Students might not notice it after an exhausting workout at HellWell, but the domed building on the corner of 24th and G streets is the Friendship Lodge for the D.C. chapter of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
The group traces its lineage back to the international Order of Odd Fellows, which has been active around the world since it was founded in England in the 17th century. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows made its entry into the United States on April 26, 1819, when several members founded a post in Baltimore known as Washington Lodge No. 1. This initial chapter subsequently received its charter from the Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows in England.
While it has evolved over time, the fraternity has always been based on the principles of community service and mutual aid, said Jim Feezell, the deputy grand master of the D.C. Odd Fellows.
“Historically, our mission has been to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan,” Feezell said. “Today, a more modern expression of our mission is to improve and elevate the character of man.”
To reflect this and ensure that its values live on in a contemporary setting, the Odd Fellows coordinate their work with foundations to engage in social, medical and educational programs that have both a local and global impact.
While it may seem counterintuitive, these humanitarian values apparently gave rise to the “Odd Fellow” name. Feezell said it is believed that those in 17th-century England who were members of any association that gave out aid and relief for people in need were called “odd fellows.” The name stuck as they were inducted into formal organizations.
The order is also known as The Three Link Fraternity, which is a reference to its crest, composed of three interlocked chain links. Inside the links are the letters F, L and T, standing for “Friendship, Love and Truth,” the official creed of the Odd Fellows.
In Foggy Bottom in particular, the Odd Fellows have a history that predates GW. The fraternity was originally housed in the Kidder Building located in the center of what is now GW’s campus, Feezell said. But as the University continued to expand, the fraternity agreed to exchange its property for the building it currently occupies behind the Lerner Health and Wellness Center.
Facing 24th Street, the inconspicuous red brick building is one of four Odd Fellows lodges in the District, in addition to a main temple located downtown. Given the proximity of the lodge to campus, the Odd Fellows do not deny that they are connected with GW in a general sense. Student organizations have even used the lodge as a gathering space.
“We have a relationship with the University,” Feezell said, but “the lodge is not a GWU organization.”
Nevertheless, the two peacefully coexist. Next time you walk along the western edge of campus, remember that you are walking past 200 years of a tradition built on community service and supported by the commitment of more than 10,000 Odd Fellows lodges around the world.