Data on Federated Voluntary Membership Associations: The Benefits and Shortcomings of National and State Proceedings

Adam Chamberlain, Coastal Carolina University
Alixandra Yanus, High Point University
Nicholas Pyeatt, Pennsylvania State University

Scholars have long been fascinated by the development of federated voluntary membership associations during the 19th and early 20th centuries. These associations transformed American civic and political life, connecting citizens across communities and states to organizations with national and international purposes, and from mutual aid to fellow members to lobbying the halls of Congress. Data on these associations, when used, often come from the proceedings produced by national and state associations after their annual (or biennial) meetings. Yet, there has been no definitive work explaining to scholars the types of data available through these proceedings, the benefits and shortcomings of the data, and critically, how to discern the quality and value of the data presented. In this paper, we argue that these proceedings are an undervalued source of data to understand civic and political organizing in the era, with a focus on associations such as the Grand Army of the Republic, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the Knights of Labor, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, and fraternal organizations such as the Odd Fellows and the Knights of Pythias. We then discuss the types of data that are commonly available, highlighting the benefits and limitations inherent in the data while providing evidence that these data are generally of high quality.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 73. Methods of Inquiry