A History of Women’s Masonry
Barbara L. Thames, 18°
Atlanta Lodge, No. 21
Eastern Order of International Co-Freemasonry
As all masculine Masons,
especially in those Grand Lodges stemming from the United Grand Lodge of
England (UGLE), know, women are not allowed to be Masons. In the
Obligations of the rituals of some Grand Lodges (GLs), each Mason swears to
“not be present at the making of a woman Mason.” Others specifically say
that a masculine Mason may not sit in Lodge with a woman Mason. Still
others do not even admit the possibility of female Masons’ existence so
don’t require that sort of statement in their Obligations.
However, no matter what each
of you has sworn over your years in Masonry, there are woman Masons around
the world AND in the United States. The masculine GLs do not recognize our
orders because, quite obviously, we admit women. However, things are slowly
beginning to change. The UGLE has stated in its newsletter that there are
two orders of female Masons in England that it believes to be regular in
their operations except that they admit women.1
It is also willing to rent lodge rooms to those women’s orders of Masonry.
In addition, there is open interaction (within the bounds of each person’s
obligations) on shared lists and chat groups on the Internet. We are all
learning more about each other as time goes on.
Women in Masculine Masonry
What some of you may not
know is that there have been a few women initiated (and passed and raised)
into masculine Lodges. Rumors abound about a large number of initiations
held to bind the women to secrecy when they have observed or learned of
Masonic rituals, but only two are well documented.
Hon. Elizabeth St.
Leger Aldworth, County Cork, 1710
The most prominent woman
Mason to be initiated into masculine Masonry was the Honorable Elizabeth St.
Leger. The Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon has, with permission,
reproduced the best account of her story as presented to Quatuor Coronati
Lodge No. 2076, London, in 1895 by Bro. Edward Conder. Most of the
following information comes from that source.
Her father, Viscount
Doneraile, was a zealous Mason and often held occasional Lodges in his
home. Conder believes that this Lodge meeting at Doneraile House was a
private Lodge not on the rolls of the Grand Lodge of Ireland. This Lodge
met to initiate a gentleman named Coppinger. Miss St. Leger was in a room
adjoining the Lodge room where some construction was in progress