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Independent Order of Oddfellows

Wooden Hand - Rebekah Lodge, IOOF, Victoria

Image: Wooden Hand - Rebekah Lodge, IOOF, Victoria

Source: Museum Victoria

The Independent Order of Oddfellows (IOOF) was established in NSW in 1836 and Melbourne in 1846. It was originally a mutual benefit society that provided aid to members in times of sickness and unemployment; these benefits were obtained through joining fees and ongoing subscriptions. Upon joining, prospective members had to sign a form stating that they and their wife were of sound health, and pass means, religious and moral tests. Local lodge members then voted on the suitability of the prospective member by placing a black or white ball in the ballot box; if more than three black balls were returned the prospective member was rejected, hence the term blackballing. If a prospective member was blackballed one more vote to assess his suitability was allowed, and those who voted against him the first time were required to state their reasons for doing so.

Competition between friendly societies for members was fierce and there was an intense rivalry between the IOOF and the MUIOOF (Manchester Unity) in Victoria. Both have survived to this day, although the the IOOF has transitioned into a specialist funds management business. Like many other friendly societies, the IOOF had initiation ceremonies, rituals for meetings, and regalia and jewels, which became increasingly elaborate as a member moved through the levels (degrees) of membership or attained offices. The IOOF was one of the few friendly societies that admitted female members - through the Rebekah degree. Members had to pay a continuing subscription to ensure they received benefits in the result of illness, unemployment or death.  This meant that most members of the society earned at least an average wage. Although friendly societies remain active in Australia today as private health funds and funds management companies, their popularity and membership was severely affected by the Great Depression of the late 1920s and introduction of the welfare state (the provision of basic benefits for all) following World War Two.

References:
Blainey, Geoffrey, (1991). Odd Fellows : a history of IOOF Australia, Sydney, Allen & Unwin.

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