Ben Hur Life Association


The Ben Hur Life Association was founded in 1894 in Crawfordsville, Indiana, as a fraternal insurance group for persons of both sexes over the age of 18 There were 15,000 members in 1989.
Founded as the Tribe of Ben Hur by Lew Wallace, Civil War general, politician, and author of the novel Ben Hur, the Ben Hur Life Association adopted its current name in 1930 It therefore has the unusual distinction of having its ritual based on a work of fiction. More importantly, it was an early graded assessment mutual insurance organization—although instead of having a fixed benefit with a variable assessment, it had a fixed assessment with a variable benefit. The assessment was always $1 per certificate per month, but the value of the certificate dropped according to the age at which you joined. It was $3,000 for those joining between 18 and 23, but for those who failed to join before the age of 54 (the maximum age for joining was 65) it was a mere $500. There were also half certificates and double certificates, but although men and women were admitted “upon absolute equality,” no man’s life could be insured for more than a double certificate while no woman s life could be insured for more than one certificate.

The lodge structure was Court, possibly Tribe (it is no longer clear), and Supreme Tribe. The number of degrees is also unclear today, but the rituals stressed morality, religion, and patriotism.
The main emphasis is and always has been on life insurance, but by 1920 the Tribe was also awarding annual $500 free scholarships to suitable members, a tradition that continued for many years As with many other such organizations, members may be either beneficial (insured) or social. Interestingly, not all candidates are required to swear an oath upon initiation.
Regardless of their flexibility, the organization has suffered the fate of many others and has withered considerably, from well over 100,000 in 1910 to about 31,000 in 1979 and about 15,000 in 1990.