According to some clothing psychologists, the type of clothes we wear says a lot about us; our power, influence, income, and intelligence. ¹ In this picture, Tom Ferguson is wearing a uniform shirt of the Modern Woodmen Association of America. No doubt he cared little about fashion. However, the statement made when Tom wore this shirt indicated he was a man who cared greatly about his family. And he liked the socialization this organization offered.
The shirt was made of denim, had long sleeves and white cuffs and collar. On the front was a white shield-shaped patch with the letters MWA of blue felt. The letters MWA also appeared on each button of the shirt. ² Some members were part of Forester, 160,000 men who participated in the 10,000 drill teams from 1890 to the mid-1930s. Tom has an ax in his hand. Perhaps he was a member of the Foresters, but we have no proof of this.
In 1883, Joseph Cullen Root founded Modern Woodmen of American in Iowa. It was a fraternal benefit society whose purpose was to provide death benefits for widows, orphans, and other dependents of deceased members. In the beginning, the organization was very accepting of people of varied religions. Until the mid-1900s, the organization restricted membership to men between the ages of 18 and 45. They had to live in one of the twelve states, mostly in the Midwest. Kansas was one of them. Residents of large cities were not welcome. Neither were those employed in certain professions that included railway workers, underground miners, gunpowder factory employees, sailors, professional baseball players, and those involved with liquor. ³
Tom joined the organization sometime between 1901 when he married Lola Pope, and 1908 when the family moved to Sedalia, Missouri. ⁴ He began working for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (MK&T/Katy) on the section that went from Parsons, Kansas to Sedalia, Missouri. Working for the railroad would have cause Tom to lose his membership in the organization.
Since there was a social aspect of the organization, Tom would have worn his shirt to local chapter meetings. Living on the outskirts of Fort Scott, Kansas, he most likely belonged to Camp No. 626 that met every Wednesday night at the W.O.W. hall ⁵ He was part of an organization that boasted 891,237 members in 1907. His shirt was more than a fashion statement. It represented men who cared enough about their families to provide for their well-being. The Modern Woodmen of American still exists today offering insurance and other financial products.
Tom was my husband’s grandfather. You can learn more about him here.
⁴The History of Webster Groves written by Lola Pope and typed by Dorothy Ferguson
⁵Fort Scott Republican (Fort Scott, Kansas), 5 May 1906, p. 3, col. 6; digital images, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 21 Jul 2021