Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks

The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE; also often known as the Elks Lodge or simply The Elks) is an American fraternal order founded in 1868 originally as a social club in New York City. Membership was originally restricted to white men, but the organization now has a more inclusive membership policy.

Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks
Founded1868 (1868)
FounderCharles Viviane
Legal status501(c)(8) fraternal benefit order[1]
HeadquartersChicago, Illinois, United States
Coordinates41.9323°N 87.6400°W / 41.9323; -87.6400
Affiliations1,928 local lodges,[2] Elks National Home and Retirement Center, Elks National Foundation, Elks National Veterans Service Commission, Elks Veterans Memorial Restoration[1]


The Elks had modest beginnings in 1868 as a social club for minstrel show performers, called the "Jolly Corks".[3] It was established as a private club to elude New York City laws governing the opening hours of public taverns. The Elks borrowed rituals and practices from Freemasonry, including racial restrictions on membership.[4]


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 The clause was revoked at the Grand Lodge of 1976, with the proviso that it could be reinstated if the law allowed.

In 1919 a "Flag Day resolution" was passed, barring membership to even passive sympathizers "of the Bolsheviki, Anarchists, the I.W.W., or kindred organizations, or who does not give undivided allegiance to" the flag and constitution of the United States.

In 1979 the qualifications for membership included being male, at least 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.[5]

The current requirements include belief in God, American citizenship, willingness to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, willingness to salute the flag of the United States of America, willingness to support the laws and Constitution of the United States of America, be of good character and be it least 21 years of age.[6] There is also a background interview conducted by the Membership Committee, who make the final recommendation to the Lodge members. The members then use a ballot box,[7] with the back drawer first being displayed to the members to be empty, then the members dropping one at a time into the hole in the back their vote, typically a white glass marble to accept or a black lead cube to reject, with a 2/3 majority of members voting necessary to be accepted.[8].

In 1976 the BPOE had 1,611,139 members.[9] Currently, it has 850,000 members.[6]


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".[10] 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 vary from place to place with regard to its activities. There also does not appear to be any published or printed ritual.[11]

More organized are the Benevolent, Patriotic Order of Does who were 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".[12] 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.[13]

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.[14]

In Beynon v. St. George-Dixie Lodge 1743[15] the Utah Supreme Court ruled that while Freedom of Association allowed the Elks to remain a men-only organization, "the Elks may not avail itself of the benefits of a liquor license and the license's concomitant state regulation" as long as it violated the Utah State Civil Rights Act. Faced with losing their liquor licenses if they did not admit women, the Elks Lodges of Utah voted to become unisex in June 1993,[16] which was followed by a vote at the Elks National Convention in July 1995 [17] to remove the word "male" from the national membership requirements.

Racial discrimination

No person shall be accepted as a member of this Order unless he be a white male citizen of the United States of America, of sound mind and body, of good character, not under the age of Twenty-one years, and a believer in God.

Article VII, Constitution of the Benevolent Protective Order of the Elk (repealed 1973) [18][19]

Until 1973, the national constitution of the Elk lodge restricted membership to white men.[18][19][20]

In 1972, the Elks expelled the head of the Ridgewood lodge because of his advocacy against the Elk's racially discriminatory policies.[21][22] A resolution to repeal the discriminatory clause passed in 1973 after failing at 3 previous national conventions.[23]

In 1989, there were allegations of applicants being denied membership in lodges located in various parts of California because of their race.[24]

Structure and organization


The Elks' national headquarters are located in Chicago at the Elks National Veterans Memorial and Headquarters, overlooking Lincoln Park, near Lake Michigan. This building was originally conceived as a memorial to the nearly 1,000 Elk brothers who were lost in World War I. The cornerstone was laid July 7, 1924, and the building was officially dedicated on July 14, 1926.[25][26]

The rotunda displays murals and statues illustrating the Elks’ four cardinal virtues: charity, justice, brotherly love and fidelity. The friezes depict the "Triumphs of War" on one side and "Triumphs of Peace" on the other. The entrance is flanked by large bronze elks.[27]

Grand Lodge

The BPOE is organized on five levels: the national or "grand" level, the regional level, the state level, the district level and the local lodge level. 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.[28]

Elks Magazine is published 10 times a year and goes to all members.[29]

Grand Exalted Rulers

  • Frank Lewis Rain (1877–1941) from 1919 to 1920.[30]
  • John G. Price (1871–1930) Elected grand exalted ruler for 1924–25 at the Boston annual convention.
  • Malcolm J. McPherson, Jr. (2017–2018). Elected Grand Exalted Ruler for 2017–2018 at the Reno Annual Convention.

