Knights of Pythias

knights of pythias

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Fraternal service organization
Knights of Pythias
Knights of Pythias membership certificate, 1890[1]
Knights of Pythias in a parade in Racine, Wisconsin, circa 1910
Knights of Pythias in a parade in Toledo, Ohio, 1890s

The Knights of Pythias is a fraternal organization and secret society[2] founded in Washington, D.C., on 19 February 1864. The Knights of Pythias is the first fraternal organization to receive a charter under an act of the United States Congress.[3] It was founded by Justus H. Rathbone, who had been inspired by a play by the Irish poet John Banim about the legend of Damon and Pythias. This legend illustrates the ideals of loyalty, honor, and friendship that are the center of the order.

The order has over 2,000 lodges in the United States and around the world, with a total membership of over 50,000 in 2003. The order is headquartered in Stoughton, Massachusetts. Some lodges meet in structures referred to as Pythian Castles.


The structure of the Knights of Pythias is three-tiered. The local units used to be called "Castles," but over time came to be called "Subordinate Lodges." State and provincial organizations are called "Grand Lodges" and the national structure is called the "Supreme Lodge" and meets in convention biennially. The officers of the Supreme Lodge include the sitting Past Supreme Chancellor, Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Prelate, Secretary, Treasurer, Master at Arms, Inner Guard and Outer Guard.[4]:186

The order's auxiliaries are the Pythian Sisters, and two youth organizations: the Pythian Sunshine Girls and the Junior Order of Princes of Syracuse for boys.[4]:184–85


Membership has historically been open to males in good health who believe in a Supreme Being. Maimed individuals were not admitted until 1875. Members are accepted by blackball ballot.[4]:184

A member must be at least 18 years of age, and must take the following oath:

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I declare upon honor that I believe in a Supreme Being, that I am not a professional gambler, or unlawfully engaged in the wholesale or retail sale of intoxicating liquors or narcotics, and that I believe in the maintenance of the order and the upholding of constituted authority in the government in which I live. Moreover, I declare upon honor that I am not a Communist or Fascist; that I do not advocate nor am I a member of any organization that advocates the overthrow of the Government of the Country of which I am a Citizen, by force or violence or other unlawful means; and that I do not seek by force or violence to deny to other persons their rights under the laws of such country.[5]

By the end of the so-called "Golden Age of Fraternalism" in the early 1920s, the order had nearly a million members. By 1979, however, this number had declined to fewer than 200,000.[4]:185

Rank structure

The ranks of Pythian Knighthood in a subordinate lodge (or "Castle") are:

  1. Page
  2. Esquire
  3. Knight

In 1877, the order adopted an optional rank, called the Endowment Rank, which provided fraternal insurance benefits. In 1930, this department split from the Knights of Pythias and became a mutual life insurance company, later known as the American United Insurance Company.[4]:185

The Knights of Pythias also has a side degree, the Dramatic Order of the Knights of Khorassan,[4]:184 which itself has a female auxiliary, the Nomads of Avrudaka.[6]

Finally, members who obtained the rank of Knight were eligible to join the now-defunct Uniform Rank, which participated in parades and other processions.[4]:184


Early in the group's history, when a man was inducted into the Knights of Pythias, he received a ceremonial sword.[7] Such a sword might be given to a Pythian by family members, business associates, or others as a token of esteem. In recent decades, rather than require each member to own a sword, the local chapter maintains a collection of swords for use by its members. Long, narrow swords are generally used in public during parades and drills, while short swords are used in displays.

Markings on swords varied widely. Most swords were inscribed with the initials "FCB", which stand for the Pythian motto ("Friendship, Charity, Benevolence"). Images on swords were also somewhat common, and included: A man, woman, and child (symbolic of Pythias saying good-bye to his family); a man looking out of a building, with a group of people below (symbolic of Damon's pending execution); a man between some pillars, pulling them down (similar to Samson destroying his enemy's temple); or various types of weapons (swords, axes, hammers, etc.). A full Knight of the Pythian order often inscribed his sword with the image of a knight's helmet with a lion on the crest. Many also carried the image of a sprig of myrtle (the Pythian symbol of love) or a falcon (the Pythian symbol of vigilance).

Swords owned by a member of the Uniformed Rank might be inscribed with the initials "UR," a dove, or a lily.


