Modern Woodmen of America
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Modern Woodmen of America is the third largest (based on assets) fraternal benefits society, with more than 750,000 members. Total assets passed $8 billion in early 2007.
Modern Woodmen is organized around a lodge system. Called camps, these local organizations offer fellowship and community service opportunities for members. The lodge system ''constitutes one of the most powerful forces for altruistic good in the United States''. Modern Woodmen members are part of more than 2,300 camps nationwide and more than 700 youth clubs.
Modern Woodmen members across the country participate in Join Hands Day and Make a Difference Day, which are national days of service; camps and youth clubs also participate in recurring volunteer and social projects throughout the year. The organization's Matching Fund Program matches money raised by individual camps for community members or organizations in need. Modern Woodmen's fraternal expenditures for member benefits and programs totaled more than $22 million in 2006. These programs include disaster relief, college scholarships, tree planting, volunteer programs, and educational programs.
Modern Woodmen and its subsidiaries provide life insurance plus annuity, investment and banking products to the family market. Life insurance in force totaled $32.2 billion in 2006. Modern Woodmen has two wholly owned subsidiaries: MWA Financial Services Inc. distributes investment products to Modern Woodmen members, and MWABank offers checking, savings, and loan services as a direct bank.
Joseph Cullen Root founded Modern Woodmen of America on January 5, 1883. He operated a number of businesses, including a mercantile establishment, a grain elevator, and two flour mills. He sold insurance and real estate, taught bookkeeping classes, managed a lecture bureau, and practiced law. Root was a member of several fraternal societies through the years. He wanted to create an organization that would protect families following the death of a breadwinner. During a Sunday sermon in Lyons, Iowa, Root heard the pastor tell a parable about the good that came from woodmen clearing away the forest to build homes, communities, and security for their families. He adopted the term Woodmen. To complete the name, ''Modern'' reflected the need to stay current and change with the times. ''Of America'' was added to symbolize patriotism.
Root visualized a society that was not limited to a certain religion, although membership was first restricted to rural Midwestern white men between the ages of 18 and 45. Certain professions were not allowed to join because of the danger present in their profession. In 1884, the head office was organized in Fulton, Illinois. The first death claim was paid to Henrietta Mayer of Davenport, Iowa, in 1884; the amount was $698.58. Root left Modern Woodmen in 1890 and began Woodmen of the World. He was instrumental in the growth of fraternal benefits societies throughout his life. Modern Woodmen moved its home office to Rock Island, Illinois in 1897 and continues to be located in downtown Rock Island today.
One of the most visible elements of the organization was its drill teams. These groups came to be known as Foresters and became well known in America. The first drill team was organized in Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1893; these groups became nationally known for events held from 1890 to the late 1930s. The Foresters were even honored by Herbert Hoover at the White House. ''Rainbow Parades'' were hosted by cities across the nation and included 10,000 units of Foresters, with more than 160,000 men participating. Each group was differentiated by a different style and color of uniform. The last known ''Rainbow Parade'' was held in Chicago, on Michigan Boulevard, and halted traffic for more than two hours while thousands of spectators viewed the scene.
Modern Woodmen Tuberculosis Sanatorium
During the tuberculosis (TB) epidemic of the early 1900s, TB was the leading cause of death. Between 1800 to 1870, one in five deaths was caused by TB. There was no cure. Sanatoriums began sprouting up in Colorado to treat the disease, with favorable climate, rest, and healthy lifestyles. By 1920, one in three people who came to Colorado was said to have TB. Modern Woodmen opened a 1,000 acre facility in 1907. The facility cost $1.5 million to create and was named one of the most outstanding institutions for the treatment of tuberculosis by the American College of Surgeons. Treatment was free to male members of the organization. More than 12,000 patients were treated in 38 years. Following World War II, antibiotics became available, and TB declined in the United States. The facility in Colorado Springs closed in 1947, when TB ranked as the eighth in causes of death.
Other Historical Highlights
Membership totaled 1 million in 1910
Began to insure women and children in 1929
First youth service club formed in 1942
Awarded its first fraternal college scholarship in 1970
MWA Financial Services Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary, was opened in 2001
MWABank, a wholly owned subsidiary, was opened in 2003