Dr. John Henry Wilson
Though the Moose fraternal organization was founded in the late 1800s with the modest goal of offering men an opportunity to gather socially, it was reinvented during the first decade of the 20th century into an organizational dynamo of men and women who set out to build a city that would brighten the futures of thousands of children in need all across North America.
When Dr. John Henry Wilson, a Louisville, Ky., physician, organized a handful of men into the Loyal Order of Moose in the parlor of his home in the spring of 1888, he and his compatriots did so apparently for no other reason than to form a string of men's social clubs. Lodges were instituted in Cincinnati, St. Louis, and the smaller Indiana towns of Crawfordsville and Frankfort by the early 1890s, but Dr. Wilson himself became dissatisfied and left the infant order well before the turn of the century.
James J. Davis - Founder: Mooseheart & Moosehaven
It was just the two remaining Indiana Lodges that kept the Moose from disappearing altogether, until the fall of 1906, when an outgoing young government clerk from Elwood, Ind., was invited to enroll into the Crawfordsville Lodge. It was on James J. Davis' 33rd birthday, October 27, that he became just the 247th member of the Loyal Order of Moose.
Davis, a native of Wales who had worked from boyhood as an "iron puddler" in the steel mills of Pennsylvania, had also been a labor organizer and immediately saw potential to build the tiny Moose fraternity into a force to provide protection and security for a largely working-class membership. At the time little or no government "safety net" existed to provide benefits to the wife and children of a breadwinner who died or became disabled. Davis proposed to "pitch" Moose membership as a way to provide such protection at a bargain price; annual dues of $5 to $10. Given a green light and the title of "Supreme Organizer," Davis and a few other colleagues set out to solicit members and organize Moose Lodges across the U.S. and southern Canada. (In 1926, the Moose fraternity's presence extended across the Atlantic, with the founding of the Grand Lodge of Great Britain.)
Davis' marketing instincts were on-target: By 1912, the order had grown from 247 members in two Lodges, to a colossus of nearly 500,000 in more than 1,000 Lodges. Davis, appointed the organization's first chief executive with the new title of Director General, realized it was time to make good on the promise. The Moose began a program of paying "sick benefits" to members too ill to work--and, more ambitiously, Davis and the organization's other officers made plans for a "Moose Institute," to be centrally located somewhere in the Midwest that would provide a home, schooling and vocational training to children of deceased Moose members.
The Birth of Mooseheart
After careful consideration of numerous sites, the Moose Supreme Council in late 1912 approved the purchase of what was known as the Brookline Farm--more than 1,000 acres along the then-dirt surfaced Lincoln Highway, between Batavia and North Aurora on the west side of the Fox River, about 40 miles west of Chicago. Ohio Congressman John Lentz, a member of the Supreme Council, conceived the name "Mooseheart" for the new community: "This," he said, "will always be the place where the Moose fraternity will collectively pour out its heart, its devotion and sustenance, to the children of its members in need."
So it was on a hot summer Sunday, July 27, 1913, that several thousand Moose men and women (for the Women of the Moose received formal recognition that year as the organization's official female component) gathered under a rented circus tent toward the south end of the new property and placed the cornerstone for Mooseheart. The first 11 youngsters in residence were present, having been admitted earlier that month; they and a handful of workers were housed in the original farmhouse and a few rough-hewn frame buildings that had been erected that spring.
Mooseheart's construction proceeded furiously over the next decade, but it only barely kept pace with the admissions that swelled the student census to nearly 1,000 by 1920. (Mooseheart's student population would reach a peak of 1,300 during the depths of the Great Depression; housing was often "barracks" style - unacceptable by today's standards. Mooseheart officials now consider the campus' ultimate maximum capacity as no more than 500.) Still, by the Twenties, Davis and his Moose colleagues thought the fraternity should do more--this time for aged members who were having trouble making ends meet in retirement. (A limited number of elderly members had been invited to live at Mooseheart since 1915.)
They bought 26 acres of shoreline property just south of Jacksonville, Florida, and in the fall of 1922, Moosehaven, the "City of Contentment," was opened, with the arrival of its first 22 retired Moose residents. Moosehaven has since grown to a 63-acre community providing a comfortable home, a wide array of recreational activities and comprehensive health care to more than 400 residents.
As the Moose fraternity grew in visibility and influence, so did Jim Davis. President Warren Harding named him to his Cabinet as Secretary of Labor in 1921, and Davis continued in that post under Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover as well. In November 1930, Davis, a Republican, won election to the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania, and he served there with distinction for the next 14 years. As both Labor Secretary and Senator, Davis was known as a conservative champion of labor, who fought hard for the rights of unions--but felt that the workingman should expect no "handouts" of any sort. In the Senate, it was Davis who spearheaded passage of landmark legislation to force building contractors to pay laborers "prevailing" union-level wages in any government construction work. The law bore his name: the Davis-Bacon Act.