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The September 1911 issue of The Bulletin, the old monthly journal of the International Concatenated Order of the Hoo-Hoo, had this to say:

Not a great many of our members realize that the Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo has one member who would not take offense if referred to as no gentleman. In the early days of the organization, and before there was incorporated into the constitution the provision that membership be confined strictly to men over twenty-one, there occurred a lumber convention and a concatenation at Memphis, Tennessee, on which occasion, the ceremonies being somewhat modified, a lady was duly initiated.

The fact that there is a woman member in the great Order of Hoo-Hoo is not so much a matter of wonder and speculation, as was the early life of this woman Hoo-Hoo, entering as she did into the business world at a time when woman and commercialism were but strangers.

The Hoo-Hoo in question was No. 2877, Mary Anne Smith. Mary Anne was born in Somerville, Tennessee, shortly before the Civil War. The Bulletin describes her early life as one of “hardship and suffering” as she grew up during the war and Reconstruction Period. “But,” the article notes, “no period, no matter how rife with struggle, hardship, and suffering, is without its romance, so in time young Mary Norman met and came to marry James Allen Smith—one of the pioneer names in Arkansas” in 1873.

They built a small business empire in Arkansas together, Mary Anne working “hand in hand with her husband” until his death in 1889. Upon his death she became president of the Smithton Lumber Company and vice president of the Southwestern Arkansas and Indian Territory Railroad. Her husband had begun operating this narrow-gauge railroad in 1885 to move lumber to market. She successfully operated it until the Panic of 1893, the worst economic depression in U.S. history until that time. The Bulletin states that “her property passed into the United States courts” and was forced out of her hands. “Mrs. Smith,” it says, stayed “in the business world, for her spirit remains indomitable and unabashed.”

She did stay in the business world. Mary Anne Smith was concatted (meaning initiated) as Number 2877 into Hoo-Hoo on February 20, 1895, in Memphis. Her membership had been sponsored by three members, including one of the founders. In 1905 she moved her family to Searcy, Arkansas, and remained active in Hoo-Hoo the rest of her life, frequently hosting other Hoo-Hoos at her home as they passed through town. At the January 1912 meeting, she was one of 8 people who gave speeches. The Bulletin article recapping the 1911 meeting noted that Mrs. Smith had “the distinction of being the only woman who is now and has ever been a member of Hoo-Hoo.” This refrain typically appeared in articles mentioning she had attended a meeting.

According to the organization’s own history, Mary Ann Smith was the first female Hoo-Hoo. When the 1911 article appeared, the fraternal organization of the lumber industry wasn’t yet formally closed to women members. Legend has it that other women gained membership over the years by using just their initials on the applications, not their first names. But there’s no way to confirm this. Yet some members were progressive enough to support women’s sports teams in the early 20th century.

johnsonshoohoo-womens-bballteam-1904-cropped

Johnston’s Famous Hoo-Hoo Basketball Team, pictured here with sponsor Scott Johnston in 1904, called Rankin, Illinois, home. Johnston praised them as “a fine lot of girls and good players–every one of them.” The players were a mix of students and teachers, and the team dissolved when they returned to school in September of that year.

So, what’s all this hullabaloo about the International Concatenated Order of the Hoo-Hoo about, you may ask. Hoo-Hoo had been established in Gurdon in 1892 to foster better relations among lumbermen and trade associations. The six men—a mix of lumbermen and writers working for trade journals—who would become the founders sat waiting for the next train when discussion turned to the lack of community and communication among the diverse business interests of lumbermen. “It was agreed that only one common interest existed within the complex web of industry concerns, that being goodwill and fellowship upon which lumbermen could come together in single mindedness and unity. The group agreed that lumbermen meeting on the grounds of good fellowship could receive intangible benefits that might eventually trickle down into all aspects of business and social relationships…” There were already plenty of fraternal lodges and formal business groups—in fact, the men were stuck waiting for a train in Gurdon while traveling between association meetings, a circumstance which led to this impromptu meeting.

They quickly agreed that another conventional, stuffy group was not needed. “[It] was to be a war on conventionality,” replete with goofy titles for officers borrowed from a Lewis Carroll story, like calling the president the Grand Snark of the Universe, and parodying and mocking the rituals of Masons and other secret organizations. Underlying the humor, though, was a single, serious aim: “to foster the health, happiness, and long life of its members.” Unconventional it was, and it has remained, as this blog post can attest. (As can this author, who spoke at the 2014 annual convention. The genuine displays of fellowship and fun were impressive.) Many organizations do good deeds in the local community and help others following a disaster, but few have as much fun as the Hoo-Hoos.

Having a female member in the early days of the organization certainly made Hoo-Hoo unconventional in the male-dominated world of lumber. But that soon came to an end. When Mary Ann Smith died on July 25, 1926, at age 68, she was, officially, still the only female member. Not long after her passing, the bylaws were amended to provide only for males over age 21. For the next sixty years, women attended the conventions with their husbands but couldn’t join.

