Unfortunately I missed the
opportunity to finish this article in time to be published in the past
Family Tree. With my wife's visit over the Christmas holidays and then an
unexpected bout with cancer I didn't really dedicate the time to many of
the things I had begun. As I attempt to meet this deadline it again comes
at the very last minute with Beth pacing back and forth in the US trying
to keep space open for me.
In my last article I told
you there are many things changing in the Council of Scottish Clans and
Associations (COSCA) from which you will reap the benefits both at the
games, through the Internet, and we hope ways to improve our societies and
associations. It is for the latter that I want to focus my attention here.
Many have insisted that
I've taken the reigns of COSCA at a critical point in the existence of
Scottish Clans and Associations. Charles LaSalle, from Flushing, MI, best
expressed this view when he cited that organizations today suffer from a
combination of problems. I agree with his view that many of our groups
face serious problems with declining membership, advancing average age in
their membership, difficulty in attracting members under the age of fifty,
leadership that hasn't changed for a number of years, difficulty in
finding individuals who will accept positions as officers, and difficulty
motivating their membership to become active in organizational affairs and
These problems are not new
but many of you to whom I've talked with in the past have had difficulty
putting this into something tangible to help your group. Charles, on the
other hand, has documented in a paper titled, "Is the Past Our Future Of
Do We Have One At All?" in which he expresses the pending seriousness our
Reading through this
article two exceptions to what it focus on came to mind but I know there
are more of you out there. Not everyone can have as many members as Clan
Donald so that you have to invoke specific criteria before accepting new
members. Clan Henderson is the only group I am aware of that has the
lowest membership fee and maintains a rapidly growing, family oriented
focus. Most of the other organizations are somewhere in between and as
such I feel reading Charles LaSalle's article may help you and your
organization to effect the change you are trying to make.
In addition to the societal
factors that contribute to the problems our organizations face today the
ability and willingness of organizational management to recognize and deal
with the impact of these trends is a deep source of concern.
Without serious examination
of challenges facing us today your organization risks any chance of having
a long-range future. Without commitment to effective plans of action, that
risk increases. After discussions with officers and members of a number of
Scottish groups over the years, Charles LaSalle found that too few are
examining the impact that societal change is having on their operations.
Even fewer seem to engage in long range planning within the organizations
to counter the impact these changes are having.
Too often observers of the
celebration of Scottish heritage may feel that the appreciation of the
history, culture and traditions of our forebears is in a healthy state.
They point to the attendance at highland games and the demand level for
pipers to perform at special occasions such as weddings and funerals
However, Charles seriously questions whether these indicators adequately
measure the dedication American Scots have to their heritage.
Games attendance and the
hiring of pipers for ceremonial purposes has little if any relation to the
success and longevity of clan organizations or Scottish groups. These
forms of celebration may well continue long after any formal Scottish
organization has left the scene.
Charles expresses a fear
that in the next few years, formal clan organizations and societies will
cease to play as significant a role in celebrating our Scottish heritage
as we are doing today. Charles' paper deserves your attention and I have
asked and received his permission to reprint it here.
If you have no long-range
concerns for the viability of celebrating our heritage through effective
and dynamic Scottish organizations, you may put aside this article. If you
have no incentive to become part of the solution, then go no further.
However, if you share some concern about the future of your organization,
it is my hope you will add some of the ideas contained herein to your
mental agenda. I hope that you will be able to get others in your
organizations to seriously consider what might be done.
Elements of this article
pose significant challenges to the future of many organizations, Scot and
non-Scot, today. Unless effective ways are found to adapt to them, the
future of your organization may be in the past.
I recently received an
announcement from The Council of Scottish Clans and Associations (COSCA)
to the effect that they have added the names of three clans who are
establishing organizations to celebrate their heritage. COSCA currently
has 184 organizations on its roster.
My first reaction to the
announcement was to question why anyone would go to the trouble of
establishing a new clan organization in today's climate. Though I am sure
the individuals who have embarked on this venture are well intended and
have a desire to gain recognition of the family heritage, I doubt they
have interviewed officers of existing clan organizations or Scottish
societies to learn something of the realities of operating such a venture.
I feel sure they have not
carefully examined what may be referred to as "The Scottish Marketplace"
nor the potential appeal such an organization might have for their
It is highly unlikely they
have considered what precisely they will offer to prospective members as
reasons for them to join such an organization. What will they provide to
members in return for their dues? If they have investigated what is
happening in many existing organizations today, they might have second
In conversations with
officers of a number of clan organizations and societies, the same
problems are mentioned again and again. It appears that, nationwide,
membership in many of these organizations is declining. The average age of
members is well over fifty years. Few have been successful in attracting
younger members. Attempts to get members to pay dues in a timely fashion
are like pulling teeth. The vast majority of members are unwilling to
accept any responsibility for running the organization or accept a role as
officers. Though most members like to read the newsletter, if the
organization has a good newsletter, few will contribute anything to it.
