Fraternal organization is an association set up to provide companionship or economic benefits for its members and, in many cases, to perform community service. There are three main types of fraternal organizations: (1) college fraternities and sororities, (2) social fraternal societies, and (3) fraternal benefit societies.
College fraternities and sororities offer social and educational opportunities to college and university students. For more information on these organizations, see the Fraternity and Sorority articles.
Social fraternal societies provide social opportunities and, in some cases, a chance to celebrate patriotic ideals. These organizations include the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and the American Legion.
Fraternal benefit societies also provide their members with social opportunities. But in addition, they offer life, accident, and health insurance and retirement savings plans. The Knights of Columbus and the Sons of Norway are fraternal benefit societies.
Common characteristics. Many fraternal organizations maintain such traditions as secret passwords, rituals, and initiation rites. Most restrict their membership to maintain the organization’s “common bond.” Some admit only men or only women. Some limit their membership to people of certain religious denominations, ethnic backgrounds, or trades. Many fraternal organizations for men have auxiliary orders that members’ wives, mothers, daughters, or sisters can join. A few fraternal organizations are limited to a single state, but almost all have national or international membership.
Governing methods. In most fraternal organizations, local lodges or chapters elect representatives to serve on a local governing board. The organization may also have state or regional governing bodies. Each fraternal organization holds a national convention of delegates elected by local groups. The delegates vote on the organization’s rules and elect the officers who make up the organization’s supreme governing body. These officers serve until the next convention is held.
History. Early fraternal organizations resembled English friendly societies, which first appeared in the 1500’s. Working people set up these clubs to provide members with social opportunities and sickness and death benefits. Some fraternal organizations founded branches in the United States and Canada in the early 1800’s. New fraternal organizations also were set up in America.
The National Fraternal Congress was formed in 1886 to provide state regulation and uniform legislation for fraternal benefit organizations. In 1901, certain fraternal societies formed the rival Associated Fraternities of America. The two associations united in 1913 to form the National Fraternal Congress of America.