Overview of Social Groups in Albion
The first social organizations in Albion were church related. By the 1880s reading groups started to emerge with women meeting regularly at one another’s homes. To be able to meet this way was a luxury, compared to decades before where managing the homestead and struggling to survive were full time jobs. In response to changing economic circumstances, these groups took on a social service mission advocating social change like Prohibition or women’s suffrage. This activity extended the maternal realm from the homestead to the society at large.
Problems created by rapid economic change in Albion were first responded to by local social groups, then institutionalized in federal programs starting during the Great Depression. Elimination of federal support in recent years has placed a greater burden on non-profits and religious organizations to fill gaps in the social safety net.
Social groups in Albion have traditionally been organized and led by women, while civic affairs and business have been dominated by men. Boundaries have been blurred in recent years with civic and business affairs, but women still tend to dominate social organizations.
During times of economic crisis social organizations offered assistance for those in need, like the Grange movement in the 1870s when farmers organized to protect their collective interests, during the Great Depression, and with the emergence of non-profits in the 1970s to respond to structural economic changes that were occurring.
The civil rights movement in the 1960s called for overcoming economic inequality. What followed was a period of economic structural change and an intensification of inequality, not merely by race as segregation and discrimination had done, but now by class, with entire cities and regions obsolete with closure of factories, loss of population, and loss of tax revenue.
A review of social groups from the past shows how people organized within the context of the social and economic structure of the time, and sought to bring about change. The value of such study today, is that in response to contemporary social and economic conditions, people have the same ability to organize and to address problems of the day.
Social Organization in Albion Settlement and Village
Social Organization in Settlement and Village
Albion Company, 1836-1845
Masonic, Murat Lodge No. 14, F & A M, chartered January 13, 1854
Masonic, Albion Chapter No. 32, R.A.M., chartered January 13, 1854
Albion Alert Company, 1856-1885
Organization after the Civil War, 1879
International Order of Odd Fellows, Albion Rebekah Lodge No. 23, instituted February 22, 1879.
International Order of Odd Fellows, Calhoun Lodge No. 60, instituted November 5, 1883, with ten charter members.
Modern Woodmen of America, Albion Camp No. 1929, organized January 5, 1883.
Grand Army of the Republic, organized December 26, 1883
“Only Daughters”, founded 1884
Eckford Union Literary Society, founded June 5, 1885
Social organization in Albion settlement and village was egalitarian and diffuse. Agriculture and the church dominated lives of people at this time. While most people’s view of the world was narrow and parochial, for those who could accept these limitations, life was good. For those who did not fit into this order, living in small town Albion was stifling. Still, moments of great spirit and levity were had, with several dance halls, billiard halls, theaters, bars, and hotels located downtown.
Social Organization after Albion Incorporated as a City
Organization After Incorporated as a City, 1885-1887
Police Department, 1885-1981
Fire Department, 1885-1981
Knights of Pythias, Albion Lodge No. 57, instituted June 4, 1885.
Knights of Pythias, Apollo Company No. 23, Uniform Rank, organized May 7, 1886.
The Maccabees, Albion Tent No. 180, organized September 1887.
The Maccabees, Union Hive No. 9, organized June 12, 1890.
Literary Clubs, 1887-1899
South Albion Woman’s Club, founded 1887
Ladies Literary Club, founded Autumn 1889
ELT Club, founded 1890
Masonic, Albion Council No. 57, R & S M, chartered January 20, 1891
Order of the Eastern Star, Albion Chapter No. 124, chartered August 17, 1894.
Mary Sheldon Ismon Club House, 1895-1899
Leisure Hour Club, February 1, 1895-present
Mary Sheldon Ismon House completed 1898.
Twentieth Century Club, founded 1898
Entre Nous Club, founded 1899, early literary and service club.
Stricter regimentation of the social structure mirrored emergence of a powerful business and economic order that replaced agrarian organization. Organization of social groups mirrored business and industry, with presidents, secretary, treasurer, and other elected or appointed positions. As some people were able to accumulate wealth faster than others, regimentation by class began to emerge at this time, with a distinction between “elite” groups with dues and limits on number of members, and the fraternal groups that more actively included the poor and working class people.
