Improved Order of Red Men, Great Council of the State of Delaware, State Orphans' Board records

Biographical and Historical Notes

The Improved Order of Red Men (IORM) is a fraternal beneficial organization whose primary goals included the promotion of patriotism and support of charities. It also provided health, disability, and death benefits to members. The group's rituals, regalia, and terminology are modeled after those assumed by white men of the era to be used by Native Americans.

The Improved Order of Red Men was formed in 1813 at Fort Mifflin, Pennsylvania. It consolidated various Revolutionary War-era secret societies, such as the Sons of Liberty and the Sons of St. Tamina, into one group, originally called the Society of Red Men. In 1834, the name was changed to the Improved Order of Red Men.

At Baltimore, Maryland, in 1847, the various local "tribes" came together and formed a national organization called the Grand Council of the United States. With the formation of a national organization, the Improved Order of Red Men soon spread, and within 30 years there were State Great Councils in 21 states with a membership of over 150,000. The Order continued to grow and by the mid-1920s there were "tribes" in 46 states and territories with a membership totaling over one-half million. Delaware Tribe No. 1 was established in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1847. As of 1893, there were 2,356 members of the Delaware State Great Council. By the early twenty-first century, the national organization had dropped to about 15,000 members.

Several of the records in this volume were created by the Delaware State Great Council's Secretary, Frank R. Zebley. Zebley (1883-1960) served as Speaker in the Delaware House of Representatives in 1938. During the 1930s, he traveled extensively around Delaware and wrote several books based on his experiences, including Along the Brandywine (1940) and The Churches of Delaware.


Finding aid for The Great Council of Kentucky of the Improved Order of Red Men records (2012ms046 : The Great Council of Kentucky of the Improved Order of Red Men records, 1905-1968, undated, University of Kentucky Special Collections.)

The Improved Order of Red Men website, "History of the Red Men" (accessed June 8, 2018)

Finding aid for the Frank R. Zebley papers (MSS 0135, Frank R. Zebley papers, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library, Newark, Delaware)

Information derived from the collection.

Scope and Contents

This volume consists of administrative and financial records created between 1931 and 1939 by the Improved Order of Red Men, Great Council of the State of Delaware, pertaining to the support of orphaned children. The records also highlight the group's financial holdings.

Many of the records relate to the Council's work providing benefits to Delaware orphans from 1931-1939. The volume contains typed reports detailing contributions to each child by the Delaware State Orphans' Board and individual Council "tribes," which include the names of parents and other family members, the amounts paid out each week, the orphan's date of birth, and the date on which benefits ceased. Most orphans received benefits until their fourteenth birthday. One orphan's middle name, Manitoo, was the same as the "tribe" granting him support.

Another section of records consists of printed pages from the Report of the Delaware State Orphans' Board, including beneficiary reports, expense accounts, and annual reports. These feature printed photographs of the Delaware's State Council's "Great Sachems." The reports employ the IORM's calendar system, in which years were known as "great suns" and months named after various "moons." The first year of the system, known as the "Great Sun of Discovery" 1, was the year that Columbus arrived in the Americas, namely 1492. Treasurers for the organization are described as "Great Keepers of Wampum."

Other records in the volume include memoranda on administrative details, letters about fundraising projects, and investment reports. The Orphans' Board invested in several Delaware businesses, including the Hercules Powder Company and the Christiana Securities Company. The Board also invested in Dade County, Florida, real estate bonds, which a letter from Secretary Frank R. Zebley described as a poor financial decision. Zebley noted that the Florida investment, which resulted in a $12,000 loss, was probably made illegally, since the organization's law called for "investments in securities that are 'legal' investments for savings funds in the State of Delaware."

This volume is housed in a red paper binder secured with metal clasps and contains various sets of records divided by pieces of blue card stock.