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The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE; also often known as the Elks Lodge or simply The Elks) is an American fraternal order and social club founded in 1868. It is one of the leading fraternal orders in the U.S., claiming nearly one million members.[1]


The Elks had modest beginnings in 1868 as a social club (then called the "Jolly Corks") established as a private club to elude New York City laws governing the opening hours of public taverns. After the death of a member left his wife and children without income, the club took up additional service roles, rituals and a new name. Desiring to adopt "a readily identifiable creature of stature, indigenous to America," fifteen members voted 8–7 in favor of the elk above the buffalo.[2] Early members were mostly from theatrical performing troupes in New York City. It has since evolved into a major American fraternal, charitable, and service order with more than a million members, both men and women, throughout the United States and the former territories of the Philippines and the Panama Canal.[3]


The BPOE was originally an all white organization. In the early 1970s this policy led the Order into conflict with the courts over its refusal to allow African Americans the use of its club and leisure activities. In nearly all instances, the all whites clause was made public after someone was denied the use of the Elks' dining or leisure facilities. The clause was revoked at the Grand Lodge of 1976, with the proviso that it could be reinstated if the law allowed. However, some noted that the revocation would probably have little impact, as the Elks used the Blackball system to accept members, and at least three votes in a lodge were necessary to deny an applicant membership.[4]

In 1979 the qualifications for membership included being male, 21 years old, of sound mind and body, a citizen of the United States and not a member of the Communist Party. Belief in a Supreme Being has been a prerequisite for membership since 1892. The word "God" was substituted for Supreme Being in 1946.[5]

The current requirements include a belief in God, American citizenship, good moral character and being over 21.[6]

In 1976 the BPOE had 1,611,139 members.[7] Currently, it has 850,000 members.[6]


The Elks have traditionally been an all male fraternal order. Unlike many other male orders, it has never had an official female auxiliary, after passing a resolution in 1907 that ruled "There shall be no branches or degrees of membership in the Order, nor any insurance or mutual features, nor shall there be other adjuncts of auxiliaries".[8] The Elks enforced this resolution through at least the 1970s. Nevertheless, several unofficial female auxiliaries were created: the Emblem Club, the Lady Elks and the Benevolent and Patriotic Order of Does. The Lady Elks appear only to exist on the local level and varies from place to place with regard to its activities. There also does not appear to be any published or printed ritual.[9]

More organized are the Benevolent, Protective Order of Does who were founded on chartered on February 12, 1921. This organization does have an organization above the local level, complete with districts, state organizations and a national "Grand Lodge".[10] The Does also have a written secret ritual based on the Magnificat of Mary and which makes reference to St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians Chapter 13, emphasizing love and charity.[11]

The Emblem Club was founded in 1926, with a ritual written by a male Elk. It also has a national organization with local Clubs, State Association and a national Supreme Club of the United States.[12]

Women were permitted to join in the mid-1990s The opening of membership to women was mandated by the Oregon Public Accommodations Act, which was found by an appeals court to apply to the BPOE, and it has been speculated that the religious restriction might be litigated on the same basis.[13] A year after the national organization changed its policy to allow women to join, the Vermont Supreme Court ordered punitive damages of $5,000 for each of seven women whom a local chapter had rejected citing other reasons.[14]

Structure and organization


The Elks' national headquarters are located in Chicago at the Elks National Veterans Memorial and Headquarters, over looking Lincoln Park, near Lake Michigan. This building was originally conceived as a memorial to the nearly 1,000 Elk brother who were lost in the First World War. The cornerstone was laid July 7, 1924 and the building was officially dedicated on July 14, 1926.[15][16]

The rotunda displays mural and statues illustrating the Elks four cardinal virtues of charity,justice, brotherly love and fidelity. The friezes depict the "Triumphs of War" on on side and "Triumphs of Peace" on the other. The entrance is flanked by large bronze Elks.[17]