State Associations and Lodges

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 [31] Lodges which are incorporated are required to be governed by a board of directors. Otherwise the Lodge Trustees are the governing board.

Elks Mutual Benefit Association

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.[32]


Despite its 1907 resolution banning any auxiliaries, 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 units of the Antlers with 3,584 members. However, the Antlers numbers were decimated during the Second World War, with so many young men having gone 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.[33]


Social quarters

Most Elks lodges operate a social quarters with a private bar. According to sociologists Alvin J. Schmidt and Nicholas Babchuk, members primarily joined the Elks to be "provided with entertainment, liquor, and food at reasonable rates" in the social quarters.[4]

National charity programs

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.

Due to the willingness of most Elks Lodges to respond to community needs and events, it is common to turn the BPOE abbreviation into a backronym for "Best People on Earth".[34][35][36]

Elks National Foundation

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 455.4 million toward Elks' charitable projects nationwide. Since inception, the Elks have received more than $243.3 million in contributions and bequests. Today they boast more than 100,000 active donors and an endowment fund valued at $606.7 million.

Veteran services

The Elks pledge that "So long as there are veterans, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will never forget them."[37]

  • Elks Veterans Memorial in Chicago, Illinois
  • The Army of Hope, established in 2003, primarily serves families of deployed service members.[38][39]
  • Adopt-a-Veteran Program
  • Freedom Grants!
  • Veterans Leather Program
  • Veterans Remembrance
  • Playing Cards for Veterans
  • Re-Creation USA

Youth programs


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 to 1950, and the Grand Lodge adopted a "Declaration of American Principles" in 1961 in Miami.[40]

Community Investment Program (CIP)

CIP grants are only available to Elks Lodges.

  • Impact Grants
  • Promise Grants
  • Beacon Grants
  • Gratitude Grants
  • Freedom Grants

Elks National Home

The Elks National Home is a retirement home in Bedford, Virginia built in 1916. In late 2013 the Elks sold the home to a private organization.

Rituals and traditions

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 secret handshake were abandoned by 1904.[40]

Initiation and funeral rituals still exist, however. The initiation rite is not considered a secret. 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" and also involves prayers.[9]

The Hour of Recollection

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 impress upon you that with us 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, Elks are never forgotten, never forsaken. Morning and noon may pass them by, the light of day sink heedlessly in 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.”

Communal burial

The Elks have communal cemetery plots, often these are marked with impressive statuary.

