Dated May 23. 1913, this photo shows a group of men holding a banner that reads “Paducah Camp 11313 MWA”. Kneeling in the front row, second from left, is my maternal grandfather; James T. Murray, age 20.
A little research (thanks Google!) tells me this was the local chapter of the Modern Woodmen of America; a fraternal organization.
My BFF, Wikipedia, tells me Modern Woodmen of America was founded in 1883 by Joseph Cullen Root as an organization that would protect families following the death of a breadwinner. It was, essentially, a non-profit, fraternal, life-insurance provider. The organization still exists, offering insurance and other financial services to its members. It still operates as a tax-exempt fraternal benefit society. Through local chapters, lodges or camps, they support social, charitable and volunteer activities in their communities.
The men pictured in the photo were the Paducah Camp’s “Drill Team”. The drill teams were known as “Modern Woodmen Foresters”; hence the axes. These groups were nationally-known for events held from 1890 to the late 1930s. “Rainbow Parades”, so named because each chapter had different colored uniforms, were hosted by cities across the United States and included 10,000 Forester units with more than 160,000 men. The last known Rainbow Parade was held in Chicago, on Michigan Boulevard, and halted traffic for more than two hours while thousands of spectators looked on.
Modern Woodmen opened a 1,000-acre tuberculosis sanatorium in Colorado Springs in 1907. At the time, TB was the leading cause of death among members. The $1.5 million facility provided treatment to more than 12,000 members at no cost to the patient. Following World War II, antibiotics became available, and TB declined in the United States. The facility closed in 1947.
Originally the Modern Woodmen had unusual membership restrictions. There were no religious restrictions of any kind; unusual for a 19th century fraternal organization. Membership was, however, restricted to white males between the ages of 18-45 and only in the twelve “healthiest” states; Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas. Obviously that was later expanded to include Kentucky.
Residents of large cities were disqualified from membership. Those employed in a long list of professions were also prohibited from joining: railway breakmen, 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. Some of these restrictions seem to have the whiff of moral judgment but most seem like what today would be called “risk management”. The professions listed were dangerous and would, therefore, have given rise to higher claim rates.
The Wright Brothers first flight was in 1903 so I don’t imagine there were many “aeronauts” (presumably N.K.A. ‘pilots’) in the late 19th-century Midwest. Certainly, one wonders how many submariners they could have actually turned away. My grandfather later became a miner, an excluded profession. I wonder if their membership rules had changed or his membership lapsed. Maybe he was “grandfathered in”.