The moving spirit for the Elks was an Englishman named Charles Algernon Sidney Vivian. Born October 22, 1842, this son of a clergyman was a successful comic singer and dancer in the music halls of London. In November 1867, Vivian arrived in New York City to try his fortune.
Other actors and entertainers soon gravitated toward his magnetic personality. With everything closed on Sunday because of New York City Blue Laws, a group of theatrical people began meeting for their own amusement under Vivian's leadership. A loose organization was formed to make sure the larder was well-stocked for these gatherings. They called themselves the Jolly Corks, a name derived from a trick introduced by Vivian in which the uninitiated purchased a round of refreshments.
When one of their members died shortly before Christmas in 1867, leaving his wife and children destitute, the Jolly Corks decided that in addition to good fellowship, they needed a more enduring organization to serve those in need.
On February 16, 1868, they established the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and elected Vivian to head it. Its social activities and benefit performances increased the popularity of the new Order. Membership grew rapidly. Elks traveling to other cities spread the word of the Brotherhood of Elks. Soon there were requests for Elks Lodges in cities other than New York. In response to these appeals, the Elks asked the New York State legislature for a charter authorizing the establishment of a Grand Lodge with the power to establish local Lodges anywhere in the United States. When the Grand Lodge Charter was issued, the founders then received the first local charter as New York Lodge No. 1 on March 10, 1871.
Mission Statement - Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the U.S.A. - A Fraternal Organization
To inculcate the principles of Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity; to recognize a belief in God; to promote the welfare and enhance the happiness of its Members; to quicken the spirit of American patriotism; to cultivate good fellowship; to perpetuate itself as a fraternal organization, and to provide for its government, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America will serve the people and communities through benevolent programs, demonstrating that Elks Care and Elks Share.
A fraternal order with hundreds of thousands of members and a 150+ year history. A network of nearly 2000 lodges in communities all over the country. A generous charitable foundation that each year gives millions in scholarships, an inspiration to youth, a friend to veterans and more.
The Elks organization was founded in New York City on February 16, 1868 under the name "Jolly Corks" by 15 actors, entertainers and others associated with the theater. In ensuing years, membership expanded to other professions.
This Fraternal Order was founded "To promote and practice the four cardinal virtues of Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity; to promote the welfare and enhance the happiness of its members; to quicken the spirit of American Patriotism and cultivate good fellowship."
The Order is a non-political, non-sectarian and strictly American fraternity. Proposal for membership in the Order is only by invitation of a member in good standing. To be accepted as a member, one must be an American citizen, believe in God, be of good moral character and be at least 21 years old.
What We Do
The Order spends more than $80,000,000 every year for benevolent, educational and patriotic community-minded programs in such fields as benefiting special needs children, sponsoring Elks National Foundation scholarships, scouting, athletic teams, veterans' works, a national "Hoop Shoot" free-throw contest involving more than 3 million children, physical and occupational therapy programs and patriotic programs.
The youth of our country have always been important to the Order. It is for this reason the Elks Drug Awareness Education Program was launched to warn primary grade students and their parents of the dangers in drug use. Additionally, every lodge observes June 14th as Flag Day, a tradition which the Elks began in 1907 and was later adopted by the Congress as an official observance.