Lili – January 15, 2018
One New Year’s Resolution that I haven’t broken yet is to make a weekly visit to The Danish Home. Even though I’ve lived in Chicago all my life, I am still not a fan of the snowy, frigid winters. But if there’s one place that’s worth the trip out in the cold, it’s The Danish Home, where I know I’ll always get a warm welcome. The gathering room is cozy and inviting, and my friend Britta, a resident, says my visit is the highlight of her week.
You never know what you might have in common with a newly made friend. During my last visit, I was surprised to learn something I never would have expected.
“It’s going to be unusually quiet in my house tonight,” I told Britta as we had tea together. “The girls are back in school and, as it’s the fourth Wednesday of the month, Brad will be at lodge.”
“He’s going to a lodge?” asked Britta. “Is he going on a shooting trip?”
I laughed. “No, his Masonic lodge in Skokie. He only joined last year but he loves it.”
“Well, I never,” Britta replied. “My father was a Mason back in Denmark. He was Worshipful Master, the leader of his lodge. I haven’t thought about it for years. He never told us much about it but it was always very important to him.”
Masonry officially began in England in 1717, though Masonic historians maintain it started way back in the Middle Ages with stonemasons’ guilds. Within 30 years, it had spread to Europe and the American colonies, where even George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were members.
In Denmark, freemasonry was first established in 1743. There are a number of grand lodges, with the oldest and largest being the Danish Order of Freemasons in Copenhagen. Just as in America, it wasn’t unusual for heads of state to be members, with Frederick V being the first Danish king initiated. Denmark currently has about 100 lodges in 45 cities, so the old custom is still going strong. Here in the U.S., there are over a million members with nearly 60,000 recorded in Illinois alone back in 2016.
The work the various lodges do differs slightly from country to country, but all members perform charitable deeds and progress up the ranks by performing rituals. Since 1858, the Danish Order of Freemasons has practiced the rituals of the Swedish Rite, whereas here in the U.S., members follow the Scottish Rite.
The Freemasons are not the only well-known fraternity to attract Danes; in fact, several of The Danish Home volunteers are active members of a brotherhood and sisterhood. The Danish Sisterhood of America’s Chicago Dagmar Lodge #4 has nearly 100 members who sponsor several events and initiatives at The Danish Home throughout the year.
The Danish Sisterhood of America was founded by Christine Hemmingsen, who came to the U.S. from Denmark in 1873 a few years after my two-times great-grandmother Margrethe Olsen, one of The Danish Home’s founders. Inspired by The Danish Brotherhood of America, Christine and ten other women organized a funeral benefit society they called DANSK SØSTER SAMFUND to help defray costs for families who’d lost a loved one, either back in Denmark or here in their new country. I’m certain Margrethe would’ve gotten behind that idea. What a kindred spirit she had in Christine Hemmingsen!
Several of The Danish Home’s male volunteers and residents’ family members belong to Danish Brotherhood Lodge #35 of Tinley Park. Originally called Det danske Brodersamfund, Lodge #35 began as a national fraternal insurance association for Danish immigrant males in 1881.
At the height of its popularity, there were around 350 Danish Brotherhood lodges in the U.S., but when Danish immigration shrank after 1920, membership was opened to American born daughters, spouses and children. In 1995, the insurance function of the group merged with other groups, but a number of Danish Brotherhood lodges remain active to this day, upholding pride in Danish heritage.
Brad says he now has the brothers he always wanted by joining the Freemasons, and I’m sure The Danish Home highly values the connections it has with the Danish brotherhood and sisterhood. What pleases me most is that these fraternal organizations not only do good things at The Danish Home and throughout the world, they keep Danish culture and traditions alive. What could be better than that?