“Today’s social aid and pleasure clubs, with their Sunday anniversary parades, jazz funerals, charitable giving, and benevolence stem from the practices of mutual aid societies that preceded them.”
Even in a nation inclined to “constantly form associations,” as de Tocqueville observed in 1831, residents of New Orleans excelled in organizing lodges, religious groups, literary societies, charitable organizations, sporting clubs, social clubs, and, most of all, benevolent associations, the most popular—and practical—organizations to which New Orleans’ polyglot population flocked. By 1880, these organizations (also referred to as mutual aid societies) had become “an integral part of life in the city for both blacks and whites,” acting as hybrid insurance/ social clubs for their members, providing doctor’s care, sickness and disability pensions, death benefits to survivors, and funeral and burial arrangements for members and their dependents. By the mid-twentieth century, however, they had begun to change their focus, becoming less about insurance and more about socializing. Despite these differences, we can still see the influence of the original benevolent associations in today’s social aid and pleasure clubs, which continue traditions and practices that New Orleanians have enjoyed for more than a century.