The Sisters of the Mysterious Ten
The Sisters of the Mysterious Ten (SMT) was a Black women’s benevolent society whose members supported one another and dedicated themselves to racial progress. The SMT was the sister organization of the United Brothers of Friendship (UBF), which formed in Louisville in 1861. The SMT and UBF expanded from Louisville, establishing their respective temples and lodges throughout the Midwest and as far south as Texas and west as California. In the 1890s, combined membership was around 250,000, making it the second largest Black fraternal organization in the country.
Members of the SMT were usually related to men in the UBF, though other women could be admitted upon recommendation. Applicants had to be of good moral character, between the ages of 15 and 45, and able to pass a medical exam, since the temple provided assistance in cases of illness or death. Members could be called on to nurse sick sisters and were expected to attend funeral ceremonies.
The SMT and other Black women’s clubs often bridged class barriers and concerned themselves with issues important to poor and working women. The SMT worked closely with children and was responsible for running the juvenile department of the order. It was also instrumental in efforts to establish homes for widows and orphans.
Dinnie Thompson (1857-1939) was a member of the Sisters of Mysterious Ten (SMT), a Black women’s benevolent society in Louisville. As a young child, she was enslaved by the Speed family, along with her mother, Diana, and grandmother, Phyllis Thurston. From 1889 through the 1920s, she worked as a laundress or domestic in private households, eventually earning enough money to purchase her own home. In the SMT, Thompson found a social support network and opportunities to do charitable work. In the Knights of Friendship, a related branch of the organization, she participated in patriotic demonstrations and competitive drills and was given a sword engraved with her name.