Many in Meadville are aware of the imposing Odd Fellows building, from being involved with an organization there to simply driving by its prominent location on North Main Street. Some may even be familiar with its history as an orphanage, though that activity was discontinued decades ago. But, why “Odd Fellows?” After learning about this “oddness,” I felt it important to share these findings here and I think you will understand why.
The origin of the Odd Fellows can be traced to England in the 18th century, when many fraternal organizations were developing. However, what set this group apart was that they were formed, in part, to help others who were less fortunate. They were called “odd fellows” because they aided members of society in need. Community service is part of the history of this order, and is exemplified in their motto “Friendship, Love and Truth” which is also the basis for their “Triple Link” logo seen above.
The official name of the organization is “The Independent Order of Odd Fellows” (or IOOF) and it was established in the U.S. in 1819. Thirty-two years later, the IOOF was the first fraternal organization in country to admit women. By the end of the 19th century, it was the largest order of its type, with meeting centers, or “lodges,” located all over the world. The building in Meadville is an example of this expansion and its history will be discussed in our next article.
More Recent History
However, with the advent of the commercial insurance industry, and New Deal programs from the Depression, the role and membership of the IOOF declined dramatically. After a peak of nearly 3 million in 1922, participation declined to 243,000 in 1979. There has been a resurgence in activity globally in 21st century, though, and the IOOF now claims to be the “largest united international fraternal order in the world under one head,” with approximately 12,000 lodges and 600,000 members.
So, though named “odd,” the IOOF were actually good, in being one of the first community organizations dedicated to community service. One of their most significant legacies is their Meadville building, the first fraternal orphanage in the world. The history of that program will be discussed further in our next blog. We hope these articles will shed greater “light” on a building we love and will inspire you to come celebrate it with us.