History of the Shriners

Shriners International is, at its most basic level, a fraternity.

It all started in Manhattan in 1870 when some members of what’s considered the world’s oldest fraternity – Masonry – were hanging out at their favorite tavern. They felt that Masonry, which traces its roots to stonemasons and craftsmen of the Middle Ages, was a tad too focused on ritual. These guys wanted a fraternity that stressed fun and fellowship.

Two of those gentlemen – Walter M Fleming, M.D., and Billy Florence, an actor – took that idea and ran with it. Florence came up with the idea for a Near Eastern-themed party after attending a party thrown by an Arabian diplomat. Fleming added the structure, drafting the fraternity’s name, initiation rites, rituals and rules. Together, Fleming and Florence designed the fraternity’s emblem, devised a salutation and determined that the red fez with the black tassel would be the group’s official headgear.

The first chapter, Mecca Shriners, met in New York City in 1872. As word got out about the new organization, membership grew rapidly. Today, Shriners International is a fraternity with nearly 200 chapters in several countries and thousands of clubs around the world. Members are known for their compassion for others, and for being active participants in their communities. Shriners help make the world a better place.

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