth and the highest degree of virtue. Purple is the badge of Kingship, the color for the robes of Emperors and High Priests, and signifies highest favor. Blending of White and Royal Purple indicates the favor of the people, which bespeaks the status of Elkdom.
* An Authentic History of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, by Charles Edward Ellis.
Naturally the ritual of initiation is the most important, as it is the most elaborate, of any Lodge ceremonial. It is designed to instruct and inspire the initiate; and, in an appropriate setting, to secure his assumption of the solemn and binding obligation of membership.
It is conducted throughout with dignity and decorum. It is wholly devoid of any feature which will embarrass or annoy the candidate, or subject him to ridicule or to any discomfort, physical or mental.
ELEVEN O'CLOCK TOAST
Regular meetings of Subordinate Lodges have always been held at night. In the earlier days they were usually held on Sunday nights and were concluded about eleven o'clock. As the participants departed, they naturally made inquiries about the absentees and expressed sympathetic interest in the causes of their absence. It soon became a custom for some member to propose a toast to the brothers who were not present. And in the course of time this custom was quite generally observed whenever a group of Elks were together at eleven o'clock.
Eventually the Grand Lodge specifically provided for such a ceremonial to be observed during Lodge sessions; and designated it as "The Eleven o'clock Toast." Under this provision, whenever a Lodge is in session at that hour, the regular order of business is suspended for a few moments while the Exalted Ruler recites the beautiful ritual prescribed, concluding with the words: "To our absent Brothers."
Upon other strictly fraternal occasions this "golden hour of recollection" is generally observed in somewhat the same manner. A designated brother, with or without a few preliminary remarks, proposes the toast, to which all members respond with the words: "To our absent Brothers." Even when small groups of Elks are together at this hour, although it is not a formal fraternal occasion, it is not inappropriate to recall the sentiment with a moment of dignified silence.
The ceremonial is a very effective one, distinctively associated with the Order of Elks. The sentiment it embodies is wholesome and commendable; and it is, therefore, obvious that the designed effect should not be marred by any lack of dignity or decorum; and that it should never be cheapened by observance in inappropriate surroundings.
It was another early, but voluntary, custom among Elks for the Subordinate Lodges to conduct a formal service in tribute to a brother who had died. With the growth of the Order this custom became more and more general; and the appealing sentiment of which it was born was crystallized in a Statute of the Order.
Under its provisions the first Sunday in December of each year is designated as "Elks Memorial Day"; and it is mandatory upon each Subordinate Lodge to commemorate departed brothers on that day.
A definite ritual has been prescribed for this annual event, which lends itself with equal effectiveness to the simplest, or the most elaborate, of permitted programs.
The Memorial Service may be conducted in the Lodge room for members only; but it is often observed as a public ceremonial, with a program of special music and other appropriate features.
FLAG DAY SERVICE
It is to be expected that an organization dedicated to patriotic service should seek to promote a proper knowledge of, and respect for, the American Flag, and all that it represents. The Order of Elks has done this in many ways. Perhaps the most effective of its prescribed activities is the Flag Day Service. Each Subordinate Lodge is required to conduct this service annually on June l4th, the anniversary of the birth of the American Flag.
The idea of a Flag Day Service was first suggested to our Order by the then Grand Exalted Ruler at the 1907 Grand Lodge Session in Philadelphia. Of the dates submitted for consideration at that time, June 14 was adopted by the session and was called "Elks Flag Day." The following year, in Dallas, the Grand Lodge approved a ritual for the Flag Day ceremony.
The 1911 Grand Lodge Session at Atlantic City made the observance of Flag Day mandatory for Subordinate Lodges by the adoption of Section 229 of the Statutes: "It shall be the duty of each Subordinate Lodge to hold the service known as "Flag Day Services" at the time and in the manner prescribed by the ritual of the Order.