Women began to assert their social independence, organizing into literary clubs, many that would serve as predecessors for later service organizations and advocate for social change.
Literary clubs emerged during this time, often beginning with a group of women meeting in one another’s homes, and agreeing on a schedule and program of discussion and social exchange. Emergence of such groups was possible when sufficient wealth had been accumulated and labor saving devices allowed more time for leisure. Shift from agricultural work to participation in business and industry also provided some people additional time for leisure activities.
Construction of the Mary Sheldon Ismon House in 1898, provided a centralized location for social groups to meet and a visible representation of an emerging trend of leisure. The house reserved the first floor for the Leisure Hour Club, founded three years before in 1895. The second and third floors were deeded to the E.L.T. club. Part of the second floor was reserved for the Ladies Library Association. In 1906 when the city council provided funding, this became a public library.
Economic Expansion Leading to the First World War
Immigration and Rapid Economic Expansion, 1905-1910
Fraternal Order of Eagles, Albion Aerie No. 1265, organized October 7, 1905.
Daughters of the American Revolution, organized 1905
W.C.T.U. Hall completed 1906
International Order of Odd Fellows, Albion Encampment No. 63, instituted in 1907.
Knights of Pythias, Superior Temple No. 87, Pythian Sisters, organized June 6, 1910.
Loyal Order of Mooses, Albion Lodge No. 406, organized November 1910.
Loyal Order of Mooses, Women of Mooseheart Legion, Albion Chapter No. 144, organized January 1913.
Business Organization from 1911-1913
Bricklayers Union, 1911-1931
Albion Business and Professional Men’s Association, founded 1911
Boosters and Knockers Club, organized April 22, 1913
Consolidation of Organizations, 1915-1917
Albion Federation of Woman’s Clubs, founded April 5, 1915
City government reorganized in 1916
Order of the Eastern Star Past Matron’s Club, organized October 14, 1916.
Carnegie Library completed 1917
Albion Woman’s Club, founded 1917
Some fraternal orders already established in Albion were expanded such as the I.O.O.F. and Knights of Pythias. These were joined by the Fraternal Order of the Eagles in 1905 and the Loyal Order of Mooses in 1910. These fraternal groups appealed to a burgeoning working class, primarily of European immigrants, who had come to work in Albion’s expanding factories. Fraternal groups provided a sense of inclusion and security.
As workers were organizing, business organized as well. In 1911 the Albion Business and Professional Men’s Association was founded, followed by the Boosters and Knockers Club in 1913.
Organization of social groups changed again in the years leading up to the First World War. From 1915 to 1917 groups began to consolidate and to concentrate their power. The Albion Federation of Woman’s Clubs brought together four of the leading women’s organizations in the city. Other people recognizing the need for an open membership club established the Albion Woman’s Club in 1917. Membership May 1918 was 65 people, at the close of the 1922-23 year it had risen to 149, but by 1931 only 70 members were active.
During these years, a shift was made from purely literary and social organizations, to service. During the First World War many organizations assisted in the work of the Red Cross and sent care packages to soldiers. The W.C.T.U. Hall, first built in the state, had sewing machines placed in its auditorium for this work.
End of First World War to Great Depression
Activity after the First World War, 1919-1922
Parent Teachers Association, started March 12, 1919
Albion Teachers’ Club
American Legion, Leo Hanlon Post #55, chartered July 29, 1919
International Order of Odd Fellows, Canton Carver No. 44, organized in 1921.
International Order of Odd Fellows, Past Noble Grands, organized October 12, 1922.
