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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.
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. 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.
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 The clause was revoked at the Grand Lodge of 1976, with the proviso that it could be reinstated if the law allowed.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.
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.
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". 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, 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.
More organized are the Benevolent, Patriotic 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". 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.
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.
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. 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.
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 brothers 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.
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 side and "Triumphs of Peace" on the other. The entrance is flanked by large bronze Elks.
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.
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.
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 
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.
Lodges may choose in their bylaws between 4 options of governing their club facilities.
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.
Like many other fraternal orders, 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Elks pledge that "So long as there are veterans, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will never forget them."
The Elks have shown their devotion to Americanism by conducting bond drives, promoting civil defense programs and Flag Day observance. During World War II, 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.
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.
Initiation and funeral rituals still exist, however. The initiation rite is not considered a secret, but neither is it publicized indiscriminately. The initiation involves an altar, with a bible upon it and chaplain leading the brethren 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.
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.
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.
Captain Harry Noah Robbin
In Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis, the main character, George Babbitt, is an active member of the Elks.
Canadian indie rock group The Weakerthans have a song entitled "Psalm for the Elks Lodge Last Call".
The song "Brotherhood of Man" in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying mentions the Elks.
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.
|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,|
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