This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The Iowa I.O.O.F. Orphans Home Orchestra

06 February 2015

Take two guitars and two mandolins

Add a violin, another mandolin, and perhaps a pianist

And you have the Iowa I.O.O.F. Orphans Home Orchestra of Mason City. The seven solemn faced girls in this small ensemble lived at the Iowa Odd Fellows Orphanage and Old Folks Home, an institution that first opened in May 1903 but tragically was destroyed by fire in September of that same year. It was rebuilt in 1906, only a few years before this photo of the girls orchestra was made. Music instruction was an important part of the training provided to the children, with brass band instruments for boys and string instruments for the girls. Mandolin bands were a popular fad in this decade, and such vintage school photos are not uncommon to find. The mandolin is tuned the same as a violin and at this time were typically made in the traditional Italian or Neapolitan pear shape with a round back.

Here is the I.O.O.F. orphan home as it looked in 1911. The main building was on 240 acres which included a working farm to supply its residents with food and work. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows is a benevolent fraternal society that got its start in England and was established in America in 1819. It has a motto developed from the order's "Triple Links" logo – the letters F, L and T which stand for Friendship, Love and Truth. From its beginnings the society's mission was to "visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan." 

Musical groups like the girls orchestra were especially important when fund raising for an institution. The girls performed at several regional and state conventions of the Odd Fellows and its  women's branch called the Rebekahs. The following newspaper report appeared in the Nashua IA Reporter on June 1, 1911 and gives a good description of the home.

Nashua Iowa Reporter
June 1, 1911
Mesdames J.H. Hildebrand and L. P. Hanson returned Thursday afternoon of last week from Marble Rock, where they had been attending a convention of the Rebekahs of the northern district of Iowa. Among the best things of the convention were several selections by the girls' orchestra from the Odd Fellow's Home at Mason City and an address by the matron of the home, Grace Lewis. 
This home is a beautiful place, also a home in the true sense of the word and one which all Odd Fellows and Rebekahs can be proud of. It has sheltered 150 aged brothers and sisters and orphaned children in the eight years it has been running. There are at present in the home 48 children , 21 old people, 2 totally blind, 2 lame, two utterly helpless, eight who are over 80 years of age, one 94 years, two couple who have been married 60 years, and one little 20 months old girl who had just lost her dear mother and was brought to this home to be cared for.  The order is taking care of the unfortunate ... (unclear)

The postcard of the I.O.O.F. Orphan Home was sent to Miss Ruby Harper, Hansell, Iowa. The message reads:

March 26, 1911 – This is me & me only.

Below it is a circled word –  Missent

Did Ruby not receive this card? Who wrote it? Ruby G. Harper was the daughter of a farmer in Franklin County, Iowa and was age 15 when this was posted. 

Back in January 2011 I wrote a story on the Orphans Home Band of Mason City, Iowa. Not long after that story I acquired another postcard of the Iowa I.O.O.F. Orphan Home Band that is identical to one in that post but has extra value with a postmark of February 17, 1909. The Odd Fellows triple link F-L-T logo is on the bass drum. The photographer Washburn, is the same one that took the photo of the girls orchestra.

These boys had the good fortune to be identified on one of the other postcards in that story by a girl named Hazel Jones who also lived at the orphanage. Though the girls orchestra are not named, I like to believe that she may one of them.

The boys band postcard was addressed to Miss Vetta Morse, Ranelagh, Ontario, Canada which is near London, Ontario between Buffalo, NY and Detroit. The message reads:

Feb 17, 09    Dear Ones All – Will send
a card to let you know that I
think of you people quite a little
and am going to write a letter
just as soon as I feel like it.
Got Uncle's while in the hospital,
came home a week ago Sunday
and am feeling fine. better than
I have for months. Was out doors
across the street yesterday PM. for
the first time am getting stronger
each day but can't stand as
much as I used to. Remember me
to Edna when you see her. All are
(w)ell as usual. Weather pleasant
(a)nd a blizzard Sunday. Lots of love Nells 

The postcard of the Mason City, I.O.O.F. Orphans Home was also produced in a sepia tone version. This enlargement of the portico steps comes from a postcard mailed in January of 1911. On the left are some adults, perhaps some of the elder residents. There are boys in the center, and girls in white frocks on the steps below.

