Every summer, Shriners from around the world come together for their annual business meeting, known as Imperial Session. During the week-long event, held in a different host city each year, members meet to discuss and vote on business matters of Shriners International and Shriners Hospitals for Children. The fraternity also hosts a variety of fun events including a parade and unit competitions. Other traditional events include a pageant for the incoming Imperial Potentate and the debut of the new patient success video and introduction of the National Patient Ambassadors.
The first Imperial Session was held at the Masonic Hall in New York City with only 20 Nobles in attendance. It was at this meeting that a group of men were endowed with rights and privileges to advance the “Order of the Mystic Shrine” and create subordinate Temples. A fee of $50 was instituted for charter of a new Temple with a $10 annual temple tax to the Imperial Council. Dr. Walter M. Fleming was appointed the Grand Imperial Potentate and he, along with three other members, formed the Imperial Grand Council of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine for the United States of America
The legend of the origins of the fraternity began at the 2nd Imperial Session held at the Masonic Temple in Albany, New York. It was here that the near-Eastern theme of the Shriners was established. The costumes and jewels of the Imperial and subordinate officers were prescribed, and each temple was required to adopt an Arabian or Egyptian name.
The 11th Imperial Session was held in Cleveland, Ohio, the first to be held outside of New York state. Sam Briggs of Al Koran Shriners was elected Imperial Potentate, only the second in the organization’s history.
The grandeur, festivities and tradition of Imperial Session began at this session in Indianapolis, Indiana. Three hundred nobles attended a banquet that Indianapolis News said was “the most elaborate ever laid in Indiana.” It was followed by a procession of Shriners in fezzes and evening attire to the Scottish Rite temple.
The 13th Imperial Session was held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada where Rameses Shriners had just been chartered the year before. Shriners, and for the first time, their ladies arrived in Toronto by the hundreds on trains. Rameses rented a Lake Steamer for moonlight cruises on Lake Erie.
1900 At the 26th Imperial Session in Washington, D.C., an Arabic band marched Imperial Potentate John H. Atwood to the headquarters hotel where they proceeded to play for hours in the lobby. This established the ongoing tradition of bands playing in the hotels at Imperial Session.
During the 33rd Imperial Session in Los Angeles, California a sightseeing train derailed and crashed, killing 31 and injuring 20 Nobles and their ladies, mostly from Rajah Shriners.
Due to the United States’ impending involvement in the first World War, the 43rd Imperial Session in Minneapolis, Minnesota was dedicated solely to business. Many temple units which had raised funds for their trip turned them over to various war relief societies.
During the 44th Imperial Session in Atlantic City, New Jersey, a German submarine took over a passenger steamer and ordered all aboard onto small boats. One boat made it to the coast of Atlantic City, and Shriners in full regalia waded into the ocean to help pull the boat to shore.
At the 46th Imperial Session in Portland, Oregon, Past Imperial Potentate Freeland Kendrick proposed that the Shriners build a hospital for children. A committee was chosen to determine the site and personnel for the first Shriners Hospital. After months of work, research and debate, the committee concluded that there should not be just one hospital, but a network of hospitals throughout North America. When the committee brought the proposal to the 47th Imperial Session in Des Moines, Iowa, it too was passed.
Due to World War II, the 71st Imperial Session in Chicago, Ill. was only attended by the Imperial Divan and necessary members of various committees.
President and Shriner Harry S. Truman spoke to the crowd about foreign policy at the 75th “Diamond Jubilee” Imperial Session in Chicago, Illinois.
Past Imperial Potentate Harvey Beffa gave a moving report on the necessity to add burn care to the hospital system’s specialties. The highpoint of the presentation was when Billy Roach, a young burn victim who was helped by the St. Louis hospital, ran out onto the stage and kicked a football into the audience. The resolution was passed amidst tremendous cheering.
Against the wishes of the Secret Service, both President Lyndon B. Johnson and Vice President H. Hubert Humphrey and their wives appeared together with the Shrine leadership at the 92nd Imperial Session in Washington, D.C.
At the 98th Imperial Session in Dallas, Texas, the first stand-alone clown competition was held. Prior to this, clowns were only judged by their parade performance.
Imperial Session is held in Orlando, Florida. for the first time. Shriners and their families spent an evening at Walt Disney World and the motor corps competitions were held at Sea World.
The Peace Monument, donated to the city of Toronto in 1930 by the Shriners, was rededicated at a sunrise ceremony.
The Hella Shrine Band hosted a musical reenactment of the famous “bubbles” speech at the 125th Imperial Session in Dallas, TX. This moving speech was given by Forrest Adair at the 1920 Imperial Session and it persuaded the representatives to pass legislation to create the hospital system.
Imperial Session scheduled for July 5-9 in Kansas City, Missouri, was canceled due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
In response to the cancellation of the 146th Imperial Session in Kansas City, a virtual Special Session of Shriners International and Special Meeting of Shriners Hospitals for Children was held. The event was live-streamed to temples around the world. The election of Imperial Officers and Trustees and two other proposed legislation items were done electronically.