Before they were Elks, they were Corks

Founded: Feb.16, 1868, in New York

Number of lodges nationwide: 2,100

Motto: Elks care, Elks share

Charitable giving

Since 1878, the Elks have given away more than $3.5 billion to charitable, welfare, educational and veterans programs. They award an estimated $3.3 million in college scholarships a year.

The Elks History Project is a collection of historical stories, photos, and media that date all the way back to the founding. 

  • Magazine Archives - Explore the history of the Elks - and the United State of America - through our archived issues of The Elks Magazine, 1922 - 1974.

  • Photo Gallery - Want to see what your local Lodge looked like when it was first built? 

  • Archive of photos from every PGER? Other interesting photos can also be found state by state.

  • Media - Listen to the sounds of the time with these historical audio pieces.

  • Historical Stories - A few collections of historical accounts and other historical stories from the founding.

  • My Membership Card in the Elks 

  • A Brief History of the Origins of the Order of Elks

The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks was founded by Charles Vivian, a stage singer who arrived in New York from London in 1867 at age 25 only to discover New York's "blue laws" closed every bar and restaurant in the city on Sundays. According to the Elks guidebook for new members, "this brand of forced idleness was not to Vivian's liking as he had to have a constant diet of friends, laughter and song." Soon, Vivian established a small social group of theatrical friends he called the Jolly Corks.
As the group grew, it quickly adopted a charitable purpose, at first to help performers and their families during financial droughts between jobs. The group decided to formalize the charitable and social society and chose the name Elk (the bear, beaver and fox also were considered) as a distinctly American emblem, and because "the elk preyed upon no other species ... but it would fight valiantly in defense," the guidebook says.

BPO of Does
A group of women of Omaha, Nebraska, wives of Elks, discussed the forming of an order with similar ideals and precepts of the Elks. So enthusiastic did they become that on February 9, 1921, invitations were extended by Mrs. James H. Craddock, to sixty women in Omaha to meet at her home, 3716 Hawthorne Avenue, for the purpose of laying the foundation for the Order.  Although independent, this organization would be in harmony with the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and organized along similar lines, with its membership to be confined to wives, widows, mothers, daughters, and sisters of Elks. Thirty-two women were present at this first meeting and a temporary organization was formed that day. These women met for six months until Omaha Elks Lodge No. 39 graciously invited the DOES to meet in their Elks Lodge Room. A firm was employed to prepare the necessary papers and Constitution. 

The Grand Lodge was formed and chartered on February 12, 1921 by the State of Nebraska with authority to charter subordinate lodges, called "Droves". These ladies, with the assistance of the Elks, and with the desire to work in harmony with and to always keep uppermost in their minds the idealism of Elkdom, laid the foundation for a permanent organization dedicated to the principles of Patriotism, Charity, Loyalty, and Love. 

It was a trust, hope, and ambition that this organization would spread in ever-increasing circles and, in the fullness of time, a Drove of DOES would be in every city where there is an Elks Lodge. The Benevolent, Patriotic Order of Does filled a need for a national women's organization whose members met specified requirements and shared mutual interest with the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.

Famous Elks:

Harry Truman

Gerald Ford

Lawrence Welk

Clint Eastwood