Register of the Records of the
SCANDINAVIAN FRATERNITY OF AMERICA
The Scandinavian Fraternity of America was founded in 1915, probably in Chicago, Illinois, where it held its first convention that year. It was a consolidation of three other organizations, one of which was certainly called the Scandinavian Brotherhood of America, daring from 1894. Its first president was Axel Rylander.
Like many other ethnic organizations of the early 1900s, the Scandinavian Fraternity was principally a beneficial group to aid its membership when threatened by sickness, unemployment, or death. Like many such organizations, it also had a separate category of social members with concomitant social activities, and, as a whole, was generally dedicated to the promotion and development of the "best qualities of citizenship" in the new land. However, despite the name "fraternity," this organization was different from other ethnic beneficials in that it was open to both women and men, and to their non-Scandinavian spouses.
The fraternity attracted new immigrant members through the early 1920s, and possibly after World War II, reflecting the influx of Scandinavians in to the country. It also retained for many years a loyal core of first and perhaps second generation members, but the organization has suffered from an acute loss of new membership in the last decade, and by 1991 had only about 2500 members nationally.
In 1983 declining membership occasioned a refinement of organizational structure, reducing the number of district or regional lodges to five. Two years later, in 1985, the number of local or subordinate lodges under these district lodges had dropped from 37 to 28. There were only 11 credentialed delegates at the national convention (held every three years) in 1986. Thus, loss of membership has been absolutely the key concern of all the recent convention, meeting, and newsletter materials.
One of the districts at the 1986 convention was District #1, which includes Pennsylvania, New York, and probably other contiguous states. By then Lyran Lodge #109, from Syracuse, New York, had already disbanded (1983), and the district contained only two lodges: Ingeborg Lodge, #62, in Buffalo, New York, and Fram Lodge, #282, from Philadelphia. Fram Lodge disbanded in about 1992.
The records from Lyran Lodge go back to 1909, which is possibly its founding year. Membership application from newly arrived immigrants date from about 1910 to 1923, with many from this last date, coinciding with the last big migration of Swedes and Norwegians to the United States before the quota laws of 1924. By the date of its disbandment, it probably could not meet the requirement of at least 7 members and its annual dues collection was $60.00.
Fram Lodge was organized and chartered in 1928. Its first president was Arthur Dover, who was president again in 1955, and chair of the by-laws committee which revised both the lodge constitution and by-laws that year. A membership list from what appears to be the late 1920s or early 1930s indicates as many as 330 membership numbers had already been assigned, the collection's donor, Charles Appelgren, having been given #5. By the mid 1970s that total had dwindled to approximately 60, and by the time of its disbandment in 1992, only Appelgren and one or two others had survived.
Ironically, the decline of such an organization as the Scandinavian Fraternity is partly a testament to the ability of its founders' heirs to integrate into the American mainstream, marrying non-Scandinavians, moving away, becoming part or more sophisticated insurance programs and finding their social and cultural needs satisfied outside of ethnic constraints. It is certainly also due to the inability of these old fraternals to command the expensive regular payments and supply the complexity of benefits provided by large, modern health and employment insurers. And finally, its inevitable demise may rest in the fact that as an ethnic organization it was, oddly, almost too broad. It always welcomed non-Scandinavian spouses, who may easily have come from other cultural backgrounds, and must Scandinavians will ethnically identify themselves not as Scandinavians, but as Swedes, Danes, or Norwegians, each with a distinct heritage, language, and culture. Thus, as a purely ethnic and social organization, it could really not appeal evenly to all its members, with their large differences in customs, languages, and foods.
These records were donated to the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies by Charles Appelgren in September 1992. The collection was processed by Balch Field Archivist, Sandy VanDoren, in 1993. There are no restrictions to this donation.
Appelgren's sister, Dorothy Paley, gave the Institute the records of the Oscars Borg Lodge (Philadelphia) of the Swedish Vasa Order of America (M92-29) in March, 1992. These might also be of interest to the researcher.
Banners, gavels, and other artifacts from this collection have been separated to the museum.
SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTE
This collection spans the years 1909 to 1992, having a smattering of materials from all the intervening decades. The largest body of records comes from the Fram Lodge, in which Appelgren was active throughout its entire existence, but the documentation here as elsewhere is fragmentary at best. There is a preponderance of financial data from both lodges, although that from Lyran Lodge is more complete. In fact, other than the few copies of various national and local constitutions and convention programs, the most useful and interesting records in the collection come from Lyran Lodge, especially in the three folders of membership applications and two ledgers of minutes in Box 2. There is very little correspondence in any series or subseries.
The collection has been divided into two series, national and district materials. Lyran and Fram Lodges were part of District #1, and are described as subseries within the district records.
Series I, General Office Files, contains a constitution, a few convention programs, copies of the national publication Monitor, ritual procedures for the induction of subordinate lodges, and a song book. What little can be learned about the national organization from this collection comes from the first there named items.
Series II, District #1, General Office Materials, consists of convention programs, a thin folder of correspondence, one set of district convention minutes and one set of executive board minutes. There is almost nothing really substantive in these records.
Series II, Subseries A, Lyran Lodge, #109, contains financial ledgers, treasurer's reports, membership applications and a membership list, minute ledgers, and a resolution. This subseries is the most coherent body of materials in the collection, with the largest date span. The membership applications are particularly interesting, as undoubtedly are the ledgers of minutes for the researcher who reads Swedish.
Series II, Subseries B, Fram Lodge, is the largest group of records, with a constitution, convention and banquet materials, correspondence, bank deposits, statements, bound volumes of income and expenses, various financial reports and membership dues and lists. Unfortunately, however, the information in these records, which span several decades, is piecemeal, and little of it relates well to other materials either in the subseries or in the collection as a whole.
The box list of the register of the records of the Scandinavian Fraternity of
America is two pages long.