The order provides for "worthy Pythians in distress" and has given aid to victims of national or sectional disasters. It runs camps for underprivileged youth and homes for aged members. It has sponsored scholarship funds, blood drives, highway safety programs, and the Cystic Fibrosis Research Foundation.[4]:185

Other Pythian organizations

Knights of Pythias of North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa

After a black lodge was denied a charter by the Knights of Pythias' Supreme Lodge meeting in Richmond, Virginia on March 8, 1869, a number of black Americans who had been initiated into the order formed their own Pythian group, the Knights of Pythias of North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. By 1897, the KPNSAEAA had 40,000 members, with Grand Lodges in 20 states and other lodges in the West Indies and Central America. It distributed $60,000 worth of benefits annually and had a woman's auxiliary and uniformed rank.[8]:266


The Grand Lodge of Ontario was instituted on April 8, 1872. Rowena L. Rooks composed "K of P grand march [for piano]," which was dedicated to Collin H. Rose, Grand Chancellor, and the officers and representatives of the Grand Lodge K of P of Ontario, Canada. The march sheet music, which was published in London, Ontario, by C. F. Colwell, circa 1876, was illustrated with the Knights of Pythias emblem and Latin motto, Amico Fidus ad Aras, or in English, "True friends are a refuge.".[9]

Improved Order, Knights of Pythias

In 1892, the Supreme Lodge ruled that the work of the order would only be conducted in English. This upset some members who were accustomed to using German. After this ruling was reiterated at the Supreme Lodges of 1894 and 1895, a number of German-speaking Pythians split off and formed the Improved Order, Knights of Pythias at a convention in Indianapolis in June 1895. The new order was reportedly not very popular, and a movement toward reconciliation occurred a few years later.[8]:238

Notable Pythian Knights

Notable Pythian buildings

Plaque in Washington, D.C., designating the location where the Knights of Pythias were founded in 1864
Knights of Pythias Castle, Houston, Texas (postcard, circa 1898)
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(by state then city)

In popular culture

The Knights are mentioned in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock; an ill-fated marine excursion organised by the Knights is the subject of Chapter 3, entitled "The Marine Excursion of the Knights of Pythias". Several characters in the book are said to be members of the Knights.[41]

In the Marx Brothers movie Animal Crackers, Groucho as the character Captain Spaulding reports on his recent big game hunting trip to Africa. He says, "The principal animals in Africa are moose, elks and Knights of Pythias."[42]

