Many fraternal organizations and membership societies were founded in the mid and later part of the 19th Century. Some of the organizations, such as, the Sons of the American Revolution (1889), The Daughters of the American Revolution (1890), The Daughters of the War of 1812 (1892), The Order of the Founders and Patriots of America (1896), The National Society, Colonial Daughters of the Seventeenth Century (1896), The Mayflower Society (1897), and The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America XVII (1915) required the prospective members to demonstrate their ancestors had been in the United States before a certain date or that their ancestors had served in an American war. Other fraternal organizations arose as well, such as the Knights of Pythias (1864), the Patrons of Husbandry (the Grange, 1867), The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (1868), The Knights of Columbus (1882), he Loyal Order of the Moose (1888), and the Woodmen of the World (1890). The time between about 1860 and 1915 is often referred to as The Golden Age of Fraternalism.
Two organizations pre-date that time in origin—The Freemasons and the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows. Both saw surges of membership during that period. The Odd Fellows is a fraternal organization that formed in England in the 1700s as a service organization. The American association was founded in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 26, 1819. According to the I.O.O.F. Website, “Thomas Wildey and four members of the Order from England instituted Washington Lodge No. 1. This lodge received its charter from Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows in England.” The Odd Fellows membership rose to its peak in 1915 at about 3.5 million members.
Many of their members have symbols of their organization either carved directly on their gravestones or have metal markers placed next to their gravestones to indicate their membership. These markers range from the ornate with a range of the fraternity’s symbols on a single metal marker to very plain markers with only the basic three links to indicate membership in the Odd Fellows lodge.
The metal marker above has a number of different symbols contained on it, but the main symbol of the Odd Fellows is the three links of the chain. Within the three links are three letters, F L T, which signify the organizations motto: Friendship, Love, and Truth. The top of the metal marker displays the all-seeing eye shown with rays of light emanating from it. This symbol can be traced back to Egyptian mythology to the Eye of Horus. The two hands clasping together represent brotherhood. The all-seeing eye and the three links are also on the marker below.
A number of different styles of metal markers feature a dove atop them, which symbolizes peace. The dove carrying a sprig from a white lily represents purity.
The Heart-in-Hand symbol has significance with several organizations and religions, especially the Shakers, but when coupled with the three linked rings, it is associated with the Odd Fellows. As you can see, the heart rests in the center of the palm. The Heart-in-Hand symbol represents charity given with an open heart.
A series of the markers only feature the three links, some more elaborately decorated than others–with the most plain looking a bit like a potato masher.