History of the A.A.O.N.M.S.

Ancient Arabic Order Nobles Mystic Shrine

The great Shrine organization of today traces its origins to New York City and to four dedicated men. The men were Dr. Walter M. Fleming, William J. Florence, Charles T. McClenachan and William S. Paterson. It was Fleming's idea to establish a fun fraternal order for men who had completed their requirements in the Scottish or York rite Masonic organizations.

Fleming presented his idea to William Florence, like Fleming a resident of Albany, NY, who became a world-renowned actor. Florence was later to provide the founding group with the key elements for the colorful Shrine rituals. Charles T. McClenachan, an outstanding lawyer, was in addition a well-known expert on Masonic ritual. The fourth founding member of the organization was William Paterson, a native Scotsman who had a successful career as a printer in New York City. Fleming, Florence, McClenachan and Paterson formed the nucleus of a luncheon club where the prime topic was formation of a new order.

On September 26, 1872, the original 13 met in New York's Masonic Hall, 114 East Thirteenth Street, for the purpose of formally organizing the Ancient Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine for North America. The Shrine was born.

The 13 original members of the New York luncheon club were named as charter members of the New York Temple, named Mecca. The following officers were elected: William J. Fleming, Potentate; Charles T. McClenachan, Chief Rabban; John A. Moore, Assistant Rabban; William S. Paterson, Recorder; Edward Eddy, High Priest; James S. Chappell, Treasurer; George W. Millar, Oriental Guide; Oswald M. d'Aubigne, Captain of the Guard.

The new Shrine was not an immediate success in terms of membership. Fleming was especially active in recruiting new members, but by September 1876, there were only 43 Nobles, and 37 of these were from New York City.

The spark that was needed to make the Shrine prosper apparently was formation of the Imperial Council.

Noble Fleming conceived the idea.  At the meeting in New York's Masonic Temple June 6, 1876, about 309 members from Mecca Temple performed the ritual of an annual Imperial Session, and the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine for North America was conferred on 25 neophytes.  At a later business meeting, Noble Fleming called for the formation of a parent governing body for the Order.

Fleming's recommendation was approved, and creation of the Imperial Grand Council of the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine was authorized.

Fleming, whose tremendous energy had helped carry the Order through its difficult early years, was elected to a three-year term as the first Grand Potentate. 

The first meeting of the Imperial Council was brief, but in addition to election of officers, it accomplished the following:

1. Established New York City as the Grand Orient or headquarters for the Imperial Council,

2. Approved a plan to install five Past Potentates from each subordinate temple as honorary members of the Imperial Council,

3. Created a committee to write statutes and regulations for governance of the Imperial Council and its subordinate temples,

4. Established a $50 fee for charters for new temples, $10 as an annual temple tax to be paid to the Imperial Council, and $10 as the minimum initiation fee for new members,

5. Adopted a resolution making it mandatory that all Shriners be members in good standing of either the Scottish Rite or Knights Templar.  (Recently the Imperial Council amended this resolution to allow Master Masons in good standing to join.)

6. Established the following temples; Mahammed in New Haven, Conn., Ziyara in Utica, NY, Pyramid in Bridgeport, Conn., and Syria in Pittsburgh.

Nobles McClenachan, Ehlers and J.H. Hobart were named to the committee on statutes and regulations.

The first official act of the Imperial Council was to grant a charter to Mecca Temple, bearing the date September 26, 1872. The council placed a limit of 33 on its own membership and ruled that only active life members who ere Potentates or Past Potentates could belong to the Council. The Imperial Grand Council would meet each year during the first week of February at Albany, NY it was decided.

Mt. Sinai Temple at Montpelier VT was granted a charter in 1876. At the February 6, 1877 meeting of the Imperial Grand Council in Albany, members made appointments bringing to 30 the Council membership. The Council also voted to present each new Noble with certificate, specified official jewels and costumes for the respective offices, and required each new temple to select an ancient Arabic or Egyptian name.

