Press photo of a Massachusetts Catholic “Forester”

Click here to see it larger.

What it is:

Photo (3.75 x 5.5 inches) glued to cardboard backing.

What I know about it:

Written on the back is: Timothy W. Murphy, past chief ranger of Merrimack court, M. C. O. F., and also member of silver anniversary celebration committee / Return to Haverhill Gazette office.


Such a seemingly straightforward photo, but oh, that writing on the back to force some research!  I had never before heard of a what is called a “fraternal insurance organization” or “fraternal benefit society”.  It is a fraternal organization, like the Masons and the Elks are fraternal organizations, but specifically set up to provide its members with life insurance.  This stemmed from the 19th Century when life insurance was still a new industry and otherwise out of reach to the poor.  The Massachusetts Catholic Order of Foresters was established in Boston in 1879 by a group of Irish Catholic immigrants to give themselves access to life insurance.  Older Orders of Foresters can be traced back to England, and the forestry terminology apparently derived from members centuries ago being actual foresters, though it grew to have as much descriptive relevance for the men who called themselves Foresters as, say, for the men who called themselves Elks.   The MCOF grew to have lodges (called “Courts”) all over Massachusetts until 1961, when it expanded its range and renamed itself the Catholic Association of Foresters.  A fuller history can be found here on their current website (bearing in mind, of course, that this isn’t intended as an endorsement).  It is set up as a non-profit organization, still providing insurance, though they seem to have branched out into things like scholarships, and still operating, under a special area of non-profit law, as a fraternal organization.  Various and competing Orders of Foresters exist to this day in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada.  The things I learn doing this blog!  On top of everything is the tidbit that this is apparently a press photo, and that our Mr. Murphy was about to receive some attention from the Haverhill Gazette.  And rightly so, I’m sure.

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