Independent Order of Odd Fellows Tracing Board
A memory tool for learning fraternal symbols
Like a modern day powerpoint presentation, fraternal lodges used “tracing boards” to teach their core beliefs to members. The tracing board was an illustrated chart with symbols that each represented a different teaching. This tracing board was used by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in the late 1800s.
Odd Fellows is a fraternal organization whose members came from diverse trades. While the early history of Odd Fellows is still up for debate, a well-documented group in England called the “Independent Order of Odd Fellows” was established as early as 1813. Washington Lodge No. 1, established in 1819 in Baltimore, Maryland, is often credited as the start of the fraternity in America. Today there are about 600,000 members globally.
With their motto of “Friendship, Love, and Truth,” Odd Fellows aim to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead, and educate the orphan.” Odd Fellows have a set of four “lodge degrees” that must be completed before pursuing higher degrees.
This tracing board includes a combination of symbols that cross specific Odd Fellow degrees. These symbols help members remember the lessons and their duties to the organization.
The heart-in-hand symbol represents candor, frankness, and sincerity and is a symbol taught with the Odd Fellow’s Second Degree, Love. The sword balancing a set of scales represents justice and is part of the Third Degree, Truth. The skull and bones is part of the Initiatory Degree and is a reminder that life is fleeting. The tent is from the highest degree level, the Encampment Degree, and speaks to man’s journey through life. The bow & arrow and the bundle of sticks below it are from the First Degree, Friendship. The three arrows represent friendship, love, and truth while the bundle of sticks refers to concerted effort. The final symbol of three linked chains is synonymous with the Odd Fellows organization and is a reminder of their core teachings. Like the chain, members are bound together by friendship, love, and truth.
American Folk Art Museum, New York
Time Period: 1866 - 1936
Exhibit: Mystery And Benevolence
This artifact is currently on view.