Independent Order of Odd Fellows Apron, c. 1832-1840
This white silk apron with hand painted decoration in oil paint and gold leaf trimmed with red rope twisted tassel fringe is indicative of the aprons used by members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The polychrome decoration on the main panel depicts a coat-of-arms adopted by the Independent Order of Odd Fellow consisting of a wreath tied to a banderole with the motto “We Command You to Visit the Sick Relieve the Distressed Bury the Dead & Educate the Orphan” framing a shield supported by personifications of Father Time and Justice adopted by the Independent Order of Odd Fellow.
While the Independent Order of Odd Fellows is not associated with the Freemason the two fraternities share a number of striking similarities. One of the many fraternal organizations founded in the 19th century committed to public service it offered members fellowship while strengthening ties within a larger community. Founded in Baltimore by British immigrant Thomas Wildey (1782-1861) in 1819, in an effort to establish friendships in a country still recovering from the War of 1812, the first lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows was formed after he placed an ad in the paper and Wildey along with four other individuals established Washington Lodge Number I. Members of the order are “bound together by the ties of friendship, love, and truth for the purpose of alleviating the sufferings of humanity.” Often identified by the symbol of a three-link-chain the order became known as the “three-link-fraternity”. This emblem is based on two Biblical Stories; that of Jonathan and David, a parable of friendship and mutual relief; and the story of the Good Samaritan, which illustrates the second principle, love. Truth, the third link, binds the first two together.
While this apron was among other family relics inherited by the donor from her uncle, John Newton Wicks (1880-c. 1951), no other family history was known that could help shed light on who in the family was the original owner. Establishing a strong presence in 1831 upon the completion of the first Odd Fellow’s Hall in Maryland, erected on the west side of Gay Street near Fayette, the Independent Order of Odd Fellow’s saw their membership grow in the thousands. The partial printed label of the manufacturer of the cotton used for the lining with the imprint stamp for Lowell Bleachery helps to date the apron to about 1832, when the Lowell Bleachery was founded and incorporated in Lowell, Massachusetts. During the 1830’s the order saw some of its greatest growth that later resulted in the Hall on Gay Street being enlarged in 1843, 1847, and 1852 (the building was razed in 1890 when Lexington Street was extended from Holliday to Gay Street, creating what is now City Hall Plaza).