It wasn’t long ago that service organizations were gender-specific. In other words, there were no women in men’s clubs and no men in those traditionally for women.
Times have changed.
Now most, if not all, former men’s groups welcome women, and the same for some all-women clubs opening their rolls to men. One of the reasons was pragmatic: Membership was dwindling, men (and women) weren’t joining as they once did and if the group was to remain viable new blood was needed.
Sandy Moore is a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Frankfort Lodge 530. She is one of 134 women, or 25 percent, in the 536-member lodge located on Lewis Street. The rolls opened on March 1, 2004.
“Charlie Cunningham fought for women to have full membership,” Moore said. “He saw us an asset.” Cunningham was the exalted ruler at the time and is now serving through February as state president.
Fifteen years ago, Moore’s husband, Bill, became a member of the Elks and Sandy joined the auxiliary. Bill went on to serve five years as the exalted ruler (or president) of the local lodge. She describes herself as the “ER Junior,” adding it was a “joint effort.”
John Snyder is the current exalted ruler.
“Like other women whose husbands were Elks,” Moore said, “I’d always been a member of the Elks Auxiliary.”
Women’s auxiliaries were common support arms of many all-male organizations for decades until women were accepted into full membership.
To be a member of the auxiliary, Moore said, a woman had to be married to a male member of the Elks.
“The Elks have always been about charities,” Moore said, “but members weren’t doing a lot. Pretty much it had come to be known as a bar and a bowling alley. That changed, and I think opening it up to women helped.”
The local chapter helps veterans and seniors, gives dictionaries to third-grade students and conducts an annual Hoop Shoot, which is a free-throw shooting event for boys and girls.
What became the Elks organization was founded on Feb. 16, 1868, in New York as the “Jolly Corks” by 15 actors and entertainers. Elks Lodge No. 1 is in New York, with the current national headquarters in Chicago. It took almost a century and a half before women were accorded full membership.
According to the history, the 15 original Corks wanted a name change featuring “…a readily identifiable creature of stature, indigenous to America.” They voted 8-7 in favor of the elk.
“If someone asked why they should become an Elk I would tell them it’s a way to give back to the community,” Moore said. That theme is common to all volunteers and service organizations.
Membership dues are $100 per year and new members are sponsored by existing members and filling out an application. For more information, contact Moore at 502-545-0617.
“This is a good organization,” she said. “I hope we can keep it alive.”