The orphanage was closed in 1966 and this building was demolished in 1994. However the Odd Fellows continue to support good works around the country and still maintain a nursing care center on this same location in Mason City.

If you look closely at the foreground of the orphanage steps there is a garden fountain which has a statue of children holding an umbrella. It seem seems a very fitting symbol for a protective home for orphans and the elderly. I hope that it was preserved. 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more groups of girls.

   28 January 2018  

After I wrote this post in 2015
I've since acquired two more postcards
of the I.O.O.F. Orphans Home Orchestra of Mason City, IA.
The first shows a larger ensemble of 9 girls
on mandolins, guitars, violin, snare drum,
and a very large triangle.

The violinist and the guitarist to her left
are pictured in the first postcard,
though the guitarist now wears spectacles.
The girl standing center may also be in the first photo. 

This second postcard of the The I.O.O.F. Orchestra of Mason City
has eleven musicians, three of whom are young men
with band instruments – cornet, tuba, and clarinet.
Two girls have violins and one a cello.
The girl seated left has a rolled up music folder,
the sign of a pianist.
And the girl standing right holds only a book
and may be either a drummer or another pianist.

What makes this postcard special
is that it was sent by
the photographer, Mr. R. A. Washburn,
to Mrs Clara Lockling of Modale, IA
 on June 13, 1914.

Sent pictures
today by mail.
Thanks for
the order.
R. A. Washburn
Mason City, Ia


L. D. said...

It is interesting that here in Woodward, Iowa the state built similar buildings all over the campus to house mentally ill. It was run as a working farm too with those who could work helped plant and can the fruits and vegetables. The buildings are all still here but they don't allow clients to live in them anymore. They build modern units for groups to live. I had never heard of the Mason City institution. Good info thanks.

Postcardy said...

I especially like the girls card. It is great that you found so many postcards on an obscure subject.

Barbara Rogers said...

Great interesting post, as I hadn't heard about Oddfellows nor their good work. I did immediately recognized the little fountain, since a duplicate of it stood in St. Augustine, FL where I saw it frequently in the 1990s when I lived there. It sits in a garden outside a restaurant. Just as charming there but not with quite the impact as the one at the orphanage. I have an adult friend who spent some of her childhood in an orphanage, and she speaks highly of one "sister" who cared for her.

Joan said...

A very interesting post and great pics.The girls with their mandolins were lovely. A distant relatives of mine were in an orphanage as their mother couldn't care for them. The photos of the children of that time and place did not look nearly as well kept and cared for as the children in this IOOF orphanage. Looks like these children were given the tools and experience that would enable them to take their place in society. Good works. Good post.

Sharon said...

"Vetta" is unusual. I suppose it is short for Violetta.

IOOF is well know in Australia too.

Jo Featherston said...

We have a health insurance company here called Australian Unity that was formed after the Manchester Unity IOOF combined with another similar group. I wonder why they lked to call themselves odd fellows? A very interesting post, as ever.

Deb Gould said...

I was taken by surprise by the fact that one of the IOOF's missions was to "bury the dead." Were people NOT burying their dead...and the IOOF felt responsible? Amazing. My g-grandmother was very big in the Rebekahs in Ashburnham, MA in the early 1900s.

Rosie said...

Music is such an important part in a young child's life, wish I would have had the opportunity of learn to play an instrument back then.

La Nightingail said...

Would that we could know how these children got on in the world when it was time for them to move on - what sort of jobs they managed to find? Did they marry? Have children? Most of all, were they happy? I guess we must simply hope & assume in the positive. The girls look especially lovely in their white dresses & big hair bows.

Dara said...

a lovely collection of pictures and a great post.

Alan Burnett said...

A delight to read Mike. We still have Oddfellow societies over here but they are dying out as so many of them lost their real purpose following the introduction of the Welfare State after the Second War. The name is often remembered in the name of pubs (Oddfellows Arms) where they would meet. I seem to recall reading that their name derives from those whose trade was not incorporated into one of the medieval guilds.

Little Nell said...

The children look rather solemn, but the home looks an interesting and caring place. The statue in the garden is indeed very appropriate.

Lorraine Phelan said...

You always come up with great photos and postcards Mike. How on earth do you do it!
This is a delightful post, as usual.

Linda said...

Fascinating post and great photos.


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP