Knights and Ladies of Honor

As happened so frequently in the context of American fraternalism, new fraternal organizations arose because of schisms and conflict. The KLH was formed when some discontented individuals in the Knights of Honor withdrew and formed their own society. The Knights of Honor, formed in 1873, created a ladies’ auxiliary degree in 1875. For some reason or other the idea of a women’s auxiliary did not catch on, and by 1877 the Knights of Honor had repealed its 1875 resolution creating a separate ladies’ degree. The repeal prompted the formation of the KLH in 1877. The KLH was supposedly the first secret beneficiary society to admit women to equal social and beneficiary privileges with men.

When the KLH first was formed, it called itself the Order of Protection of Knights and Ladies of Honor. Later it was changed to the Knights and Ladies of Honor, its present name. The order, having been founded in Louisville, Kentucky, was chartered in Kentucky on December 14, 1881.

The society had three basic objectives. One was to provide benevolence and charity for its members. Another was to unite fraternally all acceptable white men and women, who had reputable occupations and were between eighteen and fifty years of age. Still another was to assist members morally and materially through education and related means. As far as membership was concerned, the KLH also had a social membership category permitting white individuals between eighteen and sixty-five to join without insurance benefits.

The KLH began as a fraternal benefit society; and as all societies at that time, it employed the assessment plan to gather its insurance funds. At first the society paid death benefits up to $1,000; a few years later (1881), however, it increased the upper limit to $5,000. The increase in benefits drew numerous individuals to the society’s membership roster. By 1898 the society had more than 72,000 members. The prosperous days, however, did not last very long. As the membership grew older, the society experienced financial difficulties. In order to avoid disaster the rates kept increasing. For the first twenty-four years the society assessed each member $1.80 per month, but when the death rates began increasing the claims could not be met. This phenomenon led to a number of rate increases. By 1916 the rate was $18.40 per month for a $1,000 insurance. For some of the pioneer members the increases represented an inflation of more than 900 percent. Needless to say, the rank and file became very unhappy. Members left the society, and some even appealed to state insurance departments for assistance. The insignia of the KLH was a shield depicting a knight in armor, holding sword and shield, ready to protect widows and children, who were represented by a broken column. The shield also portrayed a triangle with the letters O.M.A. Each angle displayed one of the three letters.

Local units were termed "Subordinate Lodges," and state structures were known as "Grand Lodges." The national organization was referred to as the "Supreme Lodge." Its head offices were located in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Initiation Ritual of the Knights and Ladies of Honor