Royal Neighbors of America

Royal Neighbors of America (RNA) 

Camps in Monroe County  

Fraternalism has its roots in the craft guilds of the Middle Ages, the focus of which was self-regulation of product quality and mutual promotion.  Other fraternal groups were formed as friendship, patriotic or religious societies.  By the end of the 1800s, membership in English fraternal societies alone was more than one million. 

Commercial life insurance became very popular in the post-Civil War era.  Originally, the insurance was backed by stock companies and was too expensive for anyone other than prosperous, white businessmen.  By the 1880s, several fraternal benefit societies (nonprofit membership organizations) were created which offered insurance protection to their male members. In 1883, a fraternal benefit society was created called the Modern Woodmen of America.  Today, the Modern Woodmen of America exists as a legal reserve fraternal assessment society and the Woodman of the World is a fraternal life insurance society. 

But by the late 1880s, the United States was undergoing significant economic and societal changes.  In November 1888, the wives of the Modern Woodmen of America in Council Bluffs, IA formed a ‘ladies auxiliary’ to the Modern Woodmen Camp 171.  Within a year, the group had reorganized as a social organization, with a constitution, rituals and articles of incorporation, and renamed themselves as the “Royal Neighbors of America”.  The local groups, called camps, held social events and carried out benevolent work.   

Between 1892 and 1894, the Royal Neighbors voted to incorporate as a fraternal benefit society in the state of Illinois which had favorable insurance laws.  By 1895, Royal Neighbors of America was officially recognized and included more than 4,100 charter members; assessments of and benefits to the female members played an important role in the organization.  According to the early Royal Neighbors charter, the society was formed “to bring joy and comfort into many homes that might otherwise today be dark and cheerless…by affording the mother an opportunity to provide protection upon her life.”  By 1903, Royal Neighbors of America had extended its membership to include all women, not only those affiliated with Modern Woodmen. 


Shown above are two receipts from Monroe County RNA camps.  The first is from Camp 5306 in Duncan’s Bridge (1913) and the second from Camp 6520 in Woodlawn (1911). 

 There were several RNA camps formed in Monroe County:

 Camp 6520, Woodlawn Charter date unavailable; consolidated Apr 1931 into:

Camp 5306, Duncan’s Bridge        Chartered March 26, 1908; consolidated 1938 into:

Camp 3813, Clarence             Chartered June 24, 1904; consolidated 1986 into:

Camp 1604, Macon                 Chartered June 15, 1906


(Note: The Woodlawn receipt above helps to establish the camp charter date as before Oct 14, 1911.)

Shown to the left is an example of an RNA parade ribbon from the Lilac Camp in Kansas; this ribbon displays the Royal Neighbors emblem and is typical of the early memorabilia worn by the RNA women. 


Of interest, the Royal Neighbors emblem has remained unchanged since 1894 and represents the values most important to those pioneering women and the guiding principles of the organization:


·        The blue petal represents Faith.  The “grace”, or symbol within it, is a cross with a lily of the valley flower.

·        The yellow petal represents Unselfishness, and its grace is a handshake.

·        The green petal represents Courage, and its grace is a sword.

·        The purple petal represents Endurance, and its grace is a crown.

·        The white petal represents Modesty, and its grace is a shield.

·        The symbol in the center represents Morality, and its grace is a crown with a cross.

Sources:  RNA Camp receipts generously provided by Virginia Gentry, from documents belonging to her Great-Grandmother Lucy M. LeGrand Freeman.  Information on the RNA organization was primarily derived from the “History of RNA” at   RNA Lilac Camp Parade Ribbon displayed with permission of Bob Fusco of GWG Antiques.  LPP