The Orkney and Shetland Islands are usually spoken together, even though there are lots of differences. Orkney has about 70 islands and Shetland has 100 islands, more or less.. They are located where the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean meets the North Sea off the northern most tip of Scotland.
Centuries ago these islands fell under the power of seafaring people from Norway looking for land and treasures, Today one can reach adulthood on these islands without having crossed a busy street, ridden on an airplane or an elevator. There is an old joke which says that one day the wind stopped blowing and everyone fell over. The people are closer to Norway than to London.
In the nineteenth century, the northern isles suffered through severe changes and between 1871 and 1881, 4600 Shetlanders and 4200 Orcadians left for distant lands. Many of them came to Chicago, Illinois. With the discovery of oil on the North Slope the population has now stabilized.
In 1885, twenty-six men met in Chicago to form the Orkney and Shetland Society. Their mission was to provide aid to “those of our country who may require our aid and for the advancement of the social and intellectual culture of its members. The following men were elected: President - Peter B. Driver; Vice-President - John Johnson; Secretary - Robert Flaws and the Treasurer was John Harper.
At first the Society voted down the admission of women, but five years later elected 120 ladies to “honorary” membership. They later changed their constitution and women were admitted to full membership.
In 1891, the Orkney and Shetland Society and the John O’Groats Caithness Society held the first "Union Scotch Picnic" at Des Plaines, IL. It rained, of course, and the attendance was greatly reduced. The O. and S. Society grew to be a strong organization with over 500 members. More about the O. and S. tomorrow.