Elks History

It's the Elks 150th anniversary! Explore our history to learn more about how you can participate in and experience the history of the Elks.

The Elks had modest beginnings in 1868 as a social club for minstrel show performers, called the “Jolly Corks”. It was established as a private club to elude New York City laws governing the opening hours of public taverns. After the death of a member left his wife and children without income, the club took up additional service roles, rituals and a new name. Desiring to adopt “a readily identifiable creature of stature, indigenous to America,” fifteen members voted 8–7 in favor of the elk above the buffalo. Early members were mostly from theatrical performing troupes in New York City. It has since evolved into a major American fraternal, charitable, and service order with more than a million members, both men and women, throughout the United States and the former territories of the Philippines and the Panama Canal.

The BPOE was originally an all-white organization. In the early 1970s this policy led the Order into conflict with the courts over its refusal to allow African Americans the use of its club and leisure activities. In nearly all instances, the all-whites clause was made public after someone was denied the use of the Elks’ dining or leisure facilities. The clause was revoked at the Grand Lodge of 1976, with the proviso that it could be reinstated if the law allowed. No interest in reinstating the rule exists in the Elks Organization. The Elks used the blackball system to accept members, and at least one third of votes cast at balloting for membership in a lodge were necessary to deny an applicant membership.
In 1979 the qualifications for membership included being male, 21 years old, of sound mind and body, a citizen of the United States and not a member of the Communist Party. Belief in a Supreme Being has been a prerequisite for membership since 1892. The word “God” was substituted for Supreme Being in 1946. In 1919 a “Flag Day resolution” was passed, barring membership to even passive sympathizers “of the Bolsheviki, Anarchists, the I.W.W., or kindred organizations, or who does not give undivided allegiance to” the flag and constitution of the United States.

The current requirements include a belief in God, American Citizenship, good moral character and being over 21.

In 1976 the BPOE had 1,611,139 members. Currently, it has 850,000 members.

Click here to get more information on becoming a member of the Elks Lodge in Tarpon Springs, FL.