The Knights of the Maccabees – Detroit, Michigan (circa 1910)

One feature of American life that has changed significantly in the last century is the decline of social,
fraternal, and mutual-aid societies.
Earlier postcard stories noted the Moose, the Elks, the Owls, the Robins, and the Odd-Fellows. These
groups are only a sample of the great number of organizations that provided a social network, facilitated
work for the larger community, and (in many cases) provided some form of mutual aid or death benefit
to members.
This postcard illustrates the ranks and roles of the Knights of the Maccabees.
(After 1914, the organization was known simply as, “The Maccabees”.)
This mutual-aid society based their name, ceremonies and rituals on the Maccabees, a group of Jewish
rebels against the Seleucid Empire whose exploits are described in the Books of the Maccabees.
Founded in Ontario, Canada, the Order grew rapidly in Michigan – and the headquarters was always in or
near Detroit. At the high point of its growth, the Maccabees had more than 300,000 members in 40
(Female Maccabees were accepted after 1926, and the Women’s “hives” were as numerous and
financially-successful as those of the men.
The “Bees” were one of the largest US organizations run entirely by women in 1930.)
After early struggles related to reckless computation of actuarial statistics which bankrupted the group,
the organization was re-founded in 1881 and endured as a model of a mutual aid society.
As membership declined in the last quarter of the 20th century, the organization became a subsidiary of
a succession of large insurance companies. (The membership benefits never ended, however, and there
are a couple thousand Maccabees still living.)
The reverse of this postcard boasts of the organization’s financial strength and the ability to provide
mutual aid to members.
At a time when personal accident and life insurance (or retirement accounts) were not common, the
attraction of a social group providing mutual aid was very strong.


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