To inculcate the principles of Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity; to recognize a belief in God; to promote the welfare and enhance the happiness of its Members; to quicken the spirit of American patriotism; to cultivate good fellowship; to perpetuate itself as a fraternal organization, and to provide for its government, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America will serve the people and communities through benevolent programs, demonstrating that Elks Care and Elks Share.
ABOUT the B.P.O.E
The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America is one of the oldest and largest fraternal organizations in the country. Since its inception in 1868, the Order of Elks has grown to include more than 1 million men and women in more than 2,100 communities.
The BPO Elks is committed to the ideals of charity and patriotism. To that end, Elks have now disbursed, over the course of the Order’s history, more than $3.6 billion in cash, goods, and services to the nation’s youth, its veterans, the disadvantaged and handicapped, and to individuals and groups in support of patriotic and civic programs. Annually the BPO Elks give more than $200 Million in this fashion, and the Order ranks as one of the largest private providers of college scholarships in the nation.
The Elks have created a quiet network of good deeds that has profoundly changed millions of lives for the better, yet there is little public awareness of the impact of their vital work. Why is this so? Quite simply, the Elks have rarely sought recognition; nor have they gone to the general public with fund-raising efforts nor received monies from any level of government. Indeed, the flow of money and goods moves in the opposite direction: the Elks donated to the government the first veterans hospital; they contribute regularly to schools and police and fire departments; and they assist the young and the needy throughout this great nation.
How could this powerful force have come into being? And where does all this charitable giving come from? From the generous hearts of Elks members whose eagerness to share, whose prudent long-term planning, and whose willingness to serve for free and with enthusiasm infuses the Order with an exuberant and enduring expression of the true volunteer spirit.
Of note is the fact that the elected leadership of the BPO Elks-from the Exalted Rulers of the local Lodges to the national president, known as the Grand Exalted Ruler, as well as other decision makers at various levels-serve without salaries.
The Elks organization is governed through democratic representation, with overall statutes set by voting at national conventions. The BPO Elks national headquarters is in Chicago. The Chicago campus is also the site of the Elks National Veterans Memorial building, and it is the home of the Elks National Foundation, the Order’s charitable trust; the Elks National Veterans Service Commission; and The Elks Magazine, the official monthly publication that is sent to every member of the Order.
The B.P.O.E Then and Now
The moving spirit of the Elks was an Englishman named Charles Algernon Sidney Vivian. Born October 22, 1842, this son of a clergyman was a successful comic singer and dancer in the music halls of London. In November 1867, Vivian arrived in New York City to try his luck.
Other actors and entertainers soon gravitated toward his magnetic personality, and this group dubbed themselves the Jolly Corks, a name derived from a practical joke of the time. When a friend of Vivian and other members of the Jolly Corks died, leaving his wife and children destitute, the Jolly Corks agreed that it was now time to create a more enduring organization, one that, while still committed to good fellowship, would serve those in need. On February 16, 1868, they established the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States.
Its Social activities and benefit performances increased the popularity of the new Order. Membership grew rapidly. Elks traveling to other cities spread the word of the brotherhood of Elks. Soon there were requests for Elks lodges in cities other than New York. In response to these appeals, the Elks asked the New York State legislature for a charter authorizing the establishment of a Grand Lodge with the power to establish local lodges anywhere in the United States. When the Grand Lodge Charter was issued, the founders then received their first local charter as New York Lodge No.1 on March 10, 1871.
Over the years, the Elks mission has been consistent and the membership has become more inclusive. Today’s guidelines for membership stipulate only that the candidate be invited to join, be over the age of 21, be a citizen of the United States, and believe in God.
The legacy of Charles Vivian’s generosity continues to this day. As long as there are those who need help, the Elks will be there to give aid and comfort.