In 1877, charters were granted to Oriental Temple at Troy, NY, to Al Koran Temple in Cleveland, to Syrian Temple in Cincinnati, and to Cyprus Temple in Albany.

It was between the late 1880's and the early 1900's that the Shrine enjoyed great membership growth and vigorous program activity. Here are some of the highlights of that period:

1886 - Imperial Grand Council met in Cleveland and voted to drop the word "Grand" from the Council title.

1886 - The irrepressible Dr. Fleming stepped down as Imperial Potentate after 12 years, and was replaced by Noble Sam Briggs of Cleveland.

1888 - Twelve new temples were chartered and the Imperial Council met outside of the U.S. for the first time, at Toronto, Canada.

1890 - The Imperial Council enacted the famous three-blackball veto on Shrine membership and the term for Imperial officers was reduced from three years to one year.

1891 - The Council banned use of emblems of any other secret organization with those of the Shrine, and forbade wearing of the fez and jewel except for Shrine functions.

1891 - King Kalakaua of Hawaii was initiated in the Shrine January 14 in a ceremony at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.

1897 - The Council rejected applications for Temples in Mexico and the Sandwich Islands.

1899 - All but seven of the 78 temples were engaged in some form of charitable work.

1900 - The Imperial Council ruled that a Noble could belong to more than one temple.

1906 - Membership passed the 100,000 mark. The Shrine sent monetary aid to victims of the great San Francisco earthquake.

The famous Shriner's fez was the subject of new legislation in 1915. New regulations prescribed that the red Turkish fez with black tassel be adorned only by the name of the temple and the scimitar and the part of the jewel of the order including the sphinx head and star. The adornments were to be embroidered in gold or silver bullion or silk. Titles, names of units and other extras were barred from the fez.

The First World War seemed to mark a new era of civic and patriotic fervor by the AAONMS.  The hard work associated with establishment of the order was behind, and there was time for serious thought about issues of the day.

In 1916, the first Shrine pilgrimage to Alaska took place. In 1918, Shrine membership passed 259,000. The temples purchased nearly $1 million in Liberty Loan Bonds and subscribed $110,453 to the Red Cross.

From the beginnings, in 1871 (MECCA TEMPLE) through 1920 approximately, there was no single approved philanthropy. The Temples were generous, however, in supporting various local and national charities. In 1919, the Honorable W. Freeland Kendrick, Potentate of LU LU 1906-1918, and later Mayor of Philadelphia, 1924-1928, launched the idea that the Shrine should undertake something for �friendless, orphaned, and crippled children.� The following year (1920) at the Imperial Council Session in Portland, OR, Imperial Sir Kendrick introduced (and it was adopted) a motion to �establish a Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children.� An annual assessment of $2.00, from every Shriner to support the Hospital, was approved, and a Committee of Seven was appointed by Imperial Sir Kendrick to implement the program.

The Shrine Hospital System has grown to its current size of 19 Hospitals in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and three Burns Institutes. The name has changed to The Shrine Hospitals for Children. Every Shriner today contributes $5.00 of his annual membership dues to the Hospital System.

Freeland Kendrick (known as �Free� or �Freel�) became known as the �Father� of the Hospital System. He served on the National Board (he chaired it for many years) and served on the Philadelphia Hospital Board until his death, March 20, 1953. After serving as Imperial Potentate 1919/1920, Freel returned to LU LU, where he again served as Potentate for three years (1921-23).

In 1920, the Shrine took a public stand in favor of free and compulsory education supported by public taxes in America.

Dynamic growth continued. Membership passed 511,000 in 1922. Initial steps were taken to copyright all Shrine emblems and insignia.

With humor befitting the Shrine philosophy, the founders of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine of North America on looking around, decided that America was a suitable place to rest the camels of the great caravan, that the shade of the old apple trees was cool and delicious, and that her Shareefs, Bashi-Bazooks and wail-dervishes were thirsty for knowledge."


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This page was last updated 12/29/08