See also

Notes and references

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  1. ^ Caption: "Friendship, Charity, Benevolence. Knights of Pythias. Founded February 19th, 1864. The Order is founded upon naught but the purest and sincerest motives. Its aim is to alleviate the suffering of a brother, succor the unfortunate, zealously watch at the bedside of the sick, soothe the pillow of the dying, perform the last sad rights [sic] at the grave of a brother; offering consolation to the afflicted, and caring, with all a brother's love, for the widow and orphan. Brotherly love and charity are the Pillars on which it rests; Friendship and Truth the bond and surety of its preservation. Peace on earth and goodwill toward men. K. of P. Record. Certificate of Membership. This is to Certify That — was initiated as Page in — Lodge N° — Located at — State of — on the — day of 18 — Charged as Esquire — day of 18 — and proved as Knight — day of 18 — . In memory of brother — born — died — aged — yrs. — ms. — dys. In memory of sister — born — died — aged — yrs. — ms. — dys. Entered according to Act of Congress in the y. 1889 by J. M. Vickeroy, in the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington, D. C. Published by J. M. Vick[e]roy & Co., Terre-Haute, Indiana."
  2. ^ Carnahan, James R. Pythian Knighthood: Its History and Literature, 2nd Ed, Revised and Enlarged. The Pettibone Manufacturing Company, Fraternity Publishers, Cincinnati, 1892.
  3. ^ Approved May 5, 1870 [16 Stat. at L. 98, chap. 80]
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i .mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:"\"""\"""'""'"}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-free a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-free a{background:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url("//")right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .id-lock-registration a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-registration a{background:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url("//")right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-subscription a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url("//")right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url("//")right 0.1em center/12px no-repeat}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:none;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#33aa33;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .citation .mw-selflink{font-weight:inherit}Schmidt, Alvin J. (1980). "Knights of Pythias". Fraternal Organizations. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. pp. 183–89, 281. ISBN 0313214360.
  5. ^ Application for Membership.
  6. ^ "Nomads of Avrudaka". Archived from the original on 2013-10-28. Retrieved 2013-11-16.
  7. ^ Glickman, Lawrence B. Consumer Society in American History: A Reader. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1999, p. 223.
  8. ^ a b Stevens, Albert C[lark] (1907). The Cyclopedia of Fraternities: A Compilation of Existing Authentic Information and the Results of Original Investigation As to More Than Six Hundred Secret Societies in the United States (2nd ed.). New York: E.B. Treat & Co. pp. 238, 263–66. Retrieved 21 December 2018.
  9. ^ AMICUS No. 5379212 Library and Archives Canada, Sheet music from our past.
  10. ^ staff (November 1, 1900). "Endorsed by Bryanites". The Eureka Herald.
  11. ^ "Louis Armstrong". Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon. Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon A.F. & A. M. 1 May 2005. Retrieved 21 December 2018. Armstrong wrote in his autobiography that he was a member of a lodge of the Knights of Pythias.
  12. ^ Armstrong, Louis (1986). Satchmo. My Life in New Orleans. New York: Da Capo Press (Prentice-Hall). p. 225. ISBN 0306802767. Retrieved 21 December 2018. Among the clubs represented were […] The Knights of Pythias (my lodge)[…]
  13. ^ "Hugo L. Black". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved 12 May 2017.
  14. ^ Henry E. Chambers, History of Louisiana, Vol. 2 (Chicago and New York City: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1925, p. 71)
  15. ^ Lawrence Kestenbaum. "Knights of Pythias, politicians, Nebraska". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved 2013-11-16.
  16. ^ Benjamin N. Cardozo Lodge at
  17. ^ C. W. Barnum. "Webster Parish, Louisiana, History and Genealogy". Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  18. ^ "Caspari, Leopold". Louisiana Historical Association, A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography ( Archived from the original on February 25, 2012. Retrieved December 22, 2010.
  19. ^ "Robert E. Lee Chancey - 44th Mayor Of Tampa". City of Tampa. June 17, 2014.
  20. ^ "Curry, Robert H." The Political Graveyard. Retrieved July 24, 2015.
  21. ^ "Biography of A. P. Davis, Founder of SUVCW". Retrieved 12 May 2017.
  22. ^ Henry E. Chambers, A History of Louisiana: Wilderness, Colony, Province, Territory, State, People, (Chicago and New York City: American Historical Society, Inc., 1925), pp. 245-246
  23. ^ "Eliot Engel". NNDB. Retrieved 12 May 2017.
  24. ^ "John W. Grabiel". Retrieved August 23, 2012.
  25. ^ Lawrence Kestenbaum. "Knights of Pythias, politicians, California". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved 2013-11-16.
  26. ^ The Biographical cyclopedia of representative men of Rhode Island. Harold B. Lee Library. Providence, National biographical publishing co. 1881.CS1 maint: others (link)
  27. ^ Herreid, Charles N. "Early History of the Knights of Pythias"
  28. ^ Lawrence Kestenbaum. "Knights of Pythias, politicians, Minnesota". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved 2013-11-16.
  29. ^ History of Alabama and dictionary of Alabama biography, Volume 3, 940.
  30. ^ "Assembly Jt. Res. 19". The Laws of Wisconsin, Volume 1. Madison, Wisconsin: Atwood & Culver. 1965. pp. 837–38. Retrieved 21 December 2018.
  31. ^ Lawrence Kestenbaum. "Freemasons, politicians, Arkansas". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved 2013-11-16.
  32. ^ "Bio: McDonough, Frank (1846–1904)". Clark County History Buffs. Retrieved 2016-05-29.
  33. ^ a b Lawrence Kestenbaum. "Knights of Pythias, politicians, New York". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved 2013-11-16.
  34. ^ Jordan, John W. (1914). A History of Delaware County Pennsylvania and Its People. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company. pp. 634–637. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  35. ^ ""William Green Stewart" in Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northwest Louisiana". Chicago and Nashville, Tennessee: The Southern Publishing Company. 1890. Retrieved March 14, 2015.
  36. ^ "Thomas, Lee Emmett". Louisiana Historical Association, A Directory of Louisiana Biography ( Archived from the original on September 23, 2010. Retrieved December 29, 2010.
  37. ^ "Park Trammell". Retrieved 2019-04-08.
  38. ^ Crawfordsville Saturday Evening Journal, June 19, 1875
  39. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  40. ^ "Knights of Pythias – Salida, Colorado". WayMarking. Retrieved 30 July 2017.
  41. ^ Various (2007). Nischik, Reingard M. (ed.). The Canadian Short Story: Interpretations. Camden House. ISBN 978-1-57113-127-0.
  42. ^ "Animal Crackers (1930) Movie Script | SS". Springfield! Springfield!. Retrieved 2020-01-14.

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