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From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890-1967 [Kindle Edition]

David T. Beito
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, more Americans belonged to fraternal societies than to any other kind of voluntary association, with the possible exception of churches. Despite the stereotypical image of the lodge as the exclusive domain of white men, fraternalism cut across race, class, and gender lines to include women, African Americans, and immigrants. Exploring the history and impact of fraternal societies in the United States, David Beito uncovers the vital importance they had in the social and fiscal lives of millions of American families.

Much more than a means of addressing deep-seated cultural, psychological, and gender needs, fraternal societies gave Americans a way to provide themselves with social-welfare services that would otherwise have been inaccessible, Beito argues. In addition to creating vast social and mutual aid networks among the poor and in the working class, they made affordable life and health insurance available to their members and established hospitals, orphanages, and homes for the elderly. Fraternal societies continued their commitment to mutual aid even into the early years of the Great Depression, Beito says, but changing cultural attitudes and the expanding welfare state eventually propelled their decline.

Editorial Reviews


"[A] useful study."--Journal of American History

"The most comprehensive work to date on American fraternal societies."--Journal of Southern History

"A constellation of fascinating stories about the fraternal societies of ordinary Americans. . . . Beito's excellent study sheds light on an important yet neglected part of the social past. . . . It has insights especially for sociologists interested in social movements, voluntary organizations, social work, empowerment, and American social history."--American Journal of Sociology

"[Beito] convincingly argues that fraternal organizations embodied values that appealed to a broad range of Americans across lines of race, class, gender, and ethnicity."--American Historical Review

"A wonderful book. . . . Beito ends by noting, 'The opportunities for further scholarship are almost endless.' If readers are lucky, he is hard at work exploring them."--Harvard Business History Review


"In his fascinating [book] . . . Beito tells the remarkable story of fraternal organizations--all those Masons, Moose, Oddfellows, Woodmen, and so forth--as mutual benefit societies that enabled vast numbers of Americans to safeguard their families without the stigma of charity or the snare of long-term dependence. . . . [He also] has captured one of the most important ways lodges [lifted] people up, which was to give them a shield against destitution and dependency--a shield of their own making and control.--The Washington Monthly

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars rediscovering a lost institution August 15, 2000
This book is about something that was once a central par of working class American life but has now almost vanished from sight. That something is "mutual aid" or "fraternalism", the way ordinary people, often poor, organised and acted collectively for mutual help and benefit. The book looks at the history of this phenomenon, its extent (enormous), the kind of services provided (very wide ranging - literally cradle to grave), and the institutions it created, the so-called "fraternal societies" such as Elks, Moose, Knights of Tabor etc. Some chapters look at particular examples such as "Mooseheart", (the orphanage of the Loyal order of Moose) or the creation of a hospital in the Delta by poor rural blacks via the Knights and Daughters of Tabor. Today we tend to believe that these kind of services can only be provided by government or (perhaps) by commercial enterprise. This shows that for most of the last two hundred years (and not only in America) they have been provided by the free co-operation of ordinary people. As Beito points out the benefits provided by mutual aid institutions were rights, not handouts, on a reciprocal basis, rather than one of hierarchy and dependency, and tied to a strict and elevated moral code. He also shows that women were heavily involved via their own orders (often feminist), and that blacks and immigrants were disproportionately likely to be involved. The book is based on detailed empirical research, with a huge array of illustrations and examples. One obvious question is where have all these institutions gone. The title says it - mutual aid has been replaced by the welfare state, partly because of intellectual shifts, partly due to the impact of the Great Depression. On reading this you may well ask, Has this been a gain?
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beito Rediscovers Tocquevillian America August 24, 2000
I've always had a feeling that Americans prior to the New Deal were highly cooperative and public-spirited, accomplishing their private and collective goals by voluntary, non-governmental means. Beito's book supports this view in a very powerful way, in a major area of social action. His detailed scholarship proves that people fulfilled their needs and desires for community and security by organizing voluntary systems of insurance and group enterprise. The book represents a compelling chapter in the history and character of American society, as well as a lesson in the fertility of non-governmental civic action. He proves that Paine and Tocqueville were right.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Milestone in Fraternal History January 10, 2002
By A Customer
David Beito has made a major contribution in the study of fraternalism with From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890-1967, David T. Beito (University of North Carolina Press, 2000).
Mr. Beito's research succeeds in casting light on the seemingly impenetrable area of fraternal history, an area that proves difficult to research due to many so-called secret societies failure to leave evidence of their history. His marshalling of facts is truly impressive. His style of writing is fluid and enjoyable to read. While there was not much information about non-insurance orders such as Freemasonry, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, or the Knights of Pythias, the book provides a wealth of information on the more obscure orders, many of which have passed into history.
Portions of his book dealing with the effects of the depression and New Deal legislation on mutual benefit societies has led me to revise my own postulates formulated in: Toward a Fraternal History of Marin County: A Survey of Secret Societies being a General History of Various Fraternities and Their Specific Impact in Marin
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This past is our future January 15, 2011
Fifty-one million uninsured Americans will not find relief from either government or Wall Street. This book describes the proven success of grassroots initiatives. It opens the door to our future. For a modern example, search "Ithaca Health Alliance" and visit
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