From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State

Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890-1967

By David T. Beito

336 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 16 illus., 29 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4841-8
    Published: May 2000
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6055-7
    Published: June 2003
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7137-4
    Published: June 2003

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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.

About the Author

David T. Beito is assistant professor of history at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
For more information about David T. Beito, visit the Author Page.


"[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

"Beito has obviously done a great deal of extensive, primary research, opening a new way to examine the history of fraternal organizations."--Choice