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Foresters traces its origin to a British Friendly Society, a mutual organization caring for the sick. The original Foresters groups allegedly banded together for mutual aid and protection in 14th-century England, in or near the ancient royal forests which belonged to the monarchy. Although the older history cannot be proven, there was a society called the Royal Foresters in the 18th century. Membership originally was gained by combat, first with quarterstaffs, then with swords and finally with cudgels, until initiation by combat was abandoned in 1843.
In 1834 the Royal Foresters formed a Friendly Society, the Ancient Order of Foresters (AOF). The IOF in the United States became independent of the AOF in 1874, and as of 2014[update] operates a separate UK division, Forester Life, based in Bromley.
The expansion of the Independent Order of Foresters (IOF) into Canada in 1875 is attributed to a prominent doctor and community leader, Oronhyatekha. Of Mohawk descent, born in 1841 at Six Nations near present-day Brantford, Ontario, Oronhyatekha ("Burning Sky") was baptized Peter Martin and later attended Oxford where he became an MD.
Dr. Oronhyatekha held the office of Supreme Chief Ranger (now called "International Fraternal President") from 1879 until 1906; he died in 1907. By the early 1890s he had successfully transformed the Foresters into one of North America's leading fraternal benefit societies. Foresters membership reached 257,000 in 1906. Through the 20th century it amalgamated with various other fraternal organizations, including the Ontario part of one of the oldest, the Ancient Order of United Workmen.
Like other friendly societies and fraternal organizations of the time, Foresters helped transform the insurance industry by extending insurance benefits to the average working family. In addition to admitting women as full members, Foresters provided orphan benefits to the children of deceased Foresters members - benefits that are still available today as part of Foresters membership.
Historically, Foresters has also actively helped communities in need. As of 2014[update] Foresters supports various community causes in Canada, the US and UK, through direct investment in national and local community partnerships, branch funding and educational scholarships.
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