After months of meetings and teleconferences, and the transmission of dozens of photos of iconic fraternal society memorabilia and archival material, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History opened its Giving in America exhibition earlier this week and FRATERNALS WERE THERE! The exhibition is part of the Smithsonian’s “Philanthropy Initiative” and is intended to run for 20 years or more. The 2017 exhibit focuses on “Philanthropy and the Environment,” and highlights the incredible efforts that individual volunteers and global corporations are engaging in to protect the long-term health of our planet and its people. The exhibits will be updated every year and will emphasize different aspects and impacts of Giving in America. We’re hopeful that fraternals will be given their moment in the spotlight in the near future.
The kick-off events included a reception to officially open the exhibit, and a variety of presentations from philanthropists, environmentalists, and thought leaders on the past, present and future of American giving. The most touching moment for me was the presentation of the original bucket from the “ice bucket challenge” – the campaign that raised over $200 million for ALS research and that the Alliance and many of its members participated in – by the family who started it all. The museum’s directors highlighted not only the tremendous success of this “viral” social media campaign but also the impact it has had on the way Americans give.
Following the presentations, Timothy Winkle, Deputy Chair of the Smithsonian’s Division of Home and Community Life, and the individual that has been instrumental in coordinating fraternals’ participation in the exhibition, displayed several items from the museum’s archives, including items donated by Thrivent Financial, Royal Neighbors of America, and Catholic Financial Life (see photos and captions below for more information on those items). Some very special “tips-of-the-hat” go to Rita Toalson, Managing Editor of Royal Neighbors of America and Katie Knutson, Community Affairs Manager of Thrivent Financial, who have been working with Tim and others at the Smithsonian to collect items from their societies. Katie was instrumental in connecting museum officials to the Alliance and broadening the scope of fraternal participation in the project.
And Joe Gadbois of Catholic Financial Life deserves to be recognized as well. He made a special trip to Chicago on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to deliver the historic Catholic Family Protective Association (one of the fraternals that eventually became Catholic Financial Life) banner to me so that I could bring it to the Smithsonian this week. The banner, which would have been used for parish parades and displayed at society meetings, reflects the values, traditions, and rituals that are characteristic of the high water mark of the fraternal movement in the United States.
Over the next year, the Alliance will be collecting items from more than a dozen member societies who have expressed a desire to donate tokens of their organizations’ history to the Smithsonian. We hope that fraternals’ contributions to Giving in America will be featured in the larger philanthropy exhibit in the near future. I’ll keep you posted on the results of this effort; but I the meantime, please enjoy the photos from the opening of the exhibition.