I saw this big stone building with the columns north of downtown Port Huron and I had to stop and get a pic. I saw ” Ladies of the Maccabees ” on the front, and had no idea what that meant, but then again, there are lots of things I know nothing about.
Bina Mae West at age 18, at Capac High, became a teacher and assistant principal. By the time she was 20, she won a seat on the Board of County School Examiners, one of the first women in Michigan to hold elected office. One day she attended a picnic with her aunt that was sponsored by the Maccabees, a fraternal benefit society led by Port Huron native Nathan Boynton. Such societies offered social and self-improvement activities as well as life and disability insurance at a time when neither was common. Benefit societies were a marvelous innovation with a fundamental flaw: They were for men only.
On the spot, she decided she would change that. Her motivation was two of her best pupils, whose mother had died without insurance, and their father had placed the children with well-to-do families to care for the children but the daughter was a domestic servant and the son a stable boy. As West saw it, the youngsters had been torn from their family and denied a formal education because life insurance was unavailable for women.
Over the next 56 years, West devoted herself to her mission. As state organizer for the Ladies of the Maccabees, she built its membership from 319 in 1892 to 5,770 in 1894. The organization, later renamed the Women’s Benefit Association, had 75,224 members in 42 states by 1900. Four years later, it had nearly 150,000 members and 40 employees at its Port Huron headquarters.
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