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At a recent auction, I obtained a box of "stuff" for five dollars. Inside this box were two small attendance registers (about twenty pages each) and on each cover was printed "Improved Order of Heptasophs, Somerville Conclave, No. 476." I had never heard of the Heptasophs, but am always on the lookout for interesting organizations to document for researchers.
According to information posted by the Phoenixmasonry Masonic Museum, the original Order of Heptasophs was founded in 1852, and the Improved Order of Heptasophs (IOH) split off in 1878. The name is derived from Latin roots meaning seven and wise, hence the group was referred to as the Order of the Seven Wise Men.
H. W. Burton writes in his book, "The History of Norfolk, Virginia," (Norfolk Virginian Job Print, 1877) that the first Conclave [of the original order] was organized in New Orleans, in April, 1852. This Secret Order is very popular among the Germans, and Germany is the only country, except the United States, where it is kept up.
Mr. Burton also reveals the Seven Wise Men were Thales, of Miletus, Solon, of Athens, Bias, of Priene, Chilo, of Sparta, Pitticus [Pittacus], of Mitylene, Cleobulus, of Rhodes, and Epimenides, of Crete.
The St. Louis Public Library has a section on fraternal organizations, and states that the IOH was organized for the purpose of "uniting fraternally all white men of sound bodily health, good moral character, socially acceptable, engaged in an honorable profession, business, employment or occupation, between 18 and 50 years of age."
The Mill Valley Lodge #356 web site mentions that the IOH was dedicated to the virtues of Fraternity, Truth, Wisdom; motto, Experientia Docet, which translates "experience teaches."
In "Fraternal Organizations" by Alvin J. Schmidt (Greenwood Press, 1980), there are entries for the Improved Order of Heptasophs and also the Order of Heptasophs. The Improved Order was a schismatic group, separating from the parent group. The Improved Order launched a fraternal benevolent insurance program.
The society had its head office in Baltimore, Maryland, and by 1915 had 676,887 members. As of May 1917, the IOH ceased to exist when it merged with the Fraternal Aid Union (Lawrence, Kan), which changed to the Standard Life Association in 1933. The history of the Standard Life Association of Lawrence was briefly sketched in its magazine, The Standard, in the May-June 1937 issue.
Our collection of names represents less that one percent of the membership. We will continue to add names as we find verifyable sources.
The Old Newark Web Group has an associations page that lists Improved Order of Heptasophs, Unity Conclave, at 1155 Broad Street [Newark, New Jersey] in 1893.
The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania lists an Improved Order of Heptasophs, Friendship Conclave No. 3, "Programme for musical evening, April 16, 1889" in their collection.
The Historical Society of Cecil County [Maryland] has the Cecil County Almanc listing the Improved Order of Heptasophs, Elkton Conclave, formed, 1894.
In an Baltimore City Paper article "Charmed Afterlife" (10/25/2000), the following was printed, "A fount of neighborhood history, Mrozek notes that the building at 45 W. Preston St. was erected in 1883 by the Improved Order of Heptasophs ('seven wise men' in neo-Greek), one of several fraternal groups that occupied the area a century ago."
The Danville Street Directory lists, "IOH, Lotus Conclave, No. 127. Meets first and third Thursday of each month in G. A. R. Hall, 269 Mill." [Montour County, PA]
The Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce lists, "1890 - A lodge of the order of Heptasophs with a membership of 60 was organized here this week by Dr. Quinn of Pocomoke City, Maryland."
The StrangeUSA web site, mentions the Theater Project, 45 W Preston St, Baltimore, MD 21201 as being "built by the Improved Order of Heptasophs in 1883, it was converted into a dance hall in the 1920`s."