As we continue with re-branding this summer, we at Western Fraternal Life think it’s important to look at how we got to where we are today. Our name is an important and often confusing aspect of our history (as it has changed three times!) so we wanted to revisit it today in our blog.
At the Home Office we are sometimes asked, “Where does the name Western Fraternal Life come from?” or “What does the “Western” part mean?” After some discussion, we decided to check our history books. The history of our organization is entwined in the answer.
According to the Centennial Edition of the Fraternal Herald from 1997, Western Fraternal Life was first a part of CSPS or the Czechoslovak Benefit Society in 1854. “The CSPS, which provided both a social lodge and a life benefit, operated on an assessment plan. Members paid monthly dues, which varied depending on the number of deaths, which were claimed per month. Neither age nor health was a factor in payments; every member paid the same. There was no reserve from which the death claims were paid. Only men were allowed to join—neither women nor children were accepted as fully insured members.”
This set-up was not sustainable, and created a rift between the newer and older members of the Association. “This system, typical of fraternal benefit societies of the time, worked for a number of years, as the number of Czech immigrants increased, adding new blood to the pool from which members were drawn. The new stream of immigrants, however, differed demographically from the Czechs already in place. The members of the CSPS were much older than the new immigrants who came to the states. Many of the immigrants came for economic opportunity, and some fully intended to return to the homeland after making money in America. These immigrants dreamed not of religious freedom, but of the economic freedom, which came with owning land. Land was available in the west, not the cities; therefore, they settled in Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Kansas.”
“A rift soon developed between these men and their eastern counterparts. The older immigrants began to die at a faster rate, and this meant that the rates increased for the younger members (mostly located in the “west”). For the Association to survive financially, each member had to pay a significantly higher rate. Why, the younger members thought, should they have to pay more for those out east? It made sense to them that, as they were younger and would not receive benefits from the Association for many years to come, they should have lower dues than those who were more likely to collect. In addition, members should have to submit to a medical exam. Also, while eastern Czechs, whose wives did not bring home a significant portion of the income, did not see the need to insure women, western Czechs saw the situation differently. If a wife died, the farmer would have to find a way to replace valuable source of labor. In addition, they believed in equality between men and women. In the end, they reasoned, their continued membership in the CSPS would be more of a hurt than a help.”
From there, the western members of CSPS decided to take action. “The western cause was greatly helped when Jan Rosicky, the great publisher of Czech language newspapers from Omaha, NE lent his vocal support. On February 9, 1897 Rosicky led a group of 25 delegates from 31 CSPS lodges who met in Omaha. These delegates drafted four resolutions, which they would present to the CSPS convention. The resolutions called for premiums determined by age, admission of women as fully-insured members, the establishment of a reserve fund, and a medical director who would examine all applicants. The convention adopted a set of bylaws for a new organization, which would provide the social and insurance benefits of its parent in case the CSPS defeated the proposals. In a move which surprised few, the CSPS rejected each of the resolutions.
In June 1897, the officers filed Articles of Incorporations with the state of Iowa. Thus, on July 4th, 1897, was born Zapadni Ceska Bratrska Jednota (ZCBJ), the Western Bohemian Fraternal Association (WBFA). By the end of 1897, the Association boasted 49 charter lodges and 1,259 charter members.”
That is how our Association, Western Fraternal Life Association, got its name.