Grand Lodge

The BPOE is organized on three levels: the national or "grand" level, the state level and the local lodge. The highest level is the Grand Lodge, which meets in convention annually. The Grand Lodge elects all the officers of the order such as the Grand Exalted Ruler - the chief executive officer of the organization - Grand Secretary, Grand Esteemed Leading Knight, Grand Esteemed Loyal Knight, Grand Esteemed Lecturing Knight, Grand Treasurer, Grand Tiler (in charge of regalia), Grand Inner Guard and Grand Trustees. The three Knights assist the Grand Exalted Ruler and officiate in his absence; furthermore, the Grand Esteemed Loyal Knight acts a prosecutor in cases when an Elk is accused of an offense against the order. The Grand Trustee have general authority over assets and property owned by the order. The Grand Esquire is appointed by the Grand Exalted Ruler and organizes the Grand Lodges and serves as marshal of Elks parades. The Grand Chaplain is also appointed by the Grand Exalted Ruler.[18]

The local lodges are known by their lodge number and the name of the city in which they are located. For example, the first Lodge, located in New York City, is Lodge 1, while the Lodge in Nashville, TN is Lodge 72. When a Lodge is closed, its number is retired, but if re-instituted at a later time, the city name and lodge number can be reinstated by the Grand Lodge.

Elks Magazine is published 10 times a year and goes to all members.[1]

State Associations and Lodges

The state level organizations are called "State Associations"; state level officers include presidents, vice presidents, secretaries and treasurers. Local groups are called "Subordinate Lodges". Lodges officers are essentially the same as the ones on the national level, with "Grand" prefix removed. Lodges also may establish dinner and recreational clubs for members. In 1979 there were 2,200 lodges [19]

Local lodge officers

Chair Officers

  • Exalted Ruler
  • Esteemed Leading Knight
  • Esteemed Loyal Knight
  • Esteemed Lecturing Knight

Other Lodge Officers

  • Esquire
  • Inner Guard
  • Secretary
  • Treasurer
  • Tiler
  • Chaplain
  • Trustee (5 yr.)
  • Trustee (4 yr.)
  • Trustee (3 yr.)
  • Trustee (2 yr.)
  • Trustee (1 yr.)
  • Organist
  • Justice of the Subordinate Forum

Financial / Legal Governing

Lodges which are incorporated are required to be governed by a Board of Directors. Otherwise the Board of Trustees are the governing board. The Board of Directors consist of the Chaired Officers and the Trustees. This committee has the following powers: (a) control of the funds, investments and real and personal property of the Lodge, (b) execute all leases, contracts or other papers.

Social Club Management and Supervision

Lodges may choose in their bylaws between 4 options of governing their club facilities.

  1. Exalted Ruler, Esteemed Leading Knight, Esteemed Loyal Knight, Esteemed Lecturing Knight, and the Trustees of the Lodge
  2. Board of Trustees of the Lodge
  3. By a House Committee (of not less than 3 or more than 13) to be appointed by the Exalted Ruler of the Lodge
  4. Board of Directors of a corporation consisting of Chaired Officer and Trustees

Past Exalted Ruler's Association

Past Exalted Rulers are not considered officers, but rather a valuable advisory resource. A Lodge's Past Exalted Ruler's Association usually meets monthly, and current officers are encouraged to seek counsel from the men and women who have led Lodges in previous years.

Elks Mutual Benefit Association

Like many other fraternal order, the Elks at one point sponsored an insurance fund. The Elks Mutual Benefit Association was founded in 1878. At the 1885 Grand Lodge it was reported that the EMBA was prosperous, but its finances were carelessly managed. The Association was disbanded after the 1907 Grand Lodge passed a resolution banning mutual or insurance features, as well as degrees and auxiliaries.[20]


Despite its 1907 resolution banning auxiliary, the Elks at one point had a youth affiliate for young men called the Antlers. The first chapter was organized in February 1922 by San Francisco Lodge #3. The 1927 Grand lodge approved the junior order, granting the Grand exalted Ruler the power to permit subordinate lodges to instituted organizations for males under 21. In 1933 there were 45 local unites of the Antlers with 3,584 members. However, the Antlers numbers were decimated during the Second World War, with so many young men going off to war. Despite 86 local Antlers groups still existing in 1946, the Grand Lodge deleted all reference to them in their constitution and bylaws that year. However, some local Antlers groups were still active in 1979, according to one source.[21]

National Charity Programs

Lodges are encouraged to participate in national Elks charity programs. There are also State Elks Associations charity programs. This usually includes a State Major Project. Elks Lodges are usually involved in other local charitable efforts.

