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The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE; also often known as the Elks Lodge or simply The Elks) is an American fraternal order founded in 1868 originally as a social club in New York City. Membership was originally restricted to white men, but the organization now has a more inclusive membership policy.
The Elks had modest beginnings in 1868 as a social club for minstrel show performers, called the "Jolly Corks". It was established as a private club to elude New York City laws governing the opening hours of public taverns. The Elks borrowed rituals and practices from Freemasonry, including racial restrictions on membership.
The BPOE was originally an all-white organization. In the early 1970s this policy led the Order into conflict with the courts over its refusal to allow African Americans the use of its club and leisure activities. In nearly all instances, the all-whites clause was made public after someone was denied the use of the Elks' dining or leisure facilities. The clause was revoked at the Grand Lodge of 1976, with the proviso that it could be reinstated if the law allowed.
In 1919 a "Flag Day resolution" was passed, barring membership to even passive sympathizers "of the Bolsheviki, Anarchists, the I.W.W., or kindred organizations, or who does not give undivided allegiance to" the flag and constitution of the United States.
In 1979 the qualifications for membership included being male, at least 21 years old, of sound mind and body, a citizen of the United States and not a member of the Communist Party. Belief in a Supreme Being has been a prerequisite for membership since 1892. The word "God" was substituted for Supreme Being in 1946.
The current requirements include belief in God, American citizenship, willingness to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, willingness to salute the flag of the United States of America, willingness to support the laws and Constitution of the United States of America, be of good character and be it least 21 years of age. There is also a background interview conducted by the Membership Committee, who make the final recommendation to the Lodge members. The members then use a ballot box, with the back drawer first being displayed to the members to be empty, then the members dropping one at a time into the hole in the back their vote, typically a white glass marble to accept or a black lead cube to reject, with a 2/3 majority of members voting necessary to be accepted..
In 1976 the BPOE had 1,611,139 members. Currently[when?], it has 850,000 members.
The Elks have traditionally been an all-male fraternal order. Unlike many other male orders, it has never had an official female auxiliary, after passing a resolution in 1907 that ruled "There shall be no branches or degrees of membership in the Order, nor any insurance or mutual features, nor shall there be other adjuncts of auxiliaries".[full ] The Elks enforced this resolution through at least the 1970s. Nevertheless, several unofficial female auxiliaries were created: the Emblem Club, the Lady Elks and the Benevolent, Patriotic Order of Does. The Lady Elks appear only to exist on the local level and vary from place to place with regard to its activities. There also does not appear to be any published or printed ritual.
More organized are the Benevolent, Patriotic Order of Does who were chartered on February 12, 1921. This organization does have an organization above the local level, complete with districts, state organizations and a national "Grand Lodge". The Does also have a written secret ritual based on the Magnificat of Mary and which makes reference to St. Paul's First Epistle to the CorinthiansChapter 13, emphasizing love and charity.
The Emblem Club was founded in 1926, with a ritual written by a male Elk. It also has a national organization with local Clubs, State Association and a national Supreme Club of the United States.
In Beynon v. St. George-Dixie Lodge 1743 the Utah Supreme Court ruled that while Freedom of Association allowed the Elks to remain a men-only organization, "the Elks may not avail itself of the benefits of a liquor license and the license's concomitant state regulation" as long as it violated the Utah State Civil Rights Act. Faced with losing their liquor licenses if they did not admit women, the Elks Lodges of Utah voted to become unisex in June 1993, which was followed by a vote at the Elks National Convention in July 1995  to remove the word "male" from the national membership requirements.
No person shall be accepted as a member of this Order unless he be a white male citizen of the United States of America, of sound mind and body, of good character, not under the age of Twenty-one years, and a believer in God.
-- Article VII, Constitution of the Benevolent Protective Order of the Elk (repealed 1973)
Until 1973, the national constitution of the Elk lodge restricted membership to white men.
In 1972, the Elks expelled the head of the Ridgewood lodge because of his advocacy against the Elk's racially discriminatory policies. A resolution to repeal the discriminatory clause passed in 1973 after failing at 3 previous national conventions.
In 1989, there were allegations of applicants being denied membership in lodges located in various parts of California because of their race.
The rotunda displays murals and statues illustrating the Elks' four cardinal virtues: charity, justice, brotherly love and fidelity. The friezes depict the "Triumphs of War" on one side and "Triumphs of Peace" on the other. The entrance is flanked by large bronze elks.
The BPOE is organized on five levels: the national or "grand" level, the regional level, the state level, the district level and the local lodge level. The highest level is the Grand Lodge, which meets in convention annually. The Grand Lodge elects all the officers of the order such as the Grand Exalted Ruler--the chief executive officer of the organization--Grand Secretary, Grand Esteemed Leading Knight, Grand Esteemed Loyal Knight, Grand Esteemed Lecturing Knight, Grand Treasurer, Grand Tiler (in charge of regalia), Grand Inner Guard and Grand Trustees. The three Knights assist the Grand Exalted Ruler and officiate in his absence; furthermore, the Grand Esteemed Loyal Knight acts a prosecutor in cases when an Elk is accused of an offense against the order. The Grand Trustee have general authority over assets and property owned by the order. The Grand Esquire is appointed by the Grand Exalted Ruler and organizes the Grand Lodges and serves as marshal of Elks parades. The Grand Chaplain is also appointed by the Grand Exalted Ruler.
John G. Price (1871-1930) Elected grand exalted ruler for 1924-25 at the Boston annual convention.
Malcolm J. McPherson, Jr. (2017-2018). Elected Grand Exalted Ruler for 2017-2018 at the Reno Annual Convention.
