Did Secret Societies Influence Ursula’s Destiny?

So, I have a theory about how Ursula’s parents, Alfred and Clara, met. And, based on a historical tidbit I discovered today, I have another, related theory about how our Mystery Dancer came to be named Ursula. In my version of events, it all started with two secret societies: the Odd Fellows and the Native Daughters of the Golden West.

Alfred Cheshire at 23

Alfred at age 24. He would marry Clara 25 years later.

Clara at 23

Clara at age 23. She would marry Alfred 7 years later.

Through several mentions in The San Francisco Call, I have learned that Alfred was quite active in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows fraternal organization, which is similar to the Freemasons with its degrees, symbols and ritual. He belonged to the society’s Yerba Buena Lodge No. 15, instituted in 1853, and was elected its Noble Grand (the lodge’s highest office) in 1896. (Fun fact: “Yerba Buena” was the original name of San Francisco.)

Odd Fellows Temple

The Odd Fellows Temple, located on the corner of Seventh and Market Streets in San Francisco, was one of the showpieces in the city. The structure pictured here was destroyed during the 1906 earthquake, and the Odd Fellows rebuilt on the same site. (Photo: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library)

IOOF Lodge No. 15 Seal

In 1896, Ursula’s father, Alfred, was elected Noble Grand of the Odd Fellows Lodge No. 15

While the Odd Fellows was (and is) a benevolent association undertaking various charitable projects, it also provided a social network for its members. For example, a newspaper article from 1895 reported that the Buena Vista Lodge threw a festive bash (with Alfred in attendance) for members and friends, featuring music performances, recitation, singing and a humorous address, which “for half an hour kept the audience convulsed with merriment.” To top off the evening, the hall was cleared of chairs and “dancing was indulged in until midnight.”

Odd Fellows Entertains

Odd Fellows events for members and friends included music, speeches and lots of dancing.

According to voter registration records from the early 1890s, Alfred was five-foot-nine with dark hair, a dark complexion and blue eyes. Did those eyes spy Clara among the ladies and gentlemen on the dance floor at a club event like the one described? Perhaps she was one of the “friends” invited. It’s possible.

You see, Clara belonged to a similar organization: the Order of Native Daughters of the Golden West, a fraternal and patriotic organization of California-born women. While Clara was active in the group’s Manzanita Parlor No. 29 of Grass Valley, she no doubt had friends, or at least acquaintances, in the San Francisco parlors, as she was a delegate to the 1896 Grand Parlor meeting held in Napa, and served as an elected officer in 1898. The Native Daughters and Odd Fellows worked together at times, for instance in 1897 organizing San Francisco’s Carnival of the Golden Gate, the purpose of which was to attract visitors to the city. Perhaps one of Clara’s Native sisters invited her down for the event and she met Alfred then. It’s just a theory, but I like it!

One-year-old Ursula

One-year-old Ursula

Native Daughters seal

Ursula’s mother, Clara, held elective office in the Native Daughters of the Golden West

In any case, they did meet each other, and married in 1899. Clara became pregnant with Ursula in 1901. My second theory related to the secret societies is that, while thinking of names for her impending baby, Clara was inspired by the history of the Native Daughters of the Golden West, the group she devoted time and energy to in the years leading up to her marriage. I was thrilled to learn today that when the Native Daughters group was founded in September 1886, its charter members selected for its first Parlor (akin to a Lodge) the distinctive name of “Ursula” (meaning “little she-bear”—suggestive of courage and strength)!

Share