[Brooklyn, NY: 1868-1913]. 121pp. plus assorted ephemeral items tipped in or pinned in throughout. Folio. Contemporary three-quarter black calf and marbled paper-covered boards, gilt leather spine label on front board. Moderate scuffing and edge wear to boards, binding tender, with front cover and first twenty-or-so leaves partially detached. Minor occasional staining to text. A well-employed ledger showing requisite condition after several decades of use by multiple hands. Good. Item #2541
An intriguing manuscript ledger recording membership details and a voluminous number of passages recording arguments for relief made by hundreds of members of the Masonic order in Brooklyn, New York in the last four decades of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century. The requests for relief come from Masons and their widows from across Brooklyn, sometimes from widows of long-dead Masons or in some cases with no apparent Masonic connection at all. In fact, most of the entries concern cases from widows or abandoned wives seeking relief from the board. The basic structure of the entries includes the name of the person seeking relief, along with their address, Masonic membership information (or relation to said Mason in the case of widows), relevant arguments for needing relief, and the final judgment of the relief board, if one is given. Interestingly, in many of the cases argued by the widows, the Masons had been members of lodges far from New York City, including several European countries; in too many cases, it appears that the women seeking relief are not widows, but rather their husbands have abandoned them and their children, including one husband who disappeared into the Black Hills. By its very nature, with scores of entries concerned with the widows and wives of deceased, fallen or lapsed Masons, the ledger is a unique firsthand source for the treatment of women in New York during this period.
Reasons for hardships run the gamut from loss of employment or lack of regular work for contractors to health issues such as injury, consumption, and paralysis. The professions of the relief seekers also range widely, and include carpenters, musicians, sailors, restaurant workers, printers, and more.
Some are denied assistance, often because they are no longer Masons in good standing or because they are found not to need relief after personal consultation. In some instances, the ledger records notices of members who have fallen out of favor with their Masonic order for a variety of reasons; in some of these cases, the recorder of the ledger has written the words "Black List" across the text of the relevant entries.
Many of the later entries are accompanied by recommendation or supplementary letters and other ephemeral items either tipped in, pasted in, or pinned into the ledger. The great majority of the letters are replies from officers of other lodges responding to requests for information regarding a relief petitioner in Brooklyn. These responses also come from a wide array of locations, namely Providence, Philadelphia, Romania, London, and Rugby, England; one of the letters is written on pre-printed stationery from a lodge in Austin, Texas in 1889.
In an early entry, dated September 20, 1873, William Rawlings seeks relief from the board as a new immigrant to the United States. Rawlings, newly arrived from Scotland about six months earlier, had worked as an accountant at a wire factory until recent weeks, but lost his job. He was now "in great distress." His membership was vouched for by the recordist of the ledger, but no final judgement of his relief case is stated. His situation is interesting, in any case, as relief boards have been vital sources of assistance to immigrants to the United States since the 19th century.
Many of the entries here are signed by the historian of the relief board, beginning with Edward G. Vyse, who was himself an emigrant from England to Nova Scotia around 1832 and then afterwards to the United States certainly by 1850. Succeeding historians and other officers of the relief board record entries, as well.
A rich source of information for the work of relief and mutual aid societies in 19th- and early-20th century America, with much to mine regarding labor history, immigration, the treatment of women, and other topics.