What is the I.O.U.W.?

I recently came across a document about one of my ancestors that mentions his membership in an organization called “the I.O.U.W.” IOUW is abbreviated as if any reader would understand it, but we 2021 people don’t know what they were talking about.

My family and I are at our wits end trying to find out what that is.

The relevant facts are as follows: The document was published in 1902. The ancestor was veteran of the American Civil War and a member and once commander of a local post of the Grand Army of the Republic (abbreviated as “G.A.R.” in the document). The document was written to honor this man, calling him “one of [town]'s most respected citizens”. In his civilian life, after the War, he worked “in the metal business” before partnering in a business dealing in meats. After retiring he became a state legislator (Republican). The document says that “In 1900 he was appointed a Messenger of the United Stated Senate” but a contemporary newspaper article refers to him as a “sergeant-at-arms” of that body.

Never heard of it, and if you couldn’t find it on google I’m sure I can’t either, but my first question would be whether he had some connection to the universities of Wisconsin, Washington, or Wyoming?

No. He did not have a university education (as far as we know) and spent most of his life in the northeast.

How about “International Organization of United Workers”?

The initials are right…

I’m thinking that the “O” might stand for “Order.” My dad was a member of the Elks when I was a kid, and they use the acronym “B.P.O.E.,” for “Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.”

As for the rest of the letters, I might guess that “I” stands for “International” or “Independent.”

Edit: as Ulf suggests, I considered that UW might be “Union Workers.”

Heh, my grandpa (of the famously foul mouth) always called them the “Biggest Pricks on Earth”.

We’ve tried “International Order of [Union/United] Workers” to no avail. We were able to puzzle out “GAR” as Grand Army of the Republic and also figure out what the “Royal Arcanum” (mentioned someplace else) was, but not IOUW.

A footnote from this random document I found on Google Books uses the same abbreviation.

The footnote reads,

Elder vs. Grand Lodge I.O.U.W., Minn. S.C., Jan. 9. 1900.

Possibly related to the Ancient Order of United Workmen, apparently a big fraternal society back then.


Ha! 90% of the reason my dad joined was because they had a supper club* as part of their quite large lodge in Green Bay, which was usually only open to members and their families; my grandmother apparently liked their Friday night fish fry, and prevailed upon my dad to join the Elks so she could go there.

*- a “supper club” in Wisconsin is a sit-down restaurant and bar, with a menu that’s heavy on steak, fried chicken, and fried fish, and offers cocktails.

Independant Order of United Workmen, a fraternal and insurance group. I don’t know anything about it: I assume it started as an offshoot of the Ancient Order of United Workmen, because that’s what “Independent” normally means, as in “Independent Order of Odd Fellows” etc, but it could be the other way – the Ancient Order might have been based on an Independent Order.