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History of Woodmen of the World

Woodmen of the World is a fraternal benefit society with open membership in the United States. It was founded in Omaha, Nebraska by Joseph Cullen Root on June 6, 1890. One of his objectives was to provide a decent burial for all members. Root made a special effort to honor deceased Woodmen by creating Woodmen Memorial Day, celebrated on June 6 each year. The following statement is included in the Objectives of Woodcraft: "... to give honorable burial to our sacred dead ..." The Society's long standing motto is "no Woodmen shall rest in an unmarked grave."

In the beginning, there was no office space. The first Woodmen of the World certificates were issued from the home of Secretary John T. Yates. The organization opened its first office when space was donated rent-free for six months by the owner of the Sheeley Block at 15th and Howard Streets in Omaha.

The first certificate of membership was issued to William A. McCully of Independence, Kansas, on December 29, 1890. Six months later, the first death claim was paid on the life of teenager, Willie O. Warner, who drowned on June 14, 1891, in Niles, Michigan.

Woodmen of the World's first financial statement, dated December 31, 1891, listed receipts of $59,753.31 and disbursements of $58,876.22, with a balance on hand of only $877.09. By 1900, the Society had $219 million of life insurance in force.

Early Woodmen certificates provided for a death and a monument benefit. Gravestones were originally furnished to members free of charge and later were offered only to those who purchased a $100 rider to their certificates.

Grave Stones

Styles of stones varied from elaborate to very simple. Some resemble a tree stump, others a stack of cut wood. There are elaborate hand-carved monuments, simple stone markers and stake-type markers driven into the ground. Woodmen gravestones were originally intended to be a uniform design sent by the Home Office to local stonecutters, but not all the cutters followed the design. Some used their own interpretation of the Woodmen design which they felt was more appropriate. The result was a wide range of designs that reflected members' personal tastes and included elements that were symbolic of Woodmen ceremonies or rituals. The tree stump, part of the Society's logo, is the most common symbol used. The traditional monument had four objects on it. They were the Maul, Axe, Wedge and the Dove. The motto "Dum Tacet Clamat" appears on many stones. It is Latin meaning "though silent, he speaks". Many stand approximately four to five feet high.

As time passed, the stones became smaller and smaller until they were similar to the conventional style of gravestones. The cost of the hand made marble stones became prohibitive and cemeteries began prohibiting above-ground markers for maintenance reasons so the stones were finally phased out in the 1920's. The monument rider was discontinued and converted to an extra $100 of insurance protection. For many years after that, members and lodges arranged for markers and monuments on their own.

Over the years, the once popular gravestones have become a rarity. Woodmen gravestones are still scattered in cemeteries throughout the United States. Some cemeteries have special sections reserved for Woodmen members. Many lodge members across the country take time to clean and maintain the Woodmen gravestones.

Although the monument benefit is no longer included in Woodmen Life Insurance certificates, the Society does not let graves go unmarked. The same Woodmen emblem is still available, fitted with pegs, for attaching to an existing stone.

Some grave stones that look like tree trunks are not WOW stones. The trunk means the person was the head of the family and the broken branches on the stone mean that the family has been broken with the loss of the person.

Auxiliary of the Woodmen

The auxiliary of the Woodmen of the World was established in early 1891 as the Mystic Circle. The name was soon changed to Woodmen Circle. Monthly Tidings was the official publication of the Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle. After several years the Pacific area Woodmen Circle members split from the Omaha Woodmen of the World and the western members started an organization called Women of Woodcraft. In about 1917 they changed their name to Neighbors of Woodcraft. They still exist as an insurance company headquartered in Portland, Oregon.

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Last Updated 4/26/2009