Saturday, September 6, 2008

Women and Freemasonry

An original paper by R.W. Bro. Allan D. Wakeham P.D.G.M. and delivered by him at the July 2008 meeting of the Lodge and published in Volume 18 - issue No.4 September 2008

QUOTE: Wor.Bro Jensen (Washington, USA) had it right when he said, "The idea of women in Masonry and actual women freemasons is not only abhorrent to many Freemasons, but probably also a little scary". Why, because it is attacking our macho image or male bonding.

For many years now our Masonic leaders have spoken about 'CHANGE' and the need for us to change our attitudes in order to keep up with the times.

We talk about alcohol and drugs, the break down of the family unit, loss of moral values, computers etc and the rise of 'FEMINISM', so perhaps it is time we looked at the need to change our attitude towards the role of women in Freemasonry.

Gone are the days when women stayed home and raised the family and did all the housework, and of course got us ready to go to lodge.

In my Masonic lifetime I have seen women allowed to attend festive boards at installations, sit at one table down the end of the hall, sit next to their husband and even at the 'TOP TABLE'.

We have seen the rise of the Adoptive Degrees, which led to the Order of the Eastern Star, The Shrine, The Amaranth, The Rainbows, Jobs Daughters and a host of others in USA. We also have 'LADY FREEMASONS' and 'CO-MASONRY'.

It is probably safe to assume that irrespective of our individual knowledge about Freemasonry, or to what extent we allow it to become our way of life, we are here because we know it is a good organization and we enjoy it.

Unfortunately it has to be acknowledged that Freemasonry does not appeal to everybody, either male or female, and we might ask why this is so.

Often it is ignorance on the part of the individual, and we can blame ourselves for this, because without Masonic education we can not and do not talk about it.

You can not expect a woman to suddenly fall in love with Freemasonry just because she married a mason, or join the O.E.S. if she doesn't want to and this is the purpose of my address.

So many times a woman is against Freemasonry because of how her husband treats her. Never mind the fancy words spoken at Installations when we toast "Our Ladies" and talk about how they iron our shirts and get us off to Lodge etc. I wish the Brethren would stop saying those things and realize just what our Ladies put up with to let us go to Lodge.

Last year the District Grand Master of the District of Nth Qld convened a meeting of the ladies in Townsville and discussed their attitudes towards Freemasonry and the following is a précis of what eventuated.

Factors to be addressed where Freemasonry caused family unrest included:
- Time away from the family.
- Cost of travel, regalia and dues.

Masonic-functions that women attend or even where they do the catering and then attend, could be improved in the following way:
- Festive Boards start too late.
- A more welcoming environment needs to be created.
- Catering equipment in the kitchen needs to be improved.
- There are too many speeches.
- The atmosphere is too formal.
- Prospective members should be invited to the Festive Board.

Social functions for women and an in depth review of the social values of single sex organizations such as Freemasonry as well as the topic of mixed social functions and the problems facing the youth of today were discussed.

Although Freemasonry offers a good model of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth, family involvement in Masonic functions would help.

A wife's perspective highlighted the need for a comprehensive calendar of events of Masonic meetings.

The way we communicate and present ourselves-as Freemasons in an educational, social and spiritual environment is also important.

The family perspective of Freemasonry is mysterious, secretive, time consuming, frustrating, stressful, isolating and clouded with ineligibility.

Surely this can't be true, you say! Well in our own District of Carpentaria I will give you two examples of what I discovered whilst researching this topic.

One mason of 15 years standing wants his wife to join the O.E.S. and she doesn't want to, and this is starting to cause the wife to have different feelings about Freemasonry.

One male person, very committed to all the Orders in Freemasonry, has left several telephone numbers through which he can be contacted, but none are his home number! Why? Because his wife is sick of all the incoming and outgoing calls and the cost of same, and she has reacted bitterly to her husbands involvement.

So you see IT IS THE CHOICE THAT THE WOMAN MAKES, THAT MUST BE RESPECTED, NOT what we men selfishly consider is right. Let us look back a while and see what has happened with women and Freemasonry.

"So just what is this Freemasonry", she asked, "in which my husband is so deeply involved but about which he will tell me nothing? In every other respect we are a normally married couple who share so much but in this regard he shuts up like a clam and refuses to say a word.

I cannot believe that the movement is something disreputable. If that is the case then why cannot my husband share things about it with me? I am really upset about this".

Whilst it may be a fact, and one that I believe will remain a fact for the foreseeable future, that our form of Freemasonry is one into which women will not be admitted as members, it cannot any longer be contended that Freemasonry has no place whatever for some participation by women.

Glimpses of the past.

