The moving spirit of the Elks was an Englishman named Charles Algemon Sidney Vivian. Born October 22, 1842, this son of a clergyman was a successful comic singer and dancer in the music halls of London. In November 1867, Vivian arrived in New York City to try his luck.
Other actors and entertainers soon gravitated toward his magnetic personality, and this group dubbed themselves the Jolly Corks, a name derived from a practical joke of the time. When a friend of Vivian and other members of the Jolly Corks died, leaving his wife and children destitute, the Jolly Corks agreed that it was now time to create a more enduring organization: one that, while still committed to good fellowship, would serve those in need.
On February 16, 1868, they established the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States. Its social activities and benefit performances increased the popularity of the new Order. Membership grew rapidly. Elks traveling to other cities spread the word of the brotherhood of Elks.
Soon there were requests for Elks lodges in cities other than New York. In response to these appeals, the Elks asked the New York State legislature for a charter authorizing the establishment of a Grand Lodge with the power to establish local lodges anywhere in the United States. When the Grand Lodge Charter was issued, the founders then received their first local chapter as New York Lodge No. 1 on March 10, 1871.
Over the years, the Elks’ mission has been consistent and the membership has become more inclusive. Today’s guidelines for membership stipulate only that the candidate be invited to join, be over the age of 21, be a citizen of the United States, and believe in God.
The legacy of Charles Vivian’s generosity continues to this day. As long as there are those who need help, the Elks will be there to give aid and comfort.
The Elks are a fraternal order with nearly a million members in communities all over the country, a generous foundation that each year gives millions of dollars in scholarships, an inspiration to youth, a friend to veterans, and more.
Our story is long; our work is humble; our history is proud. The Elks are involved in a wide variety of programs, from scholarships to drug education to Veterans Services.