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.
The Elks bring so much more to their communities than just a building, golf course or pool. They are places where neighbors come together, families share meals, and children grow up.
The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks was first chartered–and with a great spirit and direction, the Elk Lodge members began to help with our Veterans, with Scouting, Scholarships and much more. Wherever Charity, Justice and Brotherly Love were needed the Elks were there.
Excerpted From "What It Means To Be An Elk"
Congratulations on having completed your entry process into full membership in the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. As you hold your new Elks card you are entirely justified for any feelings of pride and satisfaction you have at this moment of accomplishment, because for over a century we have had a tradition of accepting only America's best citizens, and this privilege was granted to you only after a favorable review of your background and character.
Had you not shared our beliefs in responsible conduct based upon duties to our Creator, to our Nation and its laws, and to nurturing the basic positive values to be found in the family and out community life, you could not stand as an equal among millions of Citizens who make the American way of life possible.
Tomorrow and in the years to follow, you will continue a program of learning and growth devoted to a greater enrichment of your membership. We hope you had a wonderful Initiation celebration with memories that will last a lifetime. Some new members are apprehensive when they learn of the many doings in the Lodge, in the mistaken belief that they will be expected to join in every activity and area. As the interests of all the members cover a wide range, our Lodge offers an assortment to serve them and encourage participation, and new members should choose those suited to their wishes plus try some which might expand their horizons.
It is entirely possible that, as a new member, you might have a hobby or personal interest for which the Lodge does not yet have a matching activity. Don't hesitate to talk to our Officers and leaders about starting a new program; our Lodge is constantly on the lookout for new and different ideas which will keep the Lodge's calendar lively and adapted to the times. The input from new members, you included, is what will continue to shape our organization with modern viewpoints and guarantee our position in America's mainstream.
Keep Coming Back
It's completely understandable if you don't clearly recall all of the details of the Initiation ceremony by which you were made a member of our Elks Order, considering both your own excited state of mind and the complexity of this elaborate and impressive ritual. So that you can gain a deeper appreciation of its beauty and meaning, we highly recommend that you plan to attend our Lodge's next Initiation, this time as a witness. We promise you an enjoyable and enlightening experience, and this will also be your first opportunity to extend the welcoming hand of friendship and guidance to Elks newer than you who are being brought under the mantle of our warm association. As some of your senior colleagues can tell you, bright remembrances from each one's own Initiation are recollected whenever you have the pleasure and privilege of watching the pageantry of an Elks Initiation Ritual, either in your own Lodge or in another that you visit.
Sponsor A New Member
By far the most significant way to experience the richness of Elks Initiation is to be the Sponsor of a friend into our organization. This is another privilege which comes to you through your valid membership card. Because our Order is selective, to maintain the quality of our membership and thereby perpetuate the good works that stem from our rigorously guarded good character, no person can simply walk into one of our Lodges and join in the same manner as subscribing to a newspaper or enrolling in a book of the month club. Only through the sincere invitation and character endorsement of one who is already an Elk can one become an Elk.