It may not be generally known that in the Ordinances of the London Masons dated 1481 we find mention of a practice that was even then apparently well-established. The operative brethren were commanded to go to Mass every year on the feast of the Quatuor Coronati (the Four Crowned Martyrs) and every other year on the Octave (that is, a week after) the feast of Holy Trinity, and following worship they were “to keep dinner or honest recreation and any to have their wives with them if they will”. The mason’s dinner cost twelve pence and his wife's eight pence, and the two sums together represented just under half a week’s wages for a Master Mason. Having the ladies present was not therefore something idly undertaken. Medieval masons counted their coins just as we do.

By the 18th century we have ample evidence that not only were ladies often present at the Annual Service in the Parish Church on the day of the Lodge Installation but they were also invited to the dinner that used to follow. In the records of the Corpus Christi Guild at York in 1408 it is noted that an Apprentice had to swear to obey 'the Master, Dame, or any other Freemason; and, in case anyone should think that such a title meant perhaps only the Master's living partner, it is worth noting that as late as 1683 the records of the Lodge of Mary's Chapel in Edinburgh provide an instance of a female occupying the position of 'Dame' or 'Mistress' in a Masonic sense. She was a widow of a mason but she exercised an equal right with other operative masons and took the same ceremonies.

In 1693 we have the York MS No. 4, belonging to the Grand Lodge of York, which relates how when an. Apprentice is admitted the “elders taking the Book! he or she! that is to be made mason shall lay their hands thereon, and the charge shall be given”. That this could have been the case seems all the more likely in that in 1696 two widows are named as members in the Court Book. Away in the south of England we read in 1714 of Mary Bannister, the daughter of a barber in the town of Barking, being apprenticed as a mason for seven years with a fee of five shillings paid to the Company.

Of course it can be claimed that even these cases were rather with operative than speculative Freemasonry, but this is no longer so with some other women. The first, I am sure, you are well aware of. She was called the Hon Mrs Elizabeth Aldworth, though she is more frequently referred to by her maiden name of Elizabeth St Leger, daughter of the 1st Viscount Doneraile. The truest version of how this lady became involved with a Lodge is that she was busy in her fathers house when the Lodge that he summoned was meeting in the next room. As the wall between the two chambers was being repaired there were some loose bricks, she was not only able to hear but actually to see some of the activities next door.

When she had heard sufficient she tried to withdraw but, on opening her room’s door, found the armed Tyler in the corridor without. He challenged her, whereupon she screamed and collapsed to the floor. The Lodge members emerged and though some actually proposed death as a solution to the dilemma others, including the lady's father, proposed that she be obligated and thus held to keep inviolate what she had heard and seen. All this, states her tombstone, took place in the County of Cork AD 1712.

Another woman to discover some of the secrets was a Mrs Beaton who lived in Norfolk in the middle of the 18th century. She is said to have been able to enter a locked room next to the Lodge meeting place and by careful hearing to have learned all the secrets of the first degree. She made her discovery known and was then offered initiation which she accepted - and paid for.

In Dorset, about 1779, a woman is said to have hidden herself in a clock case so as to overhear proceedings, whilst in Chatham a few years later another lady chose a cupboard as her silent witness-box. She was sadly discovered through her pet dog scenting her out and she also was made a member of the Craft to preserve her silence.

In the USA we have the story of Catherine Babington of Princess Furnace in Kentucky. In 1831 she began, at the age of 16, to hide in the pulpit [sic] of the Lodge room, and did so for several months until at last found out by her uncle. She was entered, passed and raised in the blue degrees and when she died in 1886 it was claimed that she was the only female 'Master Mason' in the USA.

Not all female acquaintance with Freemasonry is intentional. When waiting in a Lodge dining room in a small town in Surrey, England, whilst the Lodge opened in the temple above, a member was addressed by the wife of the hall caretaker whilst she was beginning to set the cutlery for the later meal.

"You know, Sir," she said, 'That new Master always makes a mess of opening the Lodge. I sometimes think I ought to go up there and do it for him."

Yet, if this is enough of such female 'discoveries', it is not the only kind of activity in which women were involved in ceremonies that had some kind of Masonic association and content.

There first appeared in France in the 1730's a form of Masonry called Adoptive because it included certain degrees for the ladies who had male relatives in the regular Order. At that time there were already four degrees of Apprentice, Companion, Mistress and Perfect Mistress. The principal Officers were a Grand Master and Grand Mistress conjointly and they wore blue collars with a gold trowel pendant, white aprons and gloves.

The jewel worn on the breast was a golden ladder with five rungs.
In 1740 we learn of an Order of Amazons that began its life in South America and then migrated to the northern continent where it flourished until at least 1800. There were Lodges of men and women separately.

Adoptive Masonry was given a still stronger boost when it was formally taken over by the Grand Orient of France in 1760. Although we cannot here enter into the details of this form of association it ought to be said that each Lodge of women was under the care of a male Lodge and only regular Masons of the Grand Orient could be invited to visit the female units. The latter had a female President or Mistress to rule over them.