I also feel sure none of
these new organizations have considered, specifically, the purpose for
having such an undertaking. What do they want to accomplish? Whom do they
want to reach as potential members? Do they have any idea of the
competition they face for the time, attention and money of potential
members? Are any of the well-intentioned founders experienced in operating
a nonprofit, social organization?
Though I applaud the
intentions of these obviously motivated individuals, I seriously question
the future of such organizations, as we know them. Thus, in the title of
this piece I ask, "Is the Past Our Future, Or Do We Have One at All?
To understand something
about today's organizations, it might be useful to review some history of
Scottish organizations in the United States and factors that are affecting
all heritage organizations today.
The Early Days
The first recorded Scottish
society in America was established in Boston in 1650. Immigration from
Scotland was only a trickle in early Colonial days but future waves of
settlers constituted almost twenty percent of America's population by the
Revolutionary War. The first St. Andrew's Society was established in
Charleston in 1729, with others in Philadelphia (1749), Savannah (1750),
Annapolis (1755) and New York (1756).
Membership in these
organizations consisted primarily of professional persons, doctors,
lawyers, businessmen and investors - individuals who were considered as
being in the upper and upper middle class. Most were Lowlanders. All were
male. The purposes of these organizations were to provide support and
financial aid to newly arrived Scottish immigrants, to share their
cultural heritage with their countrymen and to gain whatever support they
could for their own endeavors through contacts made in the organization.
The early members either had been immigrants themselves or were the first
generation to be born on American soil.
Wave after wave of Scots
fled their homeland during the period between 1720 and the outbreak of the
Revolutionary War when the British curtailed emigration. They came to
escape the torturous life they had been forced to live, or to grasp the
opportunity for land and a freedom from the burdens of high rents,
overbearing landlords and payments of tithes to churches to which they did
not belong. After the war, emigration to North America resumed, primarily
Two groups made up these
migrations. Huge numbers of Scots/Irish from Ulster moved into the eastern
colonies, particularly to Pennsylvania where they settled in the
Pittsburgh area and in the southeast around Philadelphia. As the
population increased, the Scots/Irish tended to move south along the
eastern seaboard to the Carolinas, Virginia and Georgia, and then into
Tennessee and Kentucky. The Scots/Irish preferred pioneer life in the
wilderness to city life. Life on the frontier, away from cities and towns
was not conducive to the establishment of organized Scottish societies.
Most of the Ulster Scots had an intense dislike for the English and sided
with the Patriot cause during the Revolutionary War.
Highlanders tended to
migrate in family groups, or in groups from the same village or parish in
Scotland. Often groups of highlanders settled on land that had been
granted to some wealthy individual favored by the King. Since the majority
tended to live in settlements of their own, they had little need to form
societies or clubs. The relatively small number who lived in larger
communities and were agents or officials in English businesses were
usually considered among the upper or upper-middle classes and thus would
join the same existing groups as the Lowlanders. Scots who spoke English,
were Protestants and had a decent livelihood seldom were subject to the
discrimination that faced the poor, Catholic, Gaelic-speaking, Irish
immigrants. These Scots were quickly absorbed into the general population.
The further they were removed from the immediate exposure to their
heritage, the less impact that heritage had on their everyday lives.
As the American population
grew and expanded westward, and large communities were established, more
organizations were established. Such groups were oriented to both sharing
of heritage and to charitable activities. The chances to enjoy the music,
traditions and company of others of their heritage and to celebrate
special occasions were the main features. Membership consisted mostly of
those in the community who were in the higher economic levels of the
With the rapid expansion of
industry in the U.S., technically trained Scots from manufacturing and
ship building industries in the Scottish Lowlands found jobs in American
companies. Lowlanders comprised the majority of these immigrants. Many
eventually joined existing Scottish organizations and societies in
industrialized cities and towns. Here again, membership most appealed to
those most recently arrived from Scotland, and to their immediate
Highland clan organizations
did not become popular until much later. At the end of World War II, the
British Labour Party took over control of the government. Among the laws
that were passed were huge increases in inheritance taxes. Scottish clan
chiefs, who still controlled large portions of traditional clan lands and
had planned to follow tradition by passing along these lands and buildings
to their offspring, found that "Death Duties" would consume around 90% of
the value of such legacies. To save the clan lands, many of them
established "land trusts" to which the properties were given. As a way to
support the financing of these trusts, independent societies were
established in countries around the world to which clansmen had emigrated
over the years, such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South
Local organizers of such
clan societies tended to be those interested in clan heritage and
sufficiently affluent to organize such endeavors. They tended to view
themselves as selected agents of the clan chief and the organizations took
on the aura of an oligarchy.
