The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE; also often known as the Elks Lodge or simply The Elks) is an American fraternal order. The Elks began in 1868 as a social club for minstrel show performers, called the “Jolly Corks”. It was established as a private club to elude New York City laws governing the opening hours of public taverns. The Elks borrowed rites and practices from Freemasonry.
Until 1995 the Elks had been exclusively a men’s fraternal organization. However, due to pressure from individual states and several lawsuits, the national organization voted to extend membership to women.
The current requirements include belief in God, American citizenship, willingness to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, willingness to salute the flag of the United States of America, willingness to support the laws and Constitution of the United States of America, being of good character and being at least 21 years of age.
Today there are still about 1,900 local lodges, and about 1,000,000 members.