top of page

Modern Woodmen of America

RVHS Photo #93.01.299

The members of the Modern Woodmen of America drill team are standing at attention, axes in hand, posing for the photographer. They are apparently participants in a parade on Rainier Avenue in Columbia City as behind them is what appears to be a parade float pulled by a team of 8 horses.

The float carries four ladies dressed in long, white dresses, an older gentleman wearing a rain coat, probably an official of the organization, and the driver with reins in hand. The float is decorated using standing evergreen trees with boughs decorating the edges. They are in the northbound, wood-planked lanes of Rainier Avenue next to the streetcar tracks.

This interesting photo, taken in 1909, is from the archives of the Rainier Valley Historical Society and was inherited from our predecessor organization, the Pioneers of Columbia City. In order to describe the photo, I had to do some research to learn about the MWA organization. 

The Modern Woodmen of America was founded by Joseph Root in Lyons, Iowa, when he heard a sermon on a Sunday morning about "the pioneer woodmen clearing the forest to provide for their families." He considered it to be a symbolic message that a new organization could clear away the problems of financial security for the member's families. And so on January 5th, 1883, Root organized a fraternal benefit society.

The question of setting up a reserve fund came up in 1897 and it took twenty years before the members finally voted to set it up. Today the MWA is indeed a legal reserve fraternal life insurance society incorporated in the state of Illinois.

The ritual which Root prepared for the members meetings had a "strange mixture of Roman dignity and forest freedom…" He also prepared a separate ritual for the ladies circle. The ritual was, of course, secret. Their emblem consisted of the axe, beetle, wedge, five stars, and branches of palm, all displayed on a shield. The order's motto was (still is) Esto Perpetua.

'The society always has had a fair amount of benevolence work under its supervision, most of the work done on the local level. For example, an orphan benefit plan provides for monthly income and makes scholarships available to young people of the MWA, as part of the society's insurance scheme. In 1979 there were approximately 500,000 members, an increase over the previous ten years.

In the photo, the brick building in the background housed the Record Publishing Co., publisher of Columbia City's newspaper, " The Record."  The building had been built two years before by D.W. "Will" Brown and had apartments and doctors offices on the second floor.

Shortly after this photo was taken, an explosion and fire in the kerosene driven press fatally injured the editor. His wife moved the operation to another location outside the valley and Mr. Grayson moved his hardware and furniture business into Will Brown's building. He and his brother, Doc, had been operating their business since 1904 at 4854 Rainier Avenue in the Toby building shown at the far left in the photo. 

Will Brown, my grandfather, was superintendent of the Seattle, Renton and Southern streetcar line when it went bankrupt in 1916 so he joined with Mr. Grayson and formed the partnership of Grayson & Brown Hardware & Furniture Co. In 1939 they sold their partnership to my dad, Arthur Anderson and Henry Peterson. Then in 1962 my dad bought out Henry Peterson and I became a partner with my dad. It was a well known institution in the Valley until 1984.  At that time the building was sold and is now the Saver Furniture Co.  

The Grayson & Brown corporation is still in operation, however, operated by Buzz Anderson, selling and installing window covering from his home office. He hopes to celebrate the firm's 100th anniversary in the year 2004. 

Information on the MWA was obtained from the Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Institutions.


The Rainier Valley Historical Society has established an endowment fund to provide future funding for a paid director, assuring that Rainier Valley's unique history will be preserved for future generations.   

Days Gone By 

South District Journal 4/7/1999

By Buzz Anderson


bottom of page