Fraternal Order of Eagles


Back in 1898 in Seattle, Washington, a small group of theater owners met to form a fun organization.
They called it the “Seattle Order of Good Things.” A few years after its inception, the order chose the eagle as its symbol, calling itself the Fraternal Order of Eagles.
In time, the fun orientation of the FOE became less pronounced, and the society shifted its emphasis to fraternal service. The order, however, still has fun too. It has drill teams and bands and in some localities participates in public parades with a motorcycle contingent. The fun spirit also manifests itself in the numerous Eagle clubs, where bowling, billiards, and beer are available.

One of the Eagles’ publications expresses the change in the following words: “In line with modern needs and up-to-date procedures, the colorful regalia trappings of yesterday are no longer. Gone, too, is the secret password, the roughhouse initiation.” Still another Eagle publication says: “The emphasis has shifted from solely recreation to a more balanced program of fun and fraternal activities of wide scope. The accent now is no longer on secrecy but rather on service.”
The change in the Eagles’ objectives from fun to more of a service posture also showed itself in the order’s offering its members life insurance. In 1927, however, it was decided not to sell regular life insurance any longer, but rather to make available sick and funeral benefits for those who desired to pay somewhat higher membership fees. As a result, the FOE has two categories of memberships, beneficial and non-beneficial.

The service orientation of the FOE has not been confined to its own members. In 1941 the order donated funds for the construction of a dormitory at Boys Town, Omaha, Nebraska. A few years after the Boys Town contribution, the society built Eagle Hall at Home on the Range for Boys, Sentinel Butte, North Dakota. High Girls Ranch near Midland, Texas, has also received a dormitory from the FOE. With the establishment of the Eagles’ Memorial Foundation in 1946, the order has regularly given financial assistance to various medical research projects. In recent years the FOE has joined the environmental ecologists by lending strong support to the efforts to protect the bald eagle from extinction. It has also lent its influence to save the golden eagles as well.

Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the FOE has been actively engaged in promoting social legislation. The order has furthered the cause of workmen’s compensation, mother’s pensions, old-age pensions, and the Social Security system. In the 1980s the society was contending for citizens to be able to work beyond age sixty-five. It is also trying to get the federal authorities to return the Social Security system to its original purpose, and to secure the integrity of the Old Age and Survivors Trust Fund. An article in the January 1979 issue of the order’s bimonthly periodical, Eagle, clearly showed the Eagles’ sentiments relative to senior citizens. The article was entitled: “Freedom from Want for Senior Citizens.”

Late in 1959 the FOE began building a retirement home for elderly Eagle members. Located in Bradenton, Florida, the home is part of Eagle Village, where other facilities are available to the senior citizens. More recently the Eagles have embarked on their “Hometown, U.S.A.” program, which seeks to make hometowns better places to live. The “Home and Family” program, also a recent undertaking, is designed to preserve and strengthen the American family.
Regarding membership eligibility, the FOE requires an applicant to believe in a supreme being, be twenty-one years of age, possess a good character, not be a Communist, and be a Caucasian. While the written requirements in recent years do not formally bar nonwhites from joining the Eagles, the society has not really welcomed them. Like most fraternal secret societies, the FOE employs the ball-ballot system. This system makes it difficult for a nonwhite applicant to gain admittance. Prejudiced members can easily cast blackballs as the voting on new membership applications takes place. Thus while in theory a fraternal group does not bar nonwhites, in practice the blackball method may keep the society all-white for a long time.
The Milwaukee Journal (May 26, 1979) reported that the Eagles in Milwaukee were attempting to have a federal lawsuit dismissed that alleged the FOE was violating the 1964 Civil Rights Act by not allowing blacks to use the athletic facilities of the order. The newspaper article noted that an Eagle official could cite only Joe Louis as a black who held membership in the FOE.
Although the FOE membership is predominantly composed of blue-collar men, it has attracted some high-status individuals. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Warren Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and John F. Kennedy were members of the FOE. Other renowned individuals like Earl Warren, J. Edgar Hoover, Father Flanagan, Stan Musial, and Jack Dempsey have also brought honor to the order by their membership in the fraternity. More recently, the FOE has been proud to claim President Jimmy Carter and Vice-President Walter Mondale as members. The present membership roster has about 800,000 members. This figure has remained relatively constant over the past decade.

All members are required to go through an initiation rite. Part of the ritual has the candidate say: “Before God, and on my honor, I promise that I will never make known to anyone the rituals of this Order, except to Eagles in good standing, and then only if I am authorized to do so.” Willful violation of the candidate’s pledge is reason for expulsion from the organization. The ritual is interspersed with religious phrases. Prayers, for example, are usually spoken by the aerie chaplain. The lodge room is furnished with an altar and Bible.
The structure of the FOE is similar to that of most fraternal orders. Local units are known as “Aeries.” The order has fifty state groups. The national structure is known as the “Grand Aerie.” It meets in annual conventions. Columbus, Ohio, serves as the order’s headquarters.  

More rituals and texts are published on our Download Moose/Elks/Eagles/Buffaloes Library.