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Royal Neighbors

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Somewhere in the wings of every respectable men's organization there is a ladies' auxiliary—or that is how it was supposed to be in this story which begins in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and ends in Rock Island.

The men's group in this story was the Modern Woodmen of America, one of a number of fraternal benefit societies which had sprung up in the United States in the 1880s to combine the social amenities of a lodge with affordable life insurance for the workingman. The auxiliary was the idea of a Modern Woodman wife, Marie Kirkland, of Council Bluffs. In 1888 she met with eight other wives to form the Ladies Auxiliary to their husbands' group, Hazel Camp number 171.

It might have stopped there had the Suffragettes not just formed the Equal Rights Party, questioning the traditional role of women. Within a year, Marie's group had reorganized as a secret social organization called The Royal Neighbors of America, a reference to Proverbs 27:10 "For better is a neighbor that is near than a brother that is far."

From then on, as the neighbors grew nearer, the brothers over in Modern Woodman camps grew farther. Royal Neighbors incorporated as a benefit society in Illinois in 1895, since that state had the most favorable insurance laws. By then a hundred Royal Neighbors camps brought life insurance for the first time to mothers and children.

Royal Neighbors were willing to extend almost complete equality to men—as auxiliary members. Bylaws stipulated that "men have the same privileges as the ladies in local camps, with the exception of holding office." 

In 1908 the Royal Neighbors accepted an offer of land from the city of Rock Island and moved their national headquarters here—just a couple of blocks from the national headquarters of the Modern Woodmen. Now, the neighbors and the brothers were both close by—a dilemma not foreseen by Proverbs.

No problem. By 1928, The Royal Neighbors of America had discontinued all affiliation with the Modern Woodmen of America. The former ladies’ auxiliary had made up its own proverb: better a neighbor who is a woman than a neighbor who is a man.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.