Ancient Order Of United Workmen

From The Infomercantile
Jump to navigationJump to search

The 'Ancient Order Of United Workmen' (abbreviated AOUW or A.O.U.W.) was the first fraternal group to offer death benefit life insurance to its members. The group dwindled in the early-20th century and does not exist in any similar or related way today.


Alterum Alterius Auxilio Eget

Or each needs the help of the other.


J.J. Upchurch

On October 27th, 1868 in Meadville, Pennsylvania, John Jordan Upchurch, a railroad worker, assembled 13 of his friends and coworkers and established the AOUW. The local lodge of The League of Friendship, a different 'workingman'-focused brotherhood, had disbanded due to a falling out with their supreme lodge, leaving a group of members without a lodge.[1] The group would be a fraternal organization with rites of initiation and membership, like the Freemasons, but it would take one further historic step by offering death insurance to its members. Fraternal groups often took care of members in need, but at the discretion of other members. Establishing an organized death-benefit insurance for all members had not been done before, and Upchurch believed it would be an additional incentive for members to join.

The constitution listed the objective as follows:
1. To unite into one common brotherhood all persons employed in the mechanical arts.
2. To create a means of prompt and effective co-operation in matters of common interest.
3. To oppose inimical legisltion and to foster favorable legislation.
4. To establish libraries, provide for lectures and other means of education.
5. To employ all legitimate means to establish and to maintain harmony and equity between employers and employees.
6. To ameliorate the conditions of unfortunate, afflicted, and oppressed members.
7. To establish an insurance fund out of which not less than $500 should be paid to the legal heirs of a deceased member.

To join the AOUW, new members paid $1 in insurance premium. This created a fund which would pay a minimum $500 benefit to a deceased member's family, at which time all surviving AOUW members would have to contribute another $1 each to re-fund the account, called an 'assessment.' Each separate Great Lodge managed its insurance for its local members.

Decentralized Organization

The decentralized nature of the AOUW focused on each individual Lodge's immediate neighborhood, and thus did not benefit from a nationwide level of exposure. Each Grand Lodge then managed their insurance benefits and fraternal organization independently, but within the guidelines of the AOUW's rules. This allowed each Lodge to benefit from their own membership efforts, and avoided national impact if any Lodge saw a major impact on their reserves, and allowed higher-risk regions to charge more for benefits than safer ones. Remember, dues were only paid when a claim was made, to replenish the reserves, so each Lodge handled its own assessments, assuming that deaths in any one lodge would be rare. Assessments were limited in each Lodge by the Great Lodge, in the event of catastrophe, so that 8 sudden deaths would not result in a serious financial impact on surviving members. Expanding this structure would be come impractical, resulting in near-daily assessments, so the national level only intervened with an organization-wide assessment when any one Lodge could not cover their own losses.[2]

in 1929, a new structure was created known as the AOUW Congress. As opposed to dictating operation instructions to Lodges, the Congress would allow conversation and sharing of information between lodges.


As the regional groups grew, administration changed in scope and each Grand Loge began to move in a different direction. Lodges began to merge, consolidating operations and reserves to support floundering lodges and improve selection in larger lodges.[3]

Lodges merging with the Grand Lodge of North Dakota:

  • Montana, 1912.
  • California, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, and Nevada, 1917.
  • South Dakota (originally part of the Grand Lodge of the Dakotas), returned in 1929.
  • New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, 1930.
  • Oregon, 1931.
  • Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, 1932.

Lodges merging with the Grand Lodge of Kansas:

  • Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado.

Lodges merging with the Grand Lodge of West Virginia:

  • Some Virginia lodges in 1924.
  • Pennsylvania, early 1900s.
  • Ohio, early 1900s.
  • District of Columbia, 1925.

Lodges merging with the Grand Lodge of Arkansas:

  • Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, 1925.
Header from a 1929 AOUW of North Dakota policy.


As each merged region gained more funds and power, they became less reliant on the organization and support afforded by a nationwide AOUW. Companies mutualized, dissolved, or sold off to other companies. In 1930, the Grand Lodge of Arkansas ceased underwriting their own policies, and eventually liquidated, passing policyholders on to other companies. The Grand Lodge of West Virginia mutualized in 1964, changing its name to Protected Home Mutual Life Insurance Company. The Grand Lodge of North Dakota mutualized in 1948, changing its name to Pioneer Mutual Life Insurance Company. The Grand Lodge of Kansas changed its name to First Kansas Life Insurance Association in 1957.


After many consolidations and conversions, the AOUW nearly ceased to exist. The mutualization of the Grand Lodge of the Dakotas in 1947, however, allowed the Grand Lodge of Washington to expand into states whose lodges had previously affiliated with North Dakota and now no longer existed. In 1966, the Grand Lodge of Washington took on the title of Supreme Lodge, re-constituting the AOUW with new or revitalized lodges in Montana, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska. In 1976, it ceased to underwrite its own policies, turning reinsurance to Early American Life Insurance Co.[4]

Women's Auxillary

Much as the Freemasons have the Order of the Eastern Star, the all-male AOUW offered an alternate membership for women. The Degree of Honor was the "ladies auxillary" of the AOUW, working in much the same way and structure regarding ritual, membership, and insurance. Also, much like the AOUW, during the period of falling interest in the fraternal qualities of the group, the Degree of Honor removed the Masonic trappings and became a fully-fledged fraternal insurance company, still in operation today.


  1. History of Life Insurance (In Its Formative Years), O'Donnell, Terence. American Conservation Company, Chicago IL. 1936.
  2. A.O.U.W "Facts and Figures", Reunion Program, 1895.
  3. List of Mergers and Changes, National Fraternal Congress of America]; The Fogarty Years, Yates, Keith L, 1972.
  4. List of Mergers and Changes, National Fraternal Congress of America].