Meanwhile, a society which was deliberately modelled on Freemasonry was founded at Versailles in 1784 and known as the 'Knights and Ladies of the Dove'. It was especially favoured by the Bourbon monarchy and, strange to say, was able to survive the Revolution and continued until the middle of the 19th century.

It can thus be seen that the Adoptive Masonry that began to flourish in the USA in the 19th century had a strong background of female interest and involvement to support it. Any idea that the share of women in bodies that were copies of, or closely allied to, Freemasonry is a 20th-century development is seen to be totally incorrect.

The Rite of the Eastern Star.

Just in case there are some present today who do not know anything about it, I think I should state that since the idea began in the mid-19th century there have been five degrees which cater in sensible fashion for a daughter, a widow, a wife, a sister and a general benevolent concern.

Flourishing also in England and Wales today is the Order of Women Freemasons which provides, for women only, the almost exact counterpart to regular male Masonry. It has been growing steadily in the years since 1950 and most of the cities and main towns in the kingdom have one, if not two, Lodges of this Order. What is interesting to know is that many of our keenest male Masons are the husbands of no less eager officers of this Fraternity and I am sure that there are some households in which the husband and wife do not need to rehearse their rituals by themselves. What is certain, from all accounts that I have been able to acquire, is that women are, if anything, more particular than we men in insisting on the correct presentation of the degree rituals.


The Amaranth is a moral institution of Master Masons and their properly qualified female relations. In its teachings the members are emphatically reminded of their duties to God, to their country and to their fellow beings.

They are urged to portray by precept and example their belief in the Golden Rule and by conforming to the virtues inherent in truth, faith, wisdom and charity, they can prove to others the goodness promulgated by the Order. The extent of its charitable work and overall benevolence is limited only by the opportunities that exist and the ability to secure adequate funding.

The Order was incorporated in 1915 in the State of New York, USA, and then in Ohio in 1956. Of course, the ritual precedes these dates, an early ritual having been written in 1860 - inspired by the 'Royal and Exalted Order of The Amaranth' which was founded in 1653 by Queen Christina of Sweden. It is understood that this Royal Order still exists in the Court of Sweden but is quite separate from the fraternal Masonic Order that is controlled by the Supreme Council in USA. During the 20th century there have been amendments to the Amaranth ritual and a system exists for further changes to be approved.

There is of course also Co-Masonry in which men and women, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, can participate together in a form of Freemasonry, again very similar to our own.

Three points for the future.

1. I am sure that the wives and relatives of present day Freemasons deserve more involvement than simply as cooks,
dancing or dining partners on Ladies nights, or organizers
and helpers at charity functions.
2. The time surely has to come when we recognize the Order of Women Freemasons. In 1933 Elsie Anderson wrote as follows; So far the United Grand Lodge of England has not officially recognized Women Freemasons. I am sure, however, that their attitude cannot be maintained forever. The Honorable Fraternity would only wish to be recognized as the Women's branch. They have no wish to actually work with men in Lodges. After all, if a woman is good enough to be the wife, mother, sister or daughter of a Mason she ought to be good enough to be his 'brother'.
3. Lastly, I am sure, the new social atmosphere, in which husbands and wives naturally share more of their time, possessions and interests than was the case even 50 years ago, will - unless women are allowed to participate and learn more fully about our Movement - result in fewer candidates, much more heartache and unnecessary antagonism. What is needed is a broader mind, some inventive programmes and the awareness of what speculative Freemasonry sought to achieve at the very outset - to enable those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance to be drawn into regular fellowship.

(Copy from Magazine, ‘The Square’)

A new Grand Lodge of Freemasonry for both men and women held its inaugural meeting in London on the 18 February 2001, following a recent breakaway from the International Order of Co-Freemasonry. The move follows a recent suspension of the Consistory Council of the British Federation of Le Droit Humain by the Supreme Council in Paris, for objecting to a number of changes in their landmarks. The new body is dedicated to following the time-honoured Annie Besant Concord, which requires every candidate to profess a belief in a Supreme Being. According to the former Grand Secretary of the British Federation, Mrs Jeanne Heaslewood, the new Grand Lodge now has four active craft lodges and soon intends to consecrate their first Rose Croix chapter. The International Order of Co-Freemasons began in Paris in the 1880's, and a lodge of the obedience was founded in London in 1902, named Human Duty No.6. The first Grand Commander for Britain was the prominent socialist campaigner, Annie Besant, and the British Federation has enjoyed a semi-autonomous existence since its foundation in 1920. Dr. Besant together with C.W. Leadbetter, both thirty-third degree Co-Masons and pioneering Theosophists, are probably most famous for their discovery of the Indian philosopher and teacher, Krishnamurti. In 1925 Dr Besant proclaimed him as the Messiah, but he soon rejected this persona and spent the rest of his life travelling the world preaching against systems of thought restricted by nationality, race and religion, ideas which echo the tenets of Freemasonry.

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