The history of any fraternal organization or society consists mainly in an answer to three questions: What was its origin? What are its purposes? What has it accomplished? It is quite difficult and sometimes impossible, to establish the facts relating to the founding of a fraternal order, because such organizations, in most cases, at least, are formed by a few enthusiastic persons who are more deeply interested in perfecting the organization and building its membership, than compiling a record of their proceedings.
In the case of Shriners International, however, the historic record is quite accurate. The origin of the Order and its remarkable growth, provide an interesting and factual story dating from 1871, although there are some who contend that the Shrine as it has existed in North America was founded on some ancient Order of Orders which are said to have existed in the Far East at an early day and were conferred upon William J. Florence, founder of the Order in New York, while he was traveling in a foreign country.
The Order of Shriners International, so far as the historical record shows, is an American institution. Oriental signs, tokens and costumes were adopted by those who originated the Order for the sake of pageantry. The jeweled costumes, the picturesque Arab and Fez, all appealed to the organizers and the result today is the greatest Fraternal Order the world has ever known, with 193 Shrine Centers and Shriners Hospital for Children. It is these 22 Hospitals -“Temples of Mercy”- that are the “Heart of the Order”.
The accepted history of the Shrine of North America dates from 1871. In that year, William J. Florence, a distinguished American actor, returned from a European trip inspired by the pageantry and Oriental splendor which he had witnessed at a private ceremony in Marseilles, France, given under the sponsorship of the Arabian Consul at that city.
From notes and material submitted to him by William J. Florence, Dr. Walter M. Fleming – eminent physician, Civil War veteran, 33rd degree Mason and Knight Templar – contrived the Shrine ritual.
At New York on June 16, 1871, Florence and Fleming and eleven Masonic friends endorsed a proposal for the formation of a new fraternal order to be composed of Knights Templar and 32nd Degree Scottish Rites Masons. Dr. Fleming’s ritual with its background of Oriental glamour, pageantry and mystic splendor was to provide the basis for this organization.
Then on September 26, 1872, these thirteen charter members formally launched Mecca Temple of the Shriners International, with Fr. Fleming as Illustrious Grand Potentate.
On June 6, 1876, in New York, the Imperial Council of the Shrine for the United States was organized and the next day Damascus Temple, Rochester, N.Y., became the second Shrine Temple. By June 20, 1897, the Shrine had 37 Temples with a total membership of 4398.
On that day also the title of “Imperial” was adopted in lieu of “Grand” in designating the Shrine’s national officers and the title of Imperial Council for the United States of America was changed to Imperial Council for North America, following the chartering of Rameses Temple, in Toronto, as the first Canadian Temple.
The Shrine has expanded to an organization of 193 Temples, with a membership of some 300,000 Nobles – in Canada, the Canal Zone, Mexico, every state in the Union and the District of Columbia. Al Malaikah Temple, which was chartered on February 25, 1888 with 39 members, now has 4760 Nobles names on the roster.
The Red Fez with its scimitar and crescent and the Shrine gradually has become the humanizing agency of Masonry, seeking to keep alive in men the spirit of youth by offering wholesome companionship, clean fun and a welcome escape from the worry, carte and the drab routine of our daily lives.
Each Noble of the Mystic Shrine believes that no man has any real right to play, however, unless he has also contributed to the happiness of others. Out of this belief came the idea of the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
Since 1922, regardless of race, creed or color, more than 800,000 children have been treated and healed in Shrinedom’s 22 great “Temple of Mercy”. The annual hospital budget is met by a yearly $5.00 assessment paid by every Noble, by the proceeds of Shrine-sponsored events, by the income from growing endowment funds and finally, by voluntary and charitable bequests from generous friends of Shrinedom.
The Shrine’s 22 Hospitals are located in Los Angeles; Lexington, Kentucky; Chicago, Illinois; Spokane, Wash.; Greenville, South Carolina; Winnipeg, Canada; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota; Shreveport, Louisiana; Honolulu, Hawaii; Montreal, Canada; St. Louis, Missouri; Portland, Oregon; Salt Lake City, Utah; Springfield, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Mexico City; Houston and Galveston, Texas; Cincinnati, Ohio; Boston, Massachusetts; Tampa, Florida; and Sacramento, California.
At Imperial Session, July 2011, it was moved and seconded that the Shrine would be known as SHRINERS INTERNATIONAL.
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