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Nov 11, 2022
Manuscripts – Records of National Fraternal Society of the Deaf, 1900-2006
King Jordan Student Academic Center 1255
National Fraternal Society of the Deaf, 1901-2007
Records of National Fraternal Society of the Deaf, 1900-2006
Gallaudet University Archives
Repository: Gallaudet University Archives
Call No.: MSS 163
Creator: National Fraternal Society of the Deaf.
Title: Records of National Fraternal Society of the Deaf, 1900-2006.
Quantity: 43.5 Linear Feet (66 document boxes and 34 oversized boxes)
Abstract: National Fraternal Society of the Deaf (NFSD) was an insurance business established in 1901.
Its purposes were to provide insurance to mainly Deaf members, to serve as an advocate for the Deaf, and to provide community service and recreational opportunities through divisional activities. The existing insurance coverage was transferred to the Catholic Order of Foresters in 2005. The NFSD disbanded in 2007.
Note: The Archives holds the photographs separately from this inventory. Please consult an archivist for more information.
Acquisition Information: The records of National Fraternal Society of the Deaf were donated to the Archives by the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf on September 2005 and January 2006.
Processed by: Ulf Hedberg. 1 May 2008.
Processing Note: The collection was partly processed in 2007, and it was completed on May 1, 2008.
Conditions on Use and Access: This collection is open to the public with no restrictions.
Photocopies may be made for scholarly research.
Related Material in the Archives:
At the time it was established, there was discrimination against Deaf people by insurance companies. At the Michigan School for the Deaf in Flint, during the alumni reunion in 1898, the graduates who were the members of a local fraternal order called McKinley Lodge No. 922 met and considered a proposal to establish a fraternal society for Deaf people. At the next reunion in 1901, they formally established the Fraternal Society of the Deaf as a mutual benefit organization. Later, it was incorporated by the State of Illinois. Those early members were often referred to as “The Coming Men of America.” However, the Fraternal Society of the Deaf wanted to offer insurance of various kinds and to be classified as a profit organization. To comply with the laws of the state of Illinois, they had to reorganize; in 1907 they took on the name National Fraternal Society of the Deaf (NFSD). Their stated goals were to provide life insurances including death and accident benefits, to serve as an advocate for the deaf, and to provide community service and recreational opportunities through divisional activities.
For 106 years, the NFSD had 168 divisions: the first one was founded as Chicago No. 1 in 1901 (sometimes referred to as the Grand Division) and the latest division was St. Augustine, Florida No. 168, established in 1991. The first convention ever held was in Chicago in 1903–conventions continued until the last one in Lake Buena Vista, Florida in 1999. At each convention, the NFSD attracted hundreds of its members for election of new officers, business meetings, and socializing. Each meeting ended with a formal banquet. The NFSD also provided training for field representatives to assist members in the selection of benefits and advise them on the formation of an estate.
Between 1901 and 1935, there was no permanent office, NFSD instead often used officers’ homes or rented space. It was not until 1936 NFSD owned a building at 433 South Oak Park Avenue in Chicago. Its last headquarters were at 1118 South Sixth Street in Springfield, Illinois in 2007.
Women started demanding admission to the NFSD in 1915. At the time, the NFSD’s organization work was the responsibility of the head of the family; the men rejected attempts to give the women equal membership. Women persisted until 1937, when the NFSD allowed them to form social auxiliaries. The purpose of these auxiliaries was promote the best interests of the division with which they were affiliated. In 1951, during the NFSD convention, it was agreed that women would be given regular insurance membership.
During the last decade of the 20th century, membership began to decrease. Due to changing laws across the country, Deaf people were able to purchase insurance at low cost from other insurance companies which often competed for their business. The NFSD agreed to merge with the Catholic Order of Foresters effective January 1, 2005 to transfer existing insurance coverage. As of January 1, 2007, the NFSD has no members or Divisions.
Scope and Content
The records of the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf (NFSD) consist mainly of administrative files, correspondence, division files, financial records, publications, and degree point files.
The collection, which consists of approximately 85,000 pages, dates from 1900 to 2006. Most documents date from one of three eras: prior to 1930s, 1940s, and 1960s-1970s. The majority are part of a degree point system created in 1948. During the 1960s and 1970s, there was heavy correspondence mostly concerned with community services. The principal subjects in the collection are the operation and conventions of the NFSD, meeting minutes, programs related to business meetings and conventions, and a collection of membership cards.
Series 1: Administration
Box 1-9, OV1-26
In this group, there are the meeting minutes from 1922 to 2003 and convention programs from 1927 to 1999. The largest of this group is membership cards in alphabetical order. Finally, there are folders of correspondence with the board of directors from 1903 to 1925, and bound meeting minutes from 1911 to 1914. Two large bound registers that list new members from 1901 through 1947 are included in this group.
Series 2: Correspondence
For the most part, this correspondence relates to advocacy, outreach to Deaf communities and the NFSD generally. Also included are records concerning legal work with the state government, specifically on vocational rehabilitation issues and the infamous Krakover case, who was a Deaf peddler. Finally, there are several folders relating to the right to drive automobiles.
Series 3: Degree Point Records
This unit contains correspondence with divisions, members, and the headquarters related to earning degrees. The purpose was to encourage members to assume Division duties and improve the work of their units. The explanation of degree point can be found in the constitution and bylaws and in a pamphlet “An Interpretation of the Degree and Point System” which can be found in this unit.
Series 4: Division Records
Box 44-49, OV 26-27, 34
There are folders of address books, bylaws, division rules, local rules, and programs related to local divisions in the United States and Canada.
Series 5: Finance
Box OV 27-33
For the most part, this series is made up of annual statements of the NFSD’s operation from 1973 to 1999; missing documents are from 1983 to 1990, and 1993. In this group, one can find the volumes of benefits and claims paid to members from 1902 through 1948.
Series 6: General
Box 50-52, OV 34
This covers only information on various topics in general, including essays and history written by Francis P. Gibson and poems written by Arthur L. Roberts and J. Frederick Meagher. All were officers and active members of the NFSD.
Series 7: Publication
The first issue of “The Frat” was published in 1902. It skipped 1903 and then re-appeared in 1904 through 1907. Between 1907 and 1911, the issues of “The Frat” appeared in other Deaf publications such as “The Silent Worker,” “The Silent Success,” and “The Southern Optimist.” Later, “The Frat” returned to its own publishing in 1911 until its last issue in 2006. All issues are in the chronological order.
List of the Grand Presidents of the NFSD
1901-1903 Peter N. Hellers
1903-1905 Francis P. Gibson
1905-1909 Jacob J. Kleinhans
1909-1912 E. Morris Bristol
1912-1927 Harry C. Anderson
1927-1929 Francis P. Gibson
1929-1931 Frederick J. Neesam
1931-1957 Arthur L. Roberts
1957-1967 L. Stephen Cherry
1967-1984 Frank B. Sullivan
1984-1993 Robert R. Anderson
1993-1996 Wayne D. Shook
1996-2006 Al Van Nevel
List of NFSD’S Conventions
1903 Chicago, Illinois
1905 Detroit, Michigan
1907 Cincinnati, Ohio
1909 Louisville, Kentucky
1912 Columbus, Ohio
1915 Omaha, Nebraska
1918 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1921 Atlanta, Georgia
1924 St. Paul, Minnesota
1927 Denver, Colorado
1931 Boston, Massachusetts
1935 Kansas City, Missouri
1939 Toronto, Canada
1943 Chicago, Illinois
1947 Los Angeles, California
1951 Chicago, Illinois
1955 Buffalo, New York
1959 Detroit, Michigan
1963 Memphis, Tennessee
1967 New York City, New York
1971 Chicago, Illinois
1975 New Orleans, Louisiana
1979 Toronto, Canada
1983 Denver, Colorado
1987 Secaucus, New Jersey
1991 Milwaukee, Wisconsin
1995 Salt Lake City, Utah
1999 Lake Buena Vista, Florida
List of NFSD’s Divisions
Click Here to View the Folders List
Click Here to View the Photographs List
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