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Mutual aid organization formed voluntarily by individuals to protect members against debts incurred through illness, death, or old age. Friendly societies arose in 17th- and 18th-century Europe and England and became most numerous in the 19th century. They trace their roots to the burial societies of Greek and Roman artisans and the guilds of medieval Europe. In attempting to define the magnitude of the risk against which they guarded and to determine how much members should contribute to meet that risk, friendly societies used what is now the basic principle of insurance.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on friendly society, visit Britannica.com.