Little was done about this until the 1986 convention, when delegates first voted to remove the Eligibility clause from the bylaws. A proposal to do so was voted on every year after but failed to pass until 1993. In March of that year, the motion to amend the Hoo-Hoo International Bylaws to strike the word “male” from the Eligibility clause was again put forward. To be eligible you now only had to meet the age requirement and of course to “be of good moral character.” In seconding the motion, Royce Munderloh declared: “Tradition has played a big part in the debate concerning this issue. The world has changed greatly in the last 100 years, and many traditions have changed for the best.” And so the change was made. At the 101st international convention in 1993, with the by-laws revised to open membership to women, Beth Thomas, the executive secretary of Hoo-Hoo and manager of the Hoo-Hoo Museum in Gurdon, was the first woman accepted into the organization in this new era. She was concatted with two other women.

Other women joined the Hoo-Hoo organization through local chapters soon thereafter. In November 1993, another Mary—Mary O’Meara Moynihan—was concatted with the first group of women admitted into the Twin Cities Club. She’d been part of her family’s business for much of her life, so it made business sense for her to join. When asked in late 2011 what her goals in Hoo-Hoo were, she simply declared, “In 2013, I hope to become Snark”—leader of the of the worldwide Hoo-Hoo organization. She was only off by a few months with that prediction. In 2014, Mary became the first female Grand Snark of the Universe. Now in its 125th year, International Concatenated Order of the Hoo-Hoo is led by another woman, Robyn Roose Beckett. The unconventional organization is now conventional.

Grand Snark Robyn Beckett (center) with six new members of Hoo-Hoo, concatted at the 2016 convention.

Grand Snark Robyn Beckett (center) with six new Hoo-Hoo members, who were concatted at the 2016 convention. The diversity of ages and races found in this group is not unusual anymore either.

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The International Concatenated Order of the Hoo-Hoo is one of the country’s oldest industrial fraternal organizations. Formed in 1892 at a train station in rural Arkansas almost as a lark (and possibly while under the influence of alcohol), the idea of a fraternal organization for the timber and lumber industries founded on the ideals of fellowship and goodwill quickly caught on. Soon chapters could be found all over the United States.

HooHoo-cat

The black cat with its tail curled into the number 9 is the Hoo-Hoo mascot. It flies in the face of superstition and harkens back to the ancient Egyptians, who worshiped the cat as a deity.

While it’s easy to not take the organization seriously in part because the founders adopted their nomenclature from Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Hunting of the Snark,” and they do know how to have a good time, the Hoo-Hoos of today are little different from members a century ago: they are folks who care deeply about their industry and each other. Early proof of that fraternal bond quickly emerged in the days following the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

Shortly after the earthquake hit on the morning of April 18, 1906, the news flashed around the country of the catastrophe via telegraph. The earthquake had done its share of damage, but the fires that erupted in the aftermath laid waste to significant portions of the city. Lumber yards and wood products businesses were particularly vulnerable to the fires, of course. Communication in and out of the area was spotty and slow. In Nashville, where the Hoo-Hoo organization was then headquartered, in the Office of Supreme Scrivenoter (Editor) J. H. Baird, they anxiously awaited word from San Francisco. Fortunately for us, Baird sifted through and preserved a good portion of the correspondence in an article published in the May 1906 issue of the organization’s newsletter The Bulletin.

On April 24, Vicegerent Frank Trower in San Francisco telegrammed: “Disaster by earthquake and fire too awful for description has prostrated San Francisco and many interior towns. Three hundred thousand people homeless and destitute. Immediate help sorely needed. Many Hoo-Hoo lost business and homes—everything except their grit. This is the time for brothers to show true spirit of fraternity by temporary relief. Will you help us? Wire me at 1238 Filbert Street, Oakland.” Along with many other businessmen Trower had relocated to Oakland because he had lost his lumber business in the fire that followed the earthquake.

The Mission District burning. [Photographer: Chadwick, H. D. (US Gov War Department. Office of the Chief Signal Officer.) - US Archiv ARCWEB ARC Identifier: 524395 NARA National Archives and Records Administration]

The Mission District burning. [Photographer: Chadwick, H. D. (US Gov War Department. Office of the Chief Signal Officer.) – US Archiv ARCWEB ARC Identifier: 524395 NARA National Archives and Records Administration]

On April 30, a lengthy letter dated on April 25 from Trower to Baird read in part:

“Dear Brother Baird: I am confiscating a few moments’ time to write you regarding conditions here one week after the great earthquake and fire. The experiences and emotions of a lifetime have been crowded into that short week. It is very hard to realize that the beloved San Francisco of former times we shall know no more. Today she is still a splendid city—splendid in her ruins….

