Some books claim to trace Odd Fellowship back to Roman times when members of the Roman Legions in England were called “Fellow Citizens”. Other records indicate that the Order grew from the 18th century Masonic Fraternity, the Ancient and Most Noble Order, as it was called, began to decline in the 1770’s and thus formed the nucleus of the Odd Fellows. The earliest printed record of an Odd Fellows Lodge appears in a reference to a lodge meeting in England in 1748. King George the IV of England, while Prince of Wales, was admitted to membership around 1780. The earliest ritual in existence is dated to 1797 where the title of “Most Noble Grand” is used for the presiding officer.
During the 18th Century in England, when it was commonplace to think only of ones self, the Order of Odd Fellows arose to fill a need where society had failed. You see, it was very unusual, or “Odd” as the term was used in those days, to describe a group of individuals that formed a unity and fellowship for mutual help for society’s less fortunate members. Another explanation of the name is that the original Odd Fellows were men who were engaged in various or odd trades, as there were separate unions, guilds or organizations for the larger trades of the times.
In 1803 England, numerous independent Odd Fellow lodges were in existence and an organization called the London Union Odd Fellows united all the subordinate lodges under one leadership and later called itself the “Grand Lodge of England”. In 1814, six lodges broke off from this body and formed “The Manchester Unity of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. One of the members of this progressive group was Thomas Wildey who, in 1819 settled in Baltimore, Maryland and started Odd Fellowship in America as we know it today.”
The first lodge in Massachusetts was instituted in Boston in 1820 and was named Massachusetts Lodge #1. The founders were three boat builders, a comedian and a vocalist – a group befitting the name “Odd Fellows”. In 1915, the lodge moved its charter to Milton and in 1968 to Wollaston where it is still active to this day. William F. Ray Lodge, in 1878, was the 71st chartered lodge in Massachusetts. In 1970, Wampum Lodge #195 of Wrentham consolidated with William F. Ray Lodge. The lodges of Massachusetts have a long history of revival and consolidations. There have been 244 different numbers given out over the years and many numbers more than once. At present, there are 39 active lodges in Massachusetts and a new lodge is now in the throws of being formed in Worcester.