Simply put, the goal of the Indedpendent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) is to "improve and elevate the character of man."1 Its origins began when ordinary citizens in seventeenth century England joined forces and resources to aid persons in need. In America, Washington Lodge No. 1 in Baltimore, Maryland, received its charter from Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows in England on April 26, 1819.2 The members of the fraternal organization were employed to "Visit the sick, relieve the distress, bury the dead and educate the orphans" as Baltimore was suffering from an outbreak of yellow fever.3
I.O.O.F. was the first national fraternity which to include both men and women when it adopted the Rebekah Degree in 1851. This degree was written by the Honorable Schuyler Colfax (1823-1885), who is perhaps better remembered for having served as the Vice President of the United States from 1869-1873. The Odd Fellows and Rebekahs continue their work today with nearly 10,000 lodges in approximately 26 countries.
Sarah Miles Hanna (1825-April 9, 1907) became a Rebekah in 1854, three years after the Rebekah Degree was initiated. By the time of her death in 1907, she was one of the oldest Rebekahs. Hanna's pedigree was substantial. Her father, Solomon Stoddard Miles, was president of the Presbyterian College in Zanesville, Ohio. She was a cousin of General Nelson A. Miles (1839-1925), a somewhat controversial figure for his eagerness to accept accolades, but unwillingness to accept blame, during the Plains Indian Wars (1854-90).
Her marriage to Rev. Philip K. Hanna (1810-1884) further established her credentials for he served as an Illinois congressman. The marriage also linked her to Philip C. Hanna (1857-1929 ), the last American Consul in Puerto Rico.4 In spite of the importance of members of her family, Hanna wielded her own widely-recognized influence.
Hanna's prominence stemmed from kindness. Hanna was one of the first Rebekahs and a highly esteemed member of the Rebekah Assembly of Kansas. Furthermore, she served as grand chaplain of the Kansas Assembly. As one of the first Rebekahs, Hanna paved the way for other influential women to follow in her stead such as Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) and America's first female dentist, Lucy Hobbs Taylor (1833-1910).
During her tenure, she was able to extend the reach of the I.O.O.F. throughout the West and Southwest. She was the only woman, at least at the time of her death, to have the Degree of Chivalry awarded to her by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.5
In fact, her character and reputation were so impressive the inscription upon her tombstone, which lies next to that of her husband in Peabody, Kansas, reads:
Chaplain Rebekah Assembly I.O.O.F. from 1890-1907 Erected by Rebekahs of Kansas.
In addition to the newspaper clippings found in the Whitcraft Scrapbook, newspapers such as the San Francisco Call heralded news of her death, further illustrating her kindly impact. 109-years-ago today....
5The Illustrated History of Odd Fellowship: A Documentary and Chronological History of the Origin, Rise and Progress of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Throughout the World Theodore A. Ross Ross History Company, 1916 641 pages