Due to the willingness of most Elk Lodges to respond to community needs and events, it is common to turn the BPOE abbreviation into a backronym for "Best People on Earth."[22][23][24]

Elks National Foundation

Established in 1928, the Elks National Foundation is the charitable arm of the BPOE. The foundation, with an endowment valued at more than $400 million, has contributed $253.5 million toward Elks' charitable projects nationwide.

Veteran Services

The Elks pledge that "So long as there are veterans, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will never forget them."[25]

  • Elks Veterans Memorial in Chicago IL
  • Army of Hope
  • Adopt-a-Veteran Program
  • Freedom Grants!
  • Veterans Leather Program
  • Veterans Remembrance
  • Playing Cards for Veterans
  • Re-Creation USA

Youth Programs


The Elks have shown their devotion to Americanism by conducting bond drives, promoting civil defense programs and Flag Day observance. During the Second World War they designated the week of March 15, 1942 "Win the War Week" and helped recruit for the United States Army Air Corps. An "Elks National Service Commission" was in operation from 1946-1950, and the Grand Lodge adopted a "Declaration of American Principles" in 1961 in Miami.[26]

Community Investment Program

  • Impact Grants
  • Promise Grants

Elks National Home

The Elks National Home is a retirement home in Bedford, Virginia built in 1916.

Rituals and Traditions

The Elks originally borrowed a number of rituals, traditions and regalia from the Freemasons, however by the first decade of the twentieth century, much of this had been abandoned as the Elks sought to establish their own identity. The original two degrees required for membership were consolidated into one degree in 1890, the apron was discontinued in 1895, the secret password was gone in 1899, and the badges and grips were abandoned by 1904.[26]

Initiation and funeral rituals still exist, however. The initiation rite is not considered a secret, but neither is it publicized indiscriminately either. The initiation involves an altar, with a bible upon it and chaplain leading the breatheren in prayers and psalms. The candidate must accept a "solemn and binding obligation" to never "reveal any of the confidential matters of the Order". He further promises to uphold the Constitution of the United States, protect brother Elks and their families, only support worthy candidates for admission and never bring political or sectarian questions up into the Order. The funeral rite is called the "Lodge of Sorrow" also involves prayers.[27]

The Hour of Recollection

Deceased and otherwise absent lodge members are recalled each evening at 11 p.m. Chimes or sometimes a bell will be rung 11 times and the Lodge Esquire intones, "It is the Hour of Recollection." The Exalted Ruler or a member designated by him gives the 11 o'clock toast, of which this version is the most common:

You have heard the tolling of eleven strokes. This is to remind you that with Elks, the hour of eleven has a tender significance. Wherever Elks may roam, whatever their lot in life may be, when this hour falls upon the dial of night, the great heart of Elkdom swells and throbs. It is the golden hour of recollection, the homecoming of those who wander, the mystic roll call of those who will come no more. Living or dead, an Elk is never forgotten, never forsaken. Morning and noon may pass them by, the light of day sink heedlessly into the west. But ere the shadows of midnight shall fall, the chimes of memory will be pealing forth the friendly message: To our absent members.[28]

Communal burial

An interesting physical artifact of the order is the number of communal cemetery plots once favored by the group. Often these are marked with impressive statuary.

Famous Elks



Presidents of the United States


Members of Congress

Other politicians



Sports figures

Other influential people

In popular culture

  • In Fibber McGee and Molly, Fibber was member of the Elks.
  • In Babbit, by Sinclair Lewis, the main character, George Babbit, is an active member of the Elks.
  • Canadian indie rock group The Weakerthans have a song entitled "Psalm for the Elks Lodge Last Call".
  • Composer Ferde Grofe's first commissioned work, The Grand Reunion March, was written for the 1909 Convention in Los Angeles.

National Convention sites & presiding Grand Exalted Rulers

The first Grand Lodge meeting was held on February 12, 1871 at 114–116 East 13th Street New York City, NY. The Grand Lodge Officers were, George J. Green elected to preside, E.G. Browne as Secretary and Hugh P. O'Neil, Fernando Pastor, J. C. Pinckney, S.K. Spencer, Claude Goldie, Henry P. O'Neil, A.H. Mulligan and Antonio "Tony" Pastor in other offices.[34][35][36]

Year: Convention Site, Grand Exalted Ruler Year: Convention Site, Grand Exalted Ruler Year: Convention Site, Grand Exalted Ruler Year: Convention Site, Grand Exalted Ruler
1871: No Convention, George J. Green 1871: No Convention, Charles T. White 1872: No Convention, Joseph C. Pinckney 1874: No Convention, James W. Powell
1874: No Convention, Henry P. O'Neil 1876: No Convention, Frank Girard 1878: No Convention, George R. Maguire 1879: No Convention, Charles E. Davies
1879: No Convention, Louis C. Waehner 1880: No Convention, Thomas E. Garrett 1882: No Convention, John J. Tindale 1883: No Convention, Edwin A. Perry
1884: No Convention, Henry S. Sanderson 1885: No Convention, Daniel A. Kelly 1886: No Convention, William E. English 1887: No Convention, Hamilton E. Leach
1889: No Convention, Simon Quinlin 1890: Cleveland OH, Simon Quinlin 1891: Louisville KY, Edwin B. Hay 1892: Buffalo NY, Edwin B. Hay
1893 :Detroit MI, Astley Apperly 1894: Atlantic City NJ, Edwin B. Hay 1895: Atlantic City NJ, William G. Meyers 1896: Cincinnati OH, Meade D. Detweiler
1897: Minneapolis MN, Meade D. Detweiler 1898: New Orleans LA, John Galvin 1899: St. Louis MO, B.M. Allen 1900: Atlantic City NJ, Jerome B. Fisher
1901: Milwaukee WI, Charles E. Pickett 1902: Salt Lake City UT, George P. Cronk 1903: Baltimore MD, Joseph T. Fanning 1904: Cincinnati OH, Wm. J. O'Brien, Jr.
1905: Buffalo NY, Robert W. Brown 1906: Denver CO, Henry A. Melvin 1907: Philadelphia PA, John K. Tener 1908: Dallas TX, Rush L. Holland
1909: Los Angeles CA, J.U. Sammis 1910: Detroit MI, Aug. Herrmann 1911: Atlantic City NJ, John P. Sullivan 1912: Portland OR, Thomas B. Mills
1913: Rochester NY, Edward Leach 1914: Denver CO, Raymond Benjamin 1915: Los Angeles CA, James R. Nicholson 1916: Baltimore MD, Edward Rightor
1917: Boston MA, Fred Harper 1918: Atlantic City NJ, Bruce A. Campbell 1919: Atlantic City NJ, Frank L. Rain 1920: Chicago IL, Wm. M. Abbott
1921: Los Angeles CA, W. W. Mountain 1922: Atlantic City NJ, J.E. Masters 1923: Atlanta GA, James G. McFarland 1924: Boston MA, John G. Price
1925: Portland OR, William H. Atwell 1926: Chicago IL, Charles H. Grakelow 1927: Cincinnati OH, John F. Malley 1928: Miami FL, Murray Hulbert
1929: Los Angeles CA, Walter P. Andrews 1930: Atlantic City NJ, Lawrence H. Rupp 1931: Seattle WA, John R. Coen 1932: Birmingham AL, Floyd E. Thompson
1933: Milwaukee WI, Walter F. Meier 1934: Kansas City MO, Michael F. Shannon 1935: Columbus OH, James T. Hallinan 1936: Los Angeles CA, David Sholtz
1937: Denver CO, Charles Spencer Hart 1938: Atlantic City NJ, Edward J. McCormick 1939: St. Louis MO, Henry C. Warner 1940: Houston TX, Joseph G. Buch
1941: Philadelphia PA, John S. McClelland 1942: Omaha NE, E. Mark Sullivan 1943: Boston MA, Frank J. Lonergan 1944: Chicago IL, Robert S. Barrett
1945: New York NY, Wade H. Kepner 1946: New York NY, Charles E. Broughton 1947: Portland OR, L. A. Lewis 1948: Philadelphia PA, George I. Hall
1949: Cleveland, OH, Emmett T. Anderson 1950: Miami FL, Joseph B. Kyle 1951: Chicago IL, Howard R. Davis 1952: New York NY, Sam Stern
1953: St. Louis MO, Earl E. James 1954: Los Angeles CA, William J. Jernick 1955: Philadelphia PA, John L. Walker 1956: Chicago IL, Fred L. Bohn
1957: San Francisco CA, H. K. Blackledge 1958: New York NY, Horace R. Wisely 1959: Chicago IL, W. S. Hawkins 1960: Dallas TX, John E. Fenton
1961: Miami Beach FL, William A. Wall 1962: Chicago IL, Lee A. Donaldson 1963: San Francisco CA, Ronald J. Dunn 1964: New York NY, Robert G. Pruitt
1965: Miami Beach FL, R. Leonard Bush 1966: Dallas TX, Raymond C. Dobson 1967: Chicago IL, Robert E. Boney 1968: New York NY, Edward W. McCabe
1969: Dallas TX, Frank Hise 1970: San Francisco CA, Glenn Miller 1971: New Orleans LA, E. Gene Fournace 1972: Atlantic City NJ, Francis Smith
1973: Chicago IL, Robert Yothers 1974: Miami Beach FL, Gerald Strohm 1975: Dallas TX, Willis McDonald 1976: Chicago IL, George Klein
1977: New Orleans LA, Homer Huhn, Jr. 1978: San Diego CA, Leonard Bristol 1979: Dallas TX, Robert Grafton 1980: New Orleans LA, H. Foster Sears
1981: Las Vegas NV, Raymond Arnold 1982: Chicago IL, Marvin Lewis 1983: Honolulu HI, Kenneth Cantoli 1984: Houston TX, Frank Garland
1985: Seattle WA, Jack Traynor 1986: Denver CO, Peter Affatato 1987: Atlanta GA, Ted Callicott 1988: Las Vegas NV, Robert Sabin
1989: New Orleans LA, Donald Dapelo 1990: Las Vegas NV, James Damon 1991: St. Louis MO, Lester Hess, Jr. 1992: Dallas TX, Vincent Collura
1993: Portland OR, Charles Williams 1994: Chicago IL, Kenneth Moore 1995: New Orleans LA, Edward Mahan 1996: Las Vegas NV, Gerald Coates
1997: Chicago IL, Carlon O'Malley 1998: Anaheim CA, C. Valentine Bates 1999: Kansas City MO, James C. Varenhorst 2000: Dallas TX, Dwayne E. Rumney
2001: Philadelphia PA, Arthur Mayer, Jr. 2002: Reno NV, Roger R. True 2003: St. Louis MO, Amos A. McCallum 2004: Minneapolis MN, James M. McQuillan
2005: Reno NV, Louis James Grillo 2006: Orlando FL, Arthur H. Frost III 2007: Charlotte NC, F. Louis Sulsberger 2008: Anaheim CA, Paul D. Helsel
2009: Portland OR, James L. Nichelson 2010: Orlando FL, Michael F. Smith 2011: Phoenix AZ, David R. Carr 2012: Austin TX, Thomas S. Brazier
2013: Reno NV, Millard C. Pickering 2014: New Orleans LA, 2015: Indianapolis IN, 2016: Houston TX,
2017: Reno NV, 2018: TBA, 2019: TBA, 2020: TBA,

See also


External links

  • The official website
  • An unofficial site but a unique collection of images and articles illustrating early Elkdom
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