Two common threads seem to
have appeared in all Scottish organizations of the time. One was that
membership consisted primarily of those with an immediate experience of
their Scottishness. The second was that membership consisted of only a
small percentage of the local Scottish population and they, often, were
members of the more economically successful portions of that population.
Over time, three social
factors were to impact the motivation of those of Scottish heritage to
join Scottish organizations:
1. They rapidly became
absorbed into the general population. They moved from being Scots in
America to American Scots and thence to Americans of Scottish heritage. 2.
The further they became removed from their immigrant ancestry the less
they depended on fellowship with their own kind. 3. Federal and state
legislation and local programs began to provide alternative sources for
economic assistance that once were available only from heritage groups.
Social Security, welfare, wage and hour laws were established. Individuals
benefited from pension plans, insurance programs and public health
efforts. Still, the desire to relate to cultural aspects of heritage
organizations existed, particularly among the older generations.
Social, cultural and ethnic
organizations today must be aware that significant changes have taken
place over the years in the public's desire to join such organizations.
Some of these changes are identified on the following pages.
SOCIAL ORGANIZATIONS IN
THE U.S. 1850 - 1950
When one looks back to the
period between 1850 and 1950, one finds high levels of membership in a
variety of local civic, social, ethnic and fraternal organizations. This
was a period of substantial immigration. Immigrants from all over Europe
poured into the United States. People of various ethnic backgrounds formed
or joined organizations of their own for the same reasons as did the Scots
. . . for support, camaraderie and enjoyment of being among "their own."
In most towns and cities
the country, one cold find dozens of social, civic and fraternal
organizations as well as ethnic ones. In reading local histories and
obituaries, one can find that citizens often belonged to two, three or
more organizations. Social life often revolved around these activities.
Status in the community was typically measured by which and to how many
organizations individuals belonged. "Connections" made in these
organizations often contributed to business as well as social success.. It
was expected that successful people had an obligation to donate their
services, time and money to the community.
During this period, we were
a nation of joiners. After World War II, social, economic and
technological change, and the population explosion began to impact nature
of joining dramatically. Research data complied since 1960 by social
scientists, political scientists and by publications such as the U.S.
Census and the Encyclopedia of Associations show a distinct downturn in
the interest Americans have in joining or being active in social or civic
organizations of any kind. We moved from being joiners to being watchers.
After World War II, the
population exploded. The levels of affluence increased. Society became
much more mobile and transient. The age of technology and seemed to shift
people's attention to the acquisition of "things." Those born after 1946
(the baby-boomers) developed into a "Me" oriented society rather than the
"We" society of their forebears. Interest in civic, fraternal, religious,
ethnic, social and political organizations peaked between 1955-1960.
After 1960, enrollment and
active membership in virtually all types of organizations began a
significant decline which continues today. The recent shift in employment
from manufacturing based industries to serve and information processing
industries has reduced union membership dramatically. Even in businesses
with substantial numbers of union members, active participation by the
membership has dropped off.
activities such as bowling leagues, or sports activities, which required
regular attendance at team events, have diminished. While people still
engage in recreational sports, they do so on a spur of the moment
"pick-up" basis rather than as members of a constituted team. National
statistics show a decrease in interest in keeping up to date on national
and local civic events especially among the "baby boomers."
decreased from 62.8% in 1960 to 48.9% in 1996, a drop of 22% in 36
dropped by almost 50% in the same period.
TV news viewing declined
by 11% between 1960 and 1996.
The number of people who
had ever served as officers or on committee assignments in any social
organization fell by 42% between 1960 and 1996.
While the number of
non-profit organizations doubled in this period, the total number of
their membership dropped by 90%.
In 1960, almost 50% of
all Americans belonged to some kind of organization. By 1995 this number
dropped to approximately 20%.
The percentage of
leisure-time dollars spent on involvement in organizational activities
dropped by 50% between 1958 and 1997.
While persons who claimed
membership in a particular church dropped by 13% between 1950 and 1990,
those who claimed regular attendance at services dropped by 34%.
Those who served in
church related groups diminished from 25% to 12.5% between 1950 and
1990, a drop of 50%.
While the numbers of
those in the professions of medicine, law, architecture, etc. have
increased dramatically since 1960, their respective professional
associations have shown a marked decrease in membership.
By the 1980s even old-line
national organizations such as the Masonic Order and the Knights of
Columbus began experiencing membership decline. Some long established
fraternal organizations disappeared altogether. Even more apparent has
been the declining willingness of remaining members to accept
responsibilities or to hold officer positions.
