of Sons of Hermann
This fraternal group resulted response to ethnic and religious prejudice and discrimination that was her widely practiced in the United States during the 1830s. Supporters of prejudice eventually formed the Know-Nothing Party in 1852. Since German Americans were frequent recipients of prejudice, some of them banded together in the city of New York in 1840 to protect their German culture and heritage by forming The Order of Sons of Hermann. Reputedly, the name “Hermann” was selected when one of the organization’s founders said, in response to the anti-German prejudice, that what was needed was another Hermann, who would conquer the enemies of the Germans. Hermann (the Romans called him Arminius) is a German folk hero, who with his tribal forces, annihilated three Roman legions in the Battle of Teutoberg Forest in 9 A.D. To many Germans he also is the symbol of manhood. In his honor the Germans have erected a tall monument of him near Detmold, Germany. Another statue stands in New Ulm, Minnesota.
The SOH spread to other states. By 1900 the order had over 90,000 members in thirty states, with many states having statewide or grand lodge structures. Presently (1970s), there is really one grand lodge in operation, the Grand Lodge of the Sons of Hermann in Texas. The Texas grand lodge was organized in 1890. In 1921 it became independent of the then-existing National Grand Lodge. The move toward independence was in part prompted by the Texas order’s prosperity. In 1921 it had more members and was financially stronger than all other Sons of Hermann lodges in the United States. The Texas SOH also felt independence would provide greater loyalty and pride.
The emblem of the SOH has three symbolic colors: black, red, and gold. Black stands for darkness, ignorance, indifference, and prejudice. Red typifies light and enlightenment, especially as spread by German culture. Gold symbolizes freedom through knowledge and labor. Complementing the three colors on the circular-shaped emblem are the words: HERMANN SONS OF TEXAS, the letters F, L, L, representing friendship, love, and loyalty. The lone star of Texas is in the emblem’s center, surrounded by a wreathlike design.
From its very beginning the Sons of Hermann has had a ritual. Although it has an initiation rite, it is not always required of new members. Some become members by means of having taken out insurance with the order. Its burial ritual also is not mandatory. When the burial rite is used, it assures the survivors that the departed “brother” or “sister” has begun a new life in the mansions of the Almighty. Yet, the order does not, like so many other fraternal groups, require belief in a supreme being for membership. Also unlike other orders, the SOH does not give its members degrees.
The SOH has been engaged in benevolent activities from its origin. It still, in a limited way, supports some altruistic programs. There is the Hermann Sons Home for the Aged in Comfort, Texas. Since this home has a capacity of only seventy-five, the order has some of the following requirements for entrance. An applicant must be seventy years or older, in good physical health, a holder of Hermann Sons life insurance certificate of at least $1.000 for at least twenty years, and make the home beneficiary of the first $1.000 in life insurance holdings. The order conducts an extensive youth program, also in Comfort, Texas. Each summer about 2,000 Junior Hermann Sons, ages nine through thirteen, delight in staying at the youth camp for one week. The participants engage in handicraft skills, baseball, swimming, canoeing, tennis, archery, and conducting meetings.
Considerable organizational change has occurred in the SOH. Not only has it become less demanding in requiring the performance of its ritual (as noted), but it also has made other changes. In 1937, the switch was made from German to English in conducting its meetings. That same year membership was opened to individuals of northern European lineage who weren’t of German ancestry. Today (1970s), the SOH has Irish, English, and other non-German descendants on its roster. There are no black members in the order. It has moved from a mere benevolent organization, caring for its sick and needy, burying its dead, and caring for widows and orphans, to a highly respectable and financially solvent fraternal insurance society. The membership rolls have been increasing. For instance, from 1965 to 1974, the SOH gained 1,300 members. Apparently the society’s organizational change has made the order more attractive.
The Order of the Sons of Hermann in Texas has its grand lodge headquarters in San Antonio, Texas. Over 100 local lodges are spread across the state. In the typical lodge fashion, the SOH calls its officers on the grand level: Grand President, First Grand Vice President, Second Grand Vice President, Grand Secretary-Treasurer, and Grand Physician. The latter’s responsibilities include the order’s home for the aged. The grand lodge also has three trustees, five finance committeemen, an actuary, and a legal counsel. The grand lodge meets every four years.