Famous Elks


Presidents of the United States


Members of Congress

Other politicians


Business people


Sports figures

Other influential people

See also


  1. "Form 990: Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax". Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Guidestar. May 31, 2014.
  2. "Local Lodges". Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Accessed on March 18, 2016.
  3. "Elks Founder Dies. J. M. Norcross, Minstrel, 84, Was Last Signer of Lodge Charter". The New York Times. March 1, 1925. Retrieved January 27, 2015.
  4. Schmidt, Alvin J.; Babchuk, Nicholas (1973). "The Unbrotherly Brotherhood: Discrimination in Fraternal Orders". Phylon. 34 (3): 275–282. doi:10.2307/274186. JSTOR 274186.
  5. Schmidt pp. 103104
  6. " :: More Information".
  7. "Secret Ballot Box photo".
  8. Schmidt pp. 102103
  9. Schmidt p. 103
  10. Schmidt, Alvin J. Fraternal Organizations Westport, CT; Greenwood Press p. 109
  11. Schmidt p. 202
  12. Grand Lodge, Benevolent, Patriotic Order of Does It's History and Organization Archived August 15, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  13. Schmidt p. 93
  14. Schmidt pp. 10910
  15. "Beynon v. St. George-Dixie Lodge 1743".
  17. "Elks Lodges Vote on Whether to Admit Women".
  18. Cornelius v. Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, 382 F. Supp. 1182 (D. Conn. 1974)
  19. "New Test for Suits Seeking to Halt Governmental Support to Private Discriminating Organizations - Impermissible State Action". U. Colo. L. Rev. 44 (1973–1974): 447.
  20. Meehan, Thomas. "The other July convention". The New York Times.
  21. Kandell, Jonathan (March 13, 1972). "Elks Dismiss Opponent Of Their All‐White Rule". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 13, 2019.
  22. Pfefferkorn, Michael (1988). "The Ability of Voluntary Associations to Control Membership through Expulsion Comment". Saint Louis University Public Law Review. 7: 209.
  23. Enstad, Frober (July 20, 1973). "Elks open source to blacks". Chicago Tribune. p. 12.
  24. Fleeman, Michael (September 30, 1988). "Despite Reforms, Blacks Still Struggling to Join Elks Lodges". Associated Press.
  25. " :: History of the Elks National Memorial".
  26. "Welcome to the Elks Veterans Memorial". Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.
  27. Schmidt p. 104
  28. Schmidt pp. 104–105
  29. "Elks Magazine Online". Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Retrieved October 17, 2008.
  30. "Frank L. Rain". The New York Times. December 25, 1941.
  31. Schmidt p. 105
  32. Schmidt pp. 108–109 Schmidt's main source is James R. Nicholson and Lee A. Donaldson, History of the Order of Elks 1969. He also cites back issues of the proceedings
  33. Schmidt p. 44 Schmidt's main source is "The Antlers" in James R. Nicholson and Lee A. Donaldson, History of the Order of Elks 1969. The source for the continued existence of the Antlers after 1946 was apparently an Elks official he spoke to. The text of the relevant portion of the 1907 resolution is on p. 109
  34. Beck, Bill. "A Message From Bill Beck". Springfield, Illinois, Lodge #158. Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. I will forever remember that BPOE also stands for the Best People On Earth, a line you have used often...
  35. Kelly, Mike. "The origins of The 11 O'Clock Toast". B.P.O.E. Grand Lodge Historian. Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Archived from the original on January 12, 2007. I will forever remember that BPOE also stands for the Best People On Earth, a line you have used often...
  36. Sparks, Eva. "Elks Walk 2,223 Miles to Attend 1912 National Convention". Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Archived from the original on March 1, 2007. Four athletic young men, members of the local B.P.O.E Lodge (Best People On Earth) and employees of...
  37. "Veterans Services". Retrieved July 3, 2013.
  38. History of veterans programs, Elks website
  39. "Journal Entries: Saint Peter's gets $100K grant from Provident Bank". September 22, 2015. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  40. Schmidt p. 102
  41. United States Congressional Serial Set. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1914. p. 43. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  42. "Membership of the Louisiana House of Representatives, 1812–2012" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 4, 2013. Retrieved July 8, 2013.
  43. "Living Legends: Armand Brinkhaus". Retrieved May 23, 2014.
  44. "Representative Dank, David, District 85". Archived from the original on January 2, 2015. Retrieved August 21, 2013.
  45. "Gilbert Louis Dupre". St. Landry Trade Review. December 1896. Retrieved March 7, 2015.
  46. "April 1943 Elks Magazine reported that the Life membership card of Brother Eddie Rickenbacker was featured in several national weekly magazines. This was bestowed upon him by the LA Elks on June 18, 1919"
  47. "Christian, John "Jack"". Louisiana Historical Association, A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography ( Archived from the original on February 25, 2012. Retrieved December 23, 2010.
  48. Heinlein, Robert A. (1987) Podkayne of Mars (Ace Edition). New York, NY: Ace Books, p. 11
  • Kelly, Mike. "Name That Elk". Archived from the original on August 14, 2007. Although the original Elks were actors and entertainers, members of other professions soon joined the organization. Today's Elks represent just about the full spectrum of occupations in America.

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