Later on - at the Grand Lodge Session in Atlantic City in 1930 - there was added to this statute an amendment, reading: "The Grand Exalted Ruler may, in exceptional cases and for good cause, grant a dispensation for a different day or to any two or more Lodges to hold such services jointly."
It was not until August 3,1949 that the President of the United States signed Public Law 203, designating June 14 as Flag Day. Thus our Order was not only the first fraternal organization to celebrate Flag Day, but had made this ceremony mandatory long years before the date on which the observance became a nation-wide practice by legal decree.
The ritual for the occasion is an elaborate one and it is quite generally conducted as a public ceremonial. It is designed to be informative as well as inspirational; and the colorful pageantry provided lends itself admirably to the achievement of these objectives.
It not infrequently happens that the family of a deceased member of the Order desire his Lodge to conduct a funeral service incident to his interment, either in supplement of the usual religious rites, or as the only ceremonial to be used.
A ritual for such a service has been provided, to be conducted by the officers and members of the Lodge. Without any suggestion of sectarianism, it is beautiful and impressive, and it is appropriately designed for use in the Lodge room, in a funeral home, or at the grave.
This ceremonial is designated - "Lodge of Sorrow."
CHARITABLE AND PATRIOTIC SERVICE
The primary object of the Order is the practice of Charity in its broadest significance, not merely that of alms giving. Its service in this wide field necessarily involves a great diversity of activities, which naturally are influenced by local conditions. It therefore early adopted the policy of permitting its Subordinate Lodges to select for themselves the benevolent endeavors in which they severally desired to engage, rather than to require them to participate solely in national projects undertaken by the Order as whole.
However, throughout its history, the Order has endeavored to maintain itself in readiness, as a national body, to extend its aid in cases of major catastrophe and misfortune. Through its official agencies in all parts of the country, it has been able to render such assistance with a promptness, effectiveness and lack of red tape, which have tremendously enhanced the practical helpfulness of its adopted measures.
For many years the aggregate expenditures of the Subordinate Lodges for charitable purposes have run into millions of dollars each year, covering humanitarian services of infinite variety. Among the most usual of such activities may be mentioned the following: food to the hungry; shelter for the homeless; clothing and fuel for the needy; milk for the under-nourished babies; medical attention to the sick; baskets to the poor at Christmas and Thanksgiving; outings for underprivileged children; entertainment for shut-ins; education for young people; artificial limbs for the maimed; hospital beds; free clinics; night schools. And the list might be indefinitely extended. All of the State Elks Associations have undertaken important and extensive charitable works within their own several jurisdictions, determined by the particular conditions therein existing and the preferences of their constituent members. They include rehabilitation of crippled children, treatment of indigent tubercular patients, provision for scholarships to worthy students, maintenance of orphans, boys' camps, training of the blind, eyeglasses for needy boys and girls, cerebral palsy clinics, cancer clinics, and other state wide projects of similar character and of equal worthiness, which are being carried on as continuing activities. No history of social service in the United States would be complete without an inspiring chapter devoted to the achievements of the Order of Elks in this field.
In the field of patriotic service, the Order of Elks has likewise proved itself an agency of singular force and effectiveness.
Organized at a time when the bitterness and rancor of the Civil War had left their wounds on every heart on both sides of the Mason and Dixon line, the Order patiently taught its members through the years, drawn as they were from all sections of the country, that bitterness ought to be sweetened; that rancor ought to be assuaged; those wounds ought to be healed.
Through the widening influence of its members, thus bound together by the ties of brotherhood, and thus fraternally schooled, the restoration of national accord was assuredly hastened, and a patriotic service of superlative importance was thus performed.
Never an altar is erected in all its jurisdiction, but that the first emblem to benevolently be placed beside it is the American Flag. No man is permitted to stand in front of that flag and altar and assume the obligation of membership unless he be an American citizen. And at the close of every Lodge session he attends he is required to renew his pledge of allegiance to that flag and all for which it stands.3