Rebekah Lodges of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows

1895 – 2015

Rebekah Lodges of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows

1895 – 2015

Theme: Service

This essay written by Yvonne Robertson was first published in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 1993. It was updated by Yvonne Wilkie in 2018.

The Rebekah Lodges were the Women’s Associate Lodges of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF). The lodges had a twofold aim of service: to provide an environment of friendship and social contact which fostered a sense of belonging and caring; and to heighten social awareness, thus enabling members to be active within the community. In 1992 there were 58 Rebekah Lodges in New Zealand, with a membership of 2089; some Rebekahs (as members were known) were the wives and daughters of IOOF members, but many others did not have this connection.

Established in America in 1821 in a period of evangelical fervour, the IOOF had seceded from its English parent body, the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Odd Fellows, in an effort to reaffirm the purity of the order's aims. Through faith in God and the 'brotherhood of mankind', members of the nondenominational order worked to build a better world, reinforcing their values and ideals through their rituals and regalia. The IOOF also functioned as a non-profit friendly society, providing many benefits to its members.

The first IOOF (America) in New Zealand was formed in Dunedin in 1861, and later in the decade the wives of its senior members were encouraged to join the Rebekah Degree of the Order, founded in the USA in 1851. The Rebekahs met regularly to provide support for needy families of members, and for abandoned wives within their community. They also worked alongside philanthropic bodies such as the Dunedin Female Refuge in providing much needed service to the rapidly growing town.

First Officers of the Linda Rebekah Lodge

Hocken Library.

First Officers of the Linda Rebekah Lodge, Independent Order of Oddfellows, Rosyln, Dunedin. Front Row (from left) Sister A Alexander, Sister E Cook, Sister M O’Brian. Middle Row: Sister L E Durston, Sister E Patterson, Sister I Martin, Sister M Dunne. Back Row: Sister A Green, Brother Jas Patterson, Sister M J Wilson.

Before 1890, few friendly societies allowed women access to sickness or funeral benefits, but the increasing numbers of women entering the paid workforce provided a new field of recruitment. The Rebekahs, however, were not an official lodge, and were thus not entitled to IOOF benefits. The New Zealand IOOF began moves to form a female lodge in 1893; but being a conservative, male, working class organisation, it needed convincing that women were capable of meeting their responsibilities as full lodge members. [1] With the enthusiastic support of a visiting American Rebekah, Sister Linda Salmon, New Zealand's first Rebekah Lodge, the Linda Rebekah Lodge 1, opened in Dunedin in February 1895. Its members were mainly single women, whose occupations ranged from domestics to saleswomen.

Lodges in Auckland and Wellington followed closely behind, but in the face of continuing male disapproval little progress was made over the next six years. In 1899 the IOOF Grand Lodge of New Zealand appointed the first Lady District Deputy Grand Master to promote the formation of new Rebekah Lodges. Despite difficulties, including a high turnover of members, she made some headway. During the depressed inter-war years growth was more rapid, and there were 84 lodges with 5211 members by the end of the 1930s.

The first Ladies' District Lodges were established in 1931. As Rebekahs were unable to have their own female representation on the IOOF Grand Lodge (a regulation still in force in 1993), the district lodges enabled them for the first time to speak with a united voice to the male members who represented them. They also provided an essential link for wider fellowship and a support network in various areas of service.

By the early 1990s, membership was falling and some lodges had closed, but those remaining continued to serve their communities by giving practical assistance—such as organising outings for children with disabilities, or supplying Christmas gifts for a disadvantaged group—rather than by fundraising, which was kept to a minimum. Larger community or national projects were undertaken by the IOOF as a whole. The local and district lodges gave every Rebekah the opportunity to fulfil her obligations and gain experience in organisation and administration.

Lodges also provided care and support to members and their families. This co-operation and neighbourliness reaffirmed the central Rebekah ideal of harmony. Important within the Rebekah ritual were the values and ideals represented by Biblical women, such as Rebekah for her kindness and hospitality, and Ruth for her fortitude, affection and piety. The Rebekahs continued to adhere to the IOOF motto of 'Friendship, Love, Truth, Where people come first'.

Yvonne Robertson

1994 – 2015

Over the two decades from 1994, interest in the Rebekah Lodges, as well as in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows generally, slowly waned. To the regret of their last loyal members, by 2014 the lodges had closed throughout New Zealand. Kaitaia’s Roa Rebekah was one of the last to close its doors, in early 2014. Like all Rebekah Lodges, it had faithfully provided friendship, active community and financial support throughout its existence.

In 2015 the official Dissolution of the New Zealand Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, including the Women’s Associate Rebekah Lodges, took place. [2] 

However, the 120 years of the Rebekahs’ stories were not lost.  The records, images and ephemera of the individual lodges remain accessible in many local archives, museums and libraries throughout New Zealand.

Yvonne Wilkie

Notes

[1] Hancock, 1894.

[2] Independent Order of Odd Fellows of New Zealand Friendly Society: Advertisement of Dissolution, New Zealand Gazette, 11 December 2014. www.gazette.govt.nz/notice/id/2014-fs7503

Unpublished sources

Linda Rebekah Lodge 1 minute books, 1895-1936, 1945-1972, Hocken
Rebekah Lodge and IOOF records, 1870-1992, Hocken

Published sources

Gourlay, H.W., Odd Fellowship in New Zealand, 1842-1942: A Century of Progress, IOOF,
Christchurch, 1942

Hancock, F.A., 'Women as Oddfellows: A Paper Read Before the District Committee of the IOOF'
(pamphlet), IOOF, Dunedin, 1894

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