American Giants, early 1920s
Three Quarter Century Club, founded 1922
Boosterism Before the Great Depression, 1923-1928
Greater Albion Chamber of Commerce, established November 19, 1923City Band
Albion Civic Chorus, founded 1926
Albion Business and Professional Women’s Association, founded 1927
Rotary Club, March 29, 1928-present
Girl Scouts of America, organized December 14, 1931
Curtailment of foreign immigration during the First World War caused labor recruiters to look to look to the south, bringing migrant black workers to Albion. The black population increased from 10 in 1917 to 620 in 1920. Schools were segregated, with black students first sent to the Community Church that was being rented, and then to the West Ward School that became an all-black school in 1919.
Social groups of this time became increasingly specialized, like the Albion Teachers’ Club, a ministers organization, and a doctors organization. The International Order of Odd Fellows added two more posts in 1921 and 1922.
Business organization after the First World War also became increasingly specialized. The Businessman’s Association and Boosters and Knockers Club that had been established before the war, were joined by the Chamber of Commerce in 1923, the Albion Business and Professional Women’s Association in 1927 and the Rotary Club in 1928.
This call for service in the 1920s was directed towards philanthropic and humanitarian goals. Most organizations did one or several of the following activities: 1) Furnished and cared for rooms at the Sheldon Memorial Hospital, 2) provided entertainment at the County Home and County Hospital, 3) sent worthy students to Interlochen (or National Music Camp), and 4) provided scholarships for worthy students to study at Albion College.
These service activities were often funded by a pledge drive, holding special concerts or social events with proceeds donated to a particular cause, and in at least one case hosting a city baseball game.
Social groups responded to the economic displacement of the Great Depression with renewed efforts to provide food and clothing to those in need. As unemployment intensified, with global recession and increasing military hostility in Europe, many doubted whether the social or economic structure would survive.
At this time the federal government intervened establishing programs for social welfare, the Social Security program, and insured banks. Several “make-work” programs were initiated. In Albion these programs repaved the main street, built a stone wall along the Kalamazoo River, constructed a band shell in Victory Park and built a new City Hall.
After the war this precedent of the federal government becoming actively involved in local affairs intensified. This increasing role of the federal government, institutionalized service activities that had been originated by local service groups, in time making many of these groups unnecessary and obsolete.
Activity after World War II
Federal government involvement in local affairs reached its apex after World War II. Fearing a repeat of an economic crisis like the Great Depression, or perhaps something even worse when soldiers came home, a comprehensive program was instituted to insure the economic and social stability of the country. The GI program allowed returning veterans to go to school and federally subsidized mortgages spurred made new homeownership possible for millions. The Highway Act of 1954 allowed construction of the federal interstate highway system, the largest public works project in the history of the world. Finally, the Housing Act of 1949 and its amendments provided funds for the demolition of buildings determined blighted, so that new development might occur.
Together, these policies radically altered American life. The expressway reached Albion in 1960, replacing Michigan Avenue as the major thoroughfare between Detroit and Chicago, effectively taking Albion off of the map. Urban renewal in Albion resulted in demolition of hundreds of houses, and displacement of residents who lived there.
During the 1960s rapid social and economic change spurred a period of unrest in the city. Bomb threats and physical confrontations occurred in the public schools. In response community leaders started several grassroots movements to respond to the problems the city faced. The Melting Pot began with families of different races meeting together in one another’s homes for meals, then gathering for larger social events. Earn, Learn and Play instituted by college athletic director Elkin Isaac provided activities for youth to be involved in during the summer. A recycling center was also established, with proceeds used to help dredge the Kalamazoo River and mill pond.
Together these activities helped Albion to win the All-America City award in 1973. People celebrated this distinction in 1974, but in 1975 Corning Glass Works closed, causing an increase in unemployment, flight of population, and decline in tax revenues. These trends persist to present day. National retailers left downtown, schools had to be closed, and improvements to the infrastructure and buildings of the city were deferred.
The Albion Community Foundation, under the direction of Albion Malleable president Thomas Lloyd attempted to respond to many of these changes, but had little control of forces outside of the city like the federal government and large corporations that were determining Albion’s economic destiny.
Several non-profit organizations have emerged since this time trying to address structural economic changes in the city. Most recent has been a city visioning effort begun by Albion College president in 1998.
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