Conversely, memberships in
some groups, such as environmental groups and self-help groups have
increased dramatically. Environmentally groups are little more than
mailing lists requiring no direct involvement other than some periodic
Self-help groups focus on
making the individual feel better, look better, or feel more socially
acceptable. They are "Me" oriented rather than focused on community,
social, cultural, or political objectives. The vast majority does not
require personal interaction, attendance at meetings, or expenditure of
much leisure time.
When people do join a club,
it is often a professional society or business-related group that might
help advance their personal careers. Some charitable organizations now are
faceless groups run by a small group of professional administrators
without the need for their "members" to ever come in direct contact with
the recipients of the largesse. Involvement is a matter of writing a
Since the interest in
personal roots has shifted from identifying with ethnicity through
heritage organizations to the more specific investigations of family
through genealogy, we must acknowledge its impact . . . People can engage
in this interest at their own convenience, and without belonging to an
organization. They are not called upon to contribute their time or pay
If they take satisfaction
from finding a Scottish connection, they might occasionally attend some
Scottish entertainment, such as a highland game. Their only investment in
this case is to pay for parking and admission. No commitment to their
heritage is required.
Membership in most Scottish
organizations suffers effects similar to those in all other organizations.
People are less likely to join them, and if they do, they are less likely
to take active roles. They look to someone else to take operational
responsibility, do the work, produce entertaining activities, write the
newsletter, and man the organization's tent at Highland Games. All will
point to the very good reasons they have for not participating. As valid
as these reasons may be, the impact on the organization is no less
detrimental. As the average age increases, the "old guard" who could be
counted upon to contribute time and effort becomes more limited for
reasons of health and mobility.
Interest in heritage
In the early days of
large-scale immigration, there were both emotional and practical reasons
for close identification with one's heritage and ethnicity. From days
immemorial, great importance was place on family lineage. Particularly
among Celtic peoples, one's current status and sense of whom you were was
closely identified with ancestral links within any given population.
When immigrants came to a
new country, they found greater economic and emotional security through
association with those who spoke the same language, shared the same
culture and ties to the homeland. As they competed with those of other
cultures for survival, they found advantage in the unity with their "own
depended less on this identification as they established themselves in the
new world. In families, which actively fostered the traditions and culture
of the old country, the celebration of heritage was passed along to the
young. The generation that had personally immigrated generally clung more
closely to the past. Second and third generations typically struggled to
be identified as citizens of the new country. Those groups who found less
discrimination based on national origins, religion and culture melded into
the general population more quickly.
Those who encountered
resentment and rejection often clustered into their own sub-communities
within larger cities and established enclaves with such nicknames as
Little Italy, Germantown, Corktown, Poletown, Chinatown etc. Here, various
nationalities established their own churches, newspapers and ethnic
business. Marriages to others of their "own kind" were encouraged.
Celebrations of their own holidays were common.
In recent decades, the
forces that produced such isolated existences have been minimized.
Immigrants from countries other than European, such as Asians, Arabs,
Latin Americans and others, have inherited this legacy.
Scottish organizations must
realize another very real factor about heritage. The number of individuals
with Scottish heritage on both sides of the family is very small.
Inter-marriage has produced offspring with two, three, four or more
national heritage identities. While there are many more individuals who
have some Scottish heritage, fewer have been raised with awareness of that
heritage. Less emphasis has been placed of passing along traditional
cultural elements from the old country. Fewer have been exposed to the
traditions at the knee of parents of grandparents. Many are genetically,
sociologically and emotionally removed from what Scottish heritage they do
have. Add to these facts the reality that young people today are more
interested in where they are going than where they came from.
Infrequent attendance at
Highland Games or a musical performance is often the only identification
some have with their own Scottishness. Occasionally, movie such as "Braveheart"
or "Rob Roy" will stir interest in Scottishness, but such interest is
Interest in heritage has
shifted from ethnic identification to personal family lineage. Interest in
personal family genealogy has exploded. Alex Haley's popular book "Roots"
and the TV mini-series based upon it, had great impact on people's
interest in their own family history. However, they can engage in this
interest at their own convenience, and without having to belong to an
organization to do so.
The combination of the
lessening of interest in heritage and the growing resistance to joining
groups and organizations has important ramifications for Scottish heritage
groups. The situation is intensified by the levels of understanding most
groups have of the characteristics of the people who constitute "The
Scottish Market" today. There is resistance in many organizations to
identify and react to the changes.
In the next Family Tree
issue we'll see the rest of Chuck's article in which he poses the
question, "Do I need a Scottish Organization" and will go on to show us
the impact of change on our organizations.