Now a few words as to our local Hoo-Hoo and how they have fared. I wired you on the 20th saying that many of our Hoo-Hoo had their business and homes ruined, and asked if our Order would not give them temporary assistance. So far I have not had an answer to this message. I have met several of our members in this situation and there are doubtless many more. It is difficult for us just now to find each other, but I am advertising in the local papers, giving my new address and asking all Hoo-Hoo needing temporary assistance to call on me. What we want is to help our members to help themselves. I am sure that most of them will later repay any relief given now. We do not want charity, but only a little help for the time being, until we can get on our feet. I feel this is the time for our brothers to show a true fraternal spirit. You may be sure any help extended us will be carefully handled, and if there is any balance remaining it will be returned to you for the Imminent Distress Fund or for such other use as the Supreme Nine may decide to make of it.”

Baird received another letter from Trower on May 1:

“Many of our members have suffered heavy financial losses. You can easily understand this when I tell you that about one-half of the lumber yards in San Francisco are gone, all of the hotel district, about one-half of the planing mills and practically all of the sawmill and machinery supply houses…. Brother Baird, it would warm the cockles of your heart to see how our people have accepted their fearful losses without a whimper. Our boys out here are pure grit, and the women, God bless them, are pure gold, and they are all standing by the city, working cheerfully to put it once again in its imperial position.”

Other Hoo-Hoos were writing Baird as well, and so he published those letters in this same article. Arthur White wrote to convey his experiences the day of the earthquake, which makes for a very riveting letter. But I wanted to share this little tidbit. The next time you’re having a tough day at work, you might want to remember this. Recall that the quake hit at 5:18 in the morning. That afternoon, White wrote, “Premature births began. I was told that in one lumber yard in the south end of town forty-two children were born before Friday morning. I did not see this but I have every reason to believe it.”

In the days immediately following the disaster, Trower and the others initially didn’t know that cities and people around the country were organizing relief efforts. In another letter to Baird he wrote: “I think our members here never realized before the strong bond of fraternity between us and our brethren in other parts of the country. We have had many expressions of sympathy and good cheer, and your prompt offer of financial assistance impressed upon us profoundly the fact that while ours is not a benefit order, yet we will not allow any member to be in imminent distress without coming to his aid.”

Trower formed a Hoo-Hoo relief committee to do several things, including securing employment for members. Naturally, there were nine members of the committee. In this time of crisis, being part of the organization brought some solace to Trower and the others in the Bay Area. After a bit of time had passed, maybe just a few weeks or so, he wrote Baird again, saying:

“Please send me the latest handbook and such supplements as may be out, as I have no list of our members here. Our faithful old Hoo-Hoo trunk with all the apparatus and the Sacred Black Cat is no more. They did their duty well. Peace to their ashes. Will you kindly send me the new supply of Hoo-Hoo material of all kinds as soon as convenient? I am anxious to hold another concatenation in the near future, either in the San Joaquin Valley, probably at Fresno, or in the San Francisco Bay section. Another good, old time initiation will make us feel at home again.”

I’ll give Scrivenoter Baird the last word on this. At the end of the article, he wrote:

“All of the foregoing is but a meager outline of conditions in San Francisco, but it serves to show that Hoo-Hoo is far from an order devoted merely to promoting what is known as ‘a good time’ on the part of its members. The returns from the call sent out for aid are still coming in, and the hundreds of letters received at this office are truly an inspiration, proving that the Order does truly typify the universal brotherhood of men.”

***

I recently spoke at the annual Hoo-Hoo international convention and shared the above with the members in my talk. This year’s gathering was held just north of San Francisco in Santa Rosa. While at the convention, though, I heard echoes of 1906. Ironically, a small quake had hit the region just a few weeks before. Some members couldn’t attend because they were dealing with earthquake damage or contending with wildfires that were threatening their homes. There was some concerned discussion about those not in attendance because of natural disaster, as well as conversations and commiseration about the challenges many of these business owners face in a volatile lumber market. I also saw many displays of friendship and fraternity that transcended international boundaries—the Aussies and Kiwis evidently had been coming for years, judging by the camaraderie between them and the Americans and Canadians. I witnessed the inauguration of their first woman Grand Snark of the Universe, Mary Beth Moynihan, who was clearly beloved and respected. The “universal brotherhood of men” will now be led by a woman. In short, I can attest that nearly 110 years later, the Hoo-Hoo continue to inspire and that the feelings of goodwill and fellowship are strong.

Read a first-person account of the recovery efforts launched by the U.S. Forest Service in the aftermath of the earthquake in the 2006 issue of Forest History Today in Pamela Connor’s “A First-hand Report Concerning the Fire and Earthquake Situation in San Francisco, 1906” and see photos of the city after the fires in our digital online exhibit “Redwood in the San Francisco Fire.”

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