Elliott Saxton, 32°
The founder of the Coming Men of America, Joseph R. Hunter, was inspired to create a boy’s organization from the fun of his childhood, when he formed “secret societies” with his classmates. He was assisted with creating the ritual by an older brother who was also a member of the Scottish Rite, Odd Fellows, Shrine and various other organizations. While Hunter writes that it was very common for small clubs for boys to form, they never reached prominence and never had an organized national society with a headquarters or financial backing. He received a charter for the Coming Men of America under the state of Illinois in the year 1894 and credited the publication, The Star Monthly, as a driver for success for the group. In the May 1903 issue is the statement, “Enrolled Members on April 15, 1903, 60,225.” Hunter wrote that many college lodges of the C.M.A formed for the same purpose of the regular Greek letter fraternities. In fact, the growth of the C.M.A.—if their claims can be believed—was nothing short of phenomenal. Here’s what their 1904 brochure said:
At the close of the year, or on December 31, 1894, the Grand Roster showed a membership of 600. A year later it was 4,000. At the end of the fifth year it was 20,000. We have long since passed the 70,000 mark, and our aim is now 250,000 members.
The group’s tenets were based on precepts of patriotism, co-operation, and brotherly love. Here’s how the explained their name and motto:
The Letters C.M.A. and O.T.N. are not secret. C.M.A. stands for the name of our order, “Coming Men of America” and O.T.N. is our motto, “Our Turn Next.” Think, brother what an honor it is to be a Coming Man of America; remember, also, the responsibilities connected with your privileges as a future American citizen. Remember that you have a sacred trust to take up when your turn does come, the duties of manhood and citizenship. See to it that you are prepared for that trust, so you will not fall below the high standard set by our forefathers. The remaining mystic symbols on the badge are secret, are known to members only and ever kept sacred and inviolate.
The Fifth edition of the Booklet of C.M.A. was published in 1904. The cover reads: “The Original Secret Society for Boys and Young Men. Thousands of members and Lodges in every state and territory, Canada, Mexico and all parts of the world.” The first page of the booklet explains that “it has had to date, over 50 imitations, none however, living over one year. It is also the most successful and undoubtedly the largest boys’ organization of any kind that the world has ever known.” There appear to have been three levels of honors for “good work in securing new members for the order, for scholarship, for bravery, and for conduct which has shed an additional luster on the name of the C.M.A.” The Star Monthly listed every month those boys who had become “Five Degree Members,” “Ten Degree Members,” and “Fifteen Degree Members.”
Many youth groups were organized at that time as the result of the golden age of fraternalism. The extent of “fraternal lodges” at this time was captured by W. S. Harwood in his 1897 article, “Secret Societies in America”: “Every fifth, or perhaps eighth man belonged to one of the nation’s 70,000 fraternal lodges. Millions more belonged to the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the knights of labor, the grange, mutual insurance societies and other organizations that similarly stressed elaborate initiations.” Fraternities offered a great deal to society, especially with mutual benefit insurance. To many parents of young men and women, the golden age of fraternalism posed a great opportunity to instill good values and to help in their children’s upbringing.
The Coming Men of America, however, remains a mystery. There is barely any reference to the group surviving today. It boasted in the October 1906 issue of The Star Monthly as having hundreds of imitators, 100,000 members, and over 5,000 lodges, and yet hardly a trace remains. Despite its virtual disappearance, the C.M.A. did have one lasting effect: it was likely one of the inspirations for the Order of DeMolay.
Frank S. Land and the C.M.A.
The C.M.A was founded ahead of the Boy Scouts (1910) and the Order of DeMolay (1919), the latter of which was founded by Ill. Frank S. Land in 1919 when he was 28 years old. DeMolay is the premier young men’s fraternity and is based on the principals of Freemasonry. The October 1906 issue of The Star Monthly reveals that Frank S. Land was exalted to the fifteenth degree in the C.M.A.!
One cannot help but wonder what influence the C.M.A. had on Dad Land’s creation and organization of the Order of DeMolay. The Five, Ten, and Fifteen Degree Members of C.M.A. are reflected in DeMolay with the awards of Chevalier and Legion of Honor. C.M.A. had a membership badge and DeMolay a membership pin. The description of the C.M.A. “Sign of Honor” is reminiscent of DeMolay signs. However, DeMolay doesn’t seem to have developed a whistle or yell . . . but there is time yet.
The Star Monthly
This publication served as the official journal for the Coming Men of America. The publication featured “serial and short stories, biographies, anecdotes of great and famous men, practical hints and helps for Young America, as well as numerous departments with monthly prize awards.” (The Coming Men of America, membership booklet, p. 12.) Also published were pictures of members, lodges, and special messages and passwords written out in the group’s secret cipher code called Bestography.
The organization did not require dues payment for members. However, to be a member in good standing, one was required to maintain a subscription to The Star Monthly. Some have speculated that publishers of The Star Monthly created the C.M.A. to increase the subscription levels. The magazine dedicated space to the C.M.A. each month to promote membership and provide updates for members. A subscription to The Star Monthly cost the boys 50 cents a year or $1.00 for three years.