State Associations and Lodges
The state level organizations are called "State Associations"; state level officers include presidents, vice presidents, secretaries and treasurers. Local groups are called "Subordinate Lodges". Lodges officers are essentially the same as the ones on the national level, with "Grand" prefix removed. Lodges also may establish dinner and recreational clubs for members. In 1979 there were 2,200 lodges  Lodges which are incorporated are required to be governed by a board of directors. Otherwise the Lodge Trustees are the governing board.
Elks Mutual Benefit Association
Like many other fraternal orders, the Elks at one point sponsored an insurance fund. The Elks Mutual Benefit Association was founded in 1878. At the 1885 Grand Lodge it was reported that the EMBA was prosperous, but its finances were carelessly managed. The Association was disbanded after the 1907 Grand Lodge passed a resolution banning mutual or insurance features, as well as degrees and auxiliaries.
Despite its 1907 resolution banning any auxiliaries, the Elks at one point had a youth affiliate for young men called the Antlers. The first chapter was organized in February 1922 by San Francisco Lodge #3. The 1927 Grand Lodge approved the junior order, granting the Grand Exalted Ruler the power to permit subordinate lodges to instituted organizations for males under 21. In 1933 there were 45 local units of the Antlers with 3,584 members. However, the Antlers numbers were decimated during the Second World War, with so many young men having gone off to war. Despite 86 local Antlers groups still existing in 1946, the Grand Lodge deleted all reference to them in their constitution and bylaws that year. However, some local Antlers groups were still active in 1979, according to one source.
Most Elks lodges operate a social quarters with a private bar. According to sociologists Alvin J. Schmidt and Nicholas Babchuk, members primarily joined the Elks to be "provided with entertainment, liquor, and food at reasonable rates" in the social quarters.
National charity programs
Lodges are encouraged to participate in national Elks charity programs. There are also State Elks Associations charity programs. This usually includes a State Major Project. Elks Lodges are usually involved in other local charitable efforts.
Established in 1928, the Elks National Foundation is the charitable arm of the BPOE. The foundation, with an endowment valued at more than $400 million, has contributed 455.4 million toward Elks' charitable projects nationwide. Since inception, the Elks have received more than $243.3 million in contributions and bequests. Today they boast more than 100,000 active donors and an endowment fund valued at $606.7 million.
The Elks pledge that "So long as there are veterans, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will never forget them."[third-party source needed]
The Elks originally borrowed a number of rituals, traditions, and regalia from the Freemasons. However, by the first decade of the twentieth century, much of this had been abandoned as the Elks sought to establish their own identity. The original two degrees required for membership were consolidated into one degree in 1890, the apron was discontinued in 1895, the secret password was gone in 1899, and the badges and secret handshake were abandoned by 1904.
Initiation and funeral rituals still exist, however. The initiation rite is not considered a secret. The initiation involves an altar, with a Bible upon it and chaplain leading the brethren in prayers and psalms. The candidate must accept a "solemn and binding obligation" to never "reveal any of the confidential matters of the Order". He further promises to uphold the Constitution of the United States, protect brother Elks and their families, only support worthy candidates for admission and never bring political or sectarian questions up into the Order. The funeral rite is called the "Lodge of Sorrow" and also involves prayers.
The Hour of Recollection
Deceased and otherwise absent lodge members are recalled each evening at 11 p.m. Chimes or sometimes a bell will be rung 11 times and the Lodge Esquire intones, "It is the Hour of Recollection." The Exalted Ruler or a member designated by him gives the 11 o'clock toast, of which this version is the most common:
You have heard the tolling of eleven strokes. This is to impress upon you that with us the hour of eleven has a tender significance. Wherever Elks may roam, whatever their lot in life may be, when this hour falls upon the dial of night, the great heart of Elkdom swells and throbs. It is the golden hour of recollection, the homecoming of those who wander, the mystic roll call of those who will come no more. Living or dead, Elks are never forgotten, never forsaken. Morning and noon may pass them by, the light of day sink heedlessly in the West, but ere the shadows of midnight shall fall, the chimes of memory will be pealing forth the friendly message: "To Our Absent Members."
^Schmidt pp. 108-109 Schmidt's main source is James R. Nicholson and Lee A. Donaldson, History of the Order of Elks 1969. He also cites back issues of the proceedings
^Schmidt p. 44 Schmidt's main source is "The Antlers" in James R. Nicholson and Lee A. Donaldson, History of the Order of Elks 1969. The source for the continued existence of the Antlers after 1946 was apparently an Elks official he spoke to. The text of the relevant portion of the 1907 resolution is on p. 109
^Beck, Bill. "A Message From Bill Beck". Springfield, Illinois, Lodge #158. Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. I will forever remember that BPOE also stands for the Best People On Earth, a line you have used often...
^Kelly, Mike. "The origins of The 11 O'Clock Toast". B.P.O.E. Grand Lodge Historian. Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Archived from the original on January 12, 2007. I will forever remember that BPOE also stands for the Best People On Earth, a line you have used often...
^http://www.elkshistory.org/ "April 1943 Elks Magazine reported that the Life membership card of Brother Eddie Rickenbacker was featured in several national weekly magazines. This was bestowed upon him by the LA Elks on June 18, 1919"
^Heinlein, Robert A. (1987) Podkayne of Mars (Ace Edition). New York, NY: Ace Books, p. 11
Kelly, Mike. "Name That Elk". elks.org. Archived from the original on August 14, 2007. Although the original Elks were actors and entertainers, members of other professions soon joined the organization. Today's Elks represent just about the full spectrum of occupations in America.