FRIENDLY SOCIETY, the general name for English benefit associations, usually founded by the working classes for purposes of self-help, which have become mostly mutual insurance societies. They originated with the mediaeval guilds and for a long time maintained no benefit funds but made grants to numbers in distress. The benefits are generally for sickness and funeral expenses. Some maintain superannu ation funds, others offer endowments, insurance for shipwrecks, loss of working appliances or tools, convalescent homes, widows' and orphans' funds, homes for the aged, and relief for the unemployed. The local societies with their social features are giving way to strongly cen tralized bodies, with no social union, on a purely business basis, the dues being paid through agents or by mail. The affiliated orders, including the temperance societies, con stitute an important portion of the friendly societies; they are democratic social centres, many are of an educational character, and in . elude the pick of the English working classes and many from the lower strata of the middle class. Of the societies for women the United Sisters' Friendly Society is perhaps the most important. Considerable reforms have been
effected by legislation providing a legal status and supervision. In 1910 there were 31,469 soci eties registered under the Friendly Societies Act of 1896 (amended 1908) and of these 29,425 submitted reports giving a membership of 14, 507,000 and funds aggregating $314,330,000. The Hearts of Oak Benefit Society and the Rational Aid and Burial Association are the largest centralized societies. Among the lead ing affiliated are the Ancient Order of Foresters and the Independent Order of Foresters.
These societies have had a very beneficial effect on the English working man, but they did not reach the very poor and helpless, who have been provided for to a degree under the Na tional Insurance Act. (See OLD-AGE PENSIONS). Consult Baernreither, (English Associations of Working Men'(London 1893) ; Fuller, Law Relating to Friendly Societies' (3d ed., ib. 1910) ; Wilkinson, (The Friendly Society Move ment' (ib. 1886) ; id., Thrift' (ib. 1891) ; the Nineteenth Century, No. 45,891.