The fraternity of female friendly societies

Weinbren, Daniel (2010). The fraternity of female friendly societies. In: Cross, Máire Fedelma ed. Gender and Fraternal Orders in Europe, 1300-2000. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 200–222.




In this chapter, the structured reciprocity of female friendly societies, even those with overt patrons, is presented as a categorization which is also applicable to men’s societies. The first part addresses the notion of independence, then the focus is on the financial aspect of the Southill Female Friendly Society, SFFS, which existed between 1844 and 1948 for women of that Bedfordshire village in England who were of ‘a good and honest character’, in good health and aged between 14 and 45 when they joined. Members had few other opportunities to reduce the risks associated with illness other than accept the uneven reciprocity of the SFFS. The patrons may also have seen the SFFS as an investment opportunity. Then the attractions of Southill, with its healthy housing and relatively liberal interpretation of relief legislation, are presented as evidence of another important attribute of successful friendly societies, their centrality to social networking. Next is considered how far mutuality and philanthropy were interwoven within the SFFS and elsewhere. An assessment of the roles of civil engagement and moral regulation within friendly societies follows and the final section suggests that a notion of fraternity which emphasizes flexible reciprocity can net together both vast international brotherhoods and tiny village societies in a way which illuminate understandings of nineteenth-century society.

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