Woodmen of the World Meeting, Brownsville, 1911

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Woodmen of the World meeting, 1911

In the early 20th century, Mexican Americans banded together in sociedades mutualistas (mutual aid societies). While these organizations went by many names in different towns and cities, they shared common purposes. They provided health and burial insurance, loans, legal aid, libraries, and classes, and put on community events. Some also functioned as trade unions or worked directly for civil rights.

Fraternal organizations were not at all confined to Mexican American or immigrant populations. They were a very important part of American life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and formed the main basis by which people obtained health and burial insurance in those years. This interesting photo, dated 1911, shows a Brownsville meeting of the Woodmen of the World, a hugely successful fraternal organization of the era. Although women are thought to have participated less than men in sociedades mutualistas, this photo clearly shows an exception to the rule. Both the American flag and the Mexican flag can be seen in the photo.

By the 1930s, the fragmented approach of sociedades mutualistas had led to their decline, and Tejano activists turned their energies to new organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens.

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Harry Lund Collection, Prints and Photographs Collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission. #1964/263-80.

Page last modified: August 24, 2011