In her obituary for Alfred “Bucket” Carter, member of the Young Men’s Olympian Benevolent Association Junior (its formal, chartered name), Katy Reckdahl makes a common mistake confusing the term “benevolent society” with “social aid and pleasure club.” These are two different types of organizations.

The Young Men’s Olympian Jr. should be recognized for what it is: a very rare and historic benevolent society. Organized in 1884 by African-Americans, it is one of the oldest surviving benevolent societies still in existence in New Orleans. (The oldest is the Firemen’s Charitable and Benevolent Association from 1834.)

Benevolent societies were common in 19th-century New Orleans and elsewhere. People of all races, ethnicities and professions joined mutual aid organizations for benefits that might include funerals, burials, sickness and aid to widows and orphans, along with social activities. (In England, they were known as “friendly societies.”) Remarkably, the Young Men’s Olympian Jr. has maintained, to the present day, the very old mutual aid function of providing a society tomb for members, specifically in Lafayette Cemetery No. 2.

Social aid and pleasure clubs, in contrast, are younger, having appeared at the beginning of the 20th century. They evolved out of the city’s enthusiastic embrace of benevolent societies, marching clubs and Mardi Gras parades. Sometimes called “social and pleasure clubs” or “aid and pleasure clubs,” they emphasized socializing and parading while providing some informal aid — at a time when private insurance and government aid was expanding. In this way, they were similar to some marching and Carnival clubs.

Ann Woodruff

co-owner Historic Restoration Construction

New Orleans