Jugoslovanska katoliška jednota (1898-1920)
Jugoslovanska Katoliška Jednota was founded in 1898 in Ely, Minnesota. The founders were members of two former local associations of the oldest Slovene aid organisation - Kranjska Slovenska Katoliška Jednota (The Slovene Catholic Unit of Camiola). The author concentrates on the internal structure of the organisation and its development as reflected through the general assemblies.
The social insurance system was introduced in the USA only after the end of the First World War, so before that various ethnic groups began to establish associations for brotherly aid which performed the role of today's insurance companies. Initially these organisations were of a local character and had limited membership, hence they could not hope for financial stability. In order to reduce the possibility of financial collapse they began to set up aid organisations that united members of the same nationality from all around the States. Their basis were local associations and the more numerous the membership the lesser the financial risk. The fundamental objective of Such organisations was to help its members at times of illness or accident and to provide a decent funeral in case of death. In addition, their contribution to religious, national, political and cultural union was quite significant. The first Slovene aid organisations were of a Catholic orientation. From 1904, aster the foundation of Slovenska Narodna Podporna Jednota (The Slovene National Support Unit), the Slovene immigrants with a socialist orientation also began to establish such organisations. Slovene Protestants founded their organisation in 1912 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In 1898 Slovene immigrants from Ely, Minnesota, set up an organisation called Jugoslovanska Katoliška Jednota (The Yugoslav Catholic Unit, JSKJ). During the first 15 years following its formation, the JSKJ only admitted male immigrants between the age of 18 and 45 to its membership while insurance for their wives only covered death. In 1913 women eventually gained equal membership rights. The basic purpose of the organisation was to provide financial aid when the members died. After a member of the organisation died, the relatives received the money which had accumulated through the payment of membership fees. If the funds in the Jednota's safe were not sufficient, money was drawn from a separate source called an "assessment” fund, which was made up of extra monthly contributions. The secondary purpose was to provide hospitalisation insurance and, furthermore, disability insurance which covered both physical and mental disability. The official gazette of JSKJ became the Glas naroda newspaper (The Voice of People) published in New York. This paper had a significant role in the operation of Jednota. In the first few years following its establishment, the general assembly of the organisation was held annually, from 1901 on its was a biennial event, from 1907 it was held every third year and from 1916 every fourth year. Constitutive associations organised local elections at which members chose delegates who represented their respective associations at the general assemblies. During the first years of operation, JSKJ experienced grave financial trouble owing to low membership, which nearly caused its disintegration. The financial situation improved in 1903 when it was decided to set up a reserve fund to which every member contributed 5 cents per month. Since the average age of the members tended to increase the membership rules were radically revised at the eighth main assembly in 1910. A new membership classification based on age was introduced. An important novelty was the centralised hospitalisation insurance fund which in effect meant common resources for hospitalisation fees paid out from the central office and not from local offices as was previously the case. During the First World War membership began to decrease, so Jednota formed the Youth Section. The JSKJ had a Catholic character immediately after it was established, but the number of members with socialist orientation steadily increased over the years, the socialist group eventually outnumbered the Catholics in 1920. As a result, JSKJ attempted to unite with five other Slovene Socialist aid organisations. The planned union was not realised, yet JSKJ remained socialist in character. The main officials and the delegates from local associations succeeded in creating a powerful aid organisation, which was renamed the American Brotherly Association in 1940. The organisation defied all hardships and continues to operate today.