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In turn-of-the-last-century American newspapers, I keep finding notices of numbered "Purity Chapters" holding meetings, like this...

The annual meeting for the election of officers of Purity Chapter No. 102, O. E. S., will occur this evening. It is expected that there will be work, and business of importance will be considered.

...from a 1905 edition of the Bethel News, from Bethel, ME.

Clearly they were a civic group (all else I can find are references to people being officers of one chapter or another) but a civic group of whom? What was their purpose?

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It appears that was just the chapter name of the Bethel, Maine chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star (as pointed out by Steve Bird in the question comments). This appeared to have been originally intended to give female relatives of Masons some way to belong to the organization.

"Purity" is just a codename for that chapter (or possibly for that branch of chapters), probably intended to be easier to remember than a number when one is dealing with multiple chapters.

For example, the first chapter appears to have been named "Alpha Chapter no. 1". 1 being its chapter number, and "Alpha" its chapter name.

The WP page on the OES states one chapter being established was known as the "Queen Esther Chapter No. 1". That chapter was quite possibly the first predominantly African-American chapter, as it appears to have been associated with the predominantly African-American branch of the Masons. So it looks like the numbers themselves may only have been unique within the Masonic branch that the OES chapter was affiliated with.

This appears to be a very female-centered sub-organization of the Masons (although men were allowed membership as well). Their public iconography is a 5-pointed star, each point of which is colored differently to represent a different Biblical woman and a virtue they associated with her.

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    Clarification on exactly when/if/how the chapter names were reused in the organization would be welcome, if someone can dig that up.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 1 at 20:34
  • Looks like you got it. I might request a sentence or two about what their civic purpose actually was--what the "work" involved.
    – SpaceToast
    Jun 4 at 14:52
  • @SpaceToast - There's not a lot of easily attainable info about that really. I don't know if that's because there really wasn't much of a guiding principle past allowing women to be associated with the Masons like their men were, or if its because like the Masons they were a semi-secret organization (and thus I just need to do a lot more research to find it), or some combination.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 4 at 19:59
  • Masonic lodges are numbered separately within each Grand Lodge jurisdiction (each individual State and Province in North America); but it is not unusual for Lodge names to be reused within a jurisdiction: for example the name "Acacia Lodge" has been reused within the Grand Lodge of Canada in the Province of Ontario, by lodges numbered #61 (merged and renamed a few years ago) in Hamilton, #430 in Toronto, and #561 in Ottawa. Until 3 years ago, all 3 Acacias were active simultaneously. I don't know if the practice is identical for O.E.S. Grand Chapters in each State and Province. Aug 5 at 4:35
  • If you search by each Grand Lodge and Chapter, you will find that Acacia is a very popular Lodge name, and exists in nearly every jurisdiction. Common Lodge names are chosen as masonic references (e.g. Acacia Lodge), geographic location, honourary (e.g. Hugh Murray Lodge in Hamilton), and practice (e.g. The Lodge of Strict Observance in Hamilton Ontario). Numbering is mostly chronological, though some exceptions exist dating from the merger, and consolidated numbering, of the Ancient and Modern branches in the early 19th century. Gaps are the consequence of Lodges either going dark or merging. Aug 5 at 4:44

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