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Ladies of the Maccabees L.O.T.M.

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    "United States Census, 1900," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 5 June 2016), Ralph B Prince in household of Charles M Pierce, Elgin Township Elgin city Ward 2, Kane, Illinois, United Sta...

A research and networking resource for member profiles and their descendants.

The Ladies of the Maccabees were organized in the mid-1880s and not at first recognized by the Knights of the Maccabees, but persistence paid off, and according to Albert C. Stevens, (in 1896), "Its successful career has surprised many, even among its well-wishers, and has shown that women may safely be entrusted with the conduct and management of many of the broader business affairs of life."

In 1891, a young woman went to a summer picnic that would transform her life as well as Port Huron's history. The woman, Bina Mae West, was a prodigy. At age 18, she completed her studies at St. Clair County Normal School and returned to her alma mater, Capac High, as a teacher and assistant principal. At 20, she won a seat on the Board of County School Examiners, one of the first women in Michigan to hold elected office.

In his 1992 book, An Enduring Heritage, Keith Yates quoted what West told her aunt as they left the picnic: "Aunt Nellie, the fraternal benefit system is the greatest thing I've ever heard of. I will make this my life's work. There is a great need, and I know I can fill it."

Over the next 56 years, West devoted herself to her mission. WORKING FOR WOMEN: In 1892, when Bina West Miller set up shop in the basement of the Maccabee Temple to create an insurance organization for women and children, she unleashed a revolution. From its humble start, what was to become the Women's Benefit Association would claim more than 75,000 members in 42 states in just eight years. Today, the Woman's Life Insurance Society has more than $180 million in assets.

As state organizer for the Ladies of the Maccabees, she built its membership from 319 in 1892 to 5,770 in 1894. The organization, later renamed the Women's Benefit Association, had 75,224 members in 42 states by 1900. Four years later, it had nearly 150,000 members and 40 employees at its Port Huron headquarters.

"In less than 12 years, (it) was no doubt the great business movement of women in the world," Yates wrote.

The rapid growth led the Maccabees to build a second temple in 1904 at the intersection of Huron and Pine Grove avenues. The original temple, built in 1892 at Huron and Bard, was noted for its hive-shaped brass domes. It became the Algonquin Hotel in 1906 and was destroyed in a fire in 2000.

Port Huron's mayor declared a public holiday on Oct. 22, 1915, when the cornerstone was placed for the association's headquarters on Military Street. The structure, with an exterior of Indiana limestone and Corinthian columns flanking its entrance, would be dedicated two years later.

A sign in West's office gave the motto - "Hard Work and Ever At It" - that she embraced until her retirement at age 81. She died in 1954.

The Woman's Life Insurance Society, as the association is known today, is still based in Port Huron. Janice Whipple, who took over in 1990, is only its sixth president in more than a century.

Charter members:

Bina Mae West Miller Estelle Layman Ophelia Kennedy Mary E. Kline Mary A. Reed Emma McNair? Ellie E. Elliott Lucy Thompson Nellie Hickox Sarah Vosburg? Lucy Lum Lola Lum Clara Cook Lizzie Bauker? Florence McNair? Jeannette Coon? Eunice C. Babcock Aurelia Gibson Clara A. McNeil Aurelia Cook Aurelia Bush? Cecilia P_______?

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