The Order of Shepherds of Bethlehem

The Order of Shepherds of Bethlehem (OSB) was a fraternal society that admitted both men and women, and provided sick and death benefits for their members. It was founded on November 19,1896 in Trenton, NJ by Mrs. Eva A. Wyckoff of Camden, NJ, to provide benefits for applicants for membership between the ages of 18 and 55. The OSB’s principles were to promote peace and harmony among its members, to inculcate the teachings of the Holy Bible, and to promote the cause of temperance.

Mrs. Wyckoff was the Worthy Matron of the Order of the Eastern Star’s Morning Star Chapter No. 22 in Trenton, NJ. Mrs. Wyckoff had the Order’s ritualistic work taken from the lessons of the Bible, from the story of Ruth to birth of Jesus Christ. Mrs. Wyckoff devised the rituals for the OSB’s constitution and by-laws, three degrees, ceremonies for the opening and closing of Lodges, public installation of officers, as well as the OSB funeral service for departed members in or about October 1898.

The Order’s origins, according to their own published “History of the Order of Shepherds of Bethlehem,” claimed that:

In 1875, a prominent officer named Sir Fred Holt came to New York and established two Lodges, which grew nicely until Sir Holt’s duties as Scribe of the Sovereign Lodge called him to Europe, when they quarreled, and under a strange name, ran on for a while until they died out with the exception of a few small Western Lodges that had their start in them and drifted into another small Order not connected with this.

The effort was ill-advised with no good results. The next person who took up the matter was a popular antiquarian who went to the Holy Land to study the Order how it existed among the shepherds as it originally existed and is now in the home of these ancient people of the Holy Land. He learned all the old legends and methods of the Order, and on his return, presented the Order in its original form, translated and put in modern shape. By special arrangement, the Supreme Lodge of North America was formed in 1896, and instructed in the beautiful ceremonies of this old and wondrous Order. The Supreme Lodge of North America, by authority of the Sovereign Lodge, is the supreme authority in North America.    

Male members were addressed as “Sir,” and female members addressed as “Lady.” The Order worked a three-degree ritual similar to that of the Masonic Blue Lodge system, and the ceremonies were said to be both beautiful and elevating. The first degree was that of “Light,” the second degree was referred to as the “Shepherd” degree, and the third degree was called the “Disciple” degree.

The Order was organized in Lodges governed by Commanders, and as in Co-Masonry, both men and women held this rank. The OSB issued charters to numerous Lodges that spread throughout the State of New Jersey, then to over nearby Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut. Officers’ titles included that of Vice Commander, Marshal, Chaplain, Scribe, Treasurer, Accountant, Inside Guard, Outside Guard, Master/Mistress of Ceremonies, and Trustee.

Many OSB Lodges contained the word “star” in their name, such as Star of Brooklyn Lodge No. 1, Radiant Star Lodge No. 2, Star of Light Lodge No. 3, Star of the East Lodge No. 4, Rising Star Lodge No. 5, Star of the East Lodge No. 7, Shepherd’s Star Lodge No. 10, Star of Hope Lodge No. 12, Star of Dauphin Lodge No. 21, Star of Trenton No. 22, Star of Harrisburg Lodge No. 30, Star of Media Lodge No. 53, Star of Greenville Lodge No. 61, Star of Friendship Lodge No. 71, Star of Catasauqua Lodge No. 80, Star of Bayside Lodge No. 82, Star of Fraternity Lodge No. 107,  and so on.    

The motto of the Order was “Truth, Hope and Faith.”

In Albert Clark Steven’s epic work “Cyclopaedia of Fraternities” (1907), he commented how the Order’s own literature claimed that the OSB to be “one of the oldest in the world, and was founded as an order shortly after the birth of Christ, by the shepherds who watched over the flocks on that eventful night, when they were chosen of God to first hear of the birth of our Savior, and went at once to see and worship him.”

On November 19, 1918, at Brooklyn’s Prospect Hall Mrs. Eva A. Wyckoff, was honored as the founder of Shepherdism at a reception given in her honor by the Star of Brooklyn Lodge No. 1, and she wore the same robes she used when she instituted the first OSB Lodge in 1896.  

The Order was comprised mainly of Christian women and men of the Protestant tradition, became predominately a women’s organization by the 1950s and 1960s, and was still in existence as of the early 1970s. The OSB appears that it may have gone defunct.

A special "Thank You" to Brother Denis P. McGowan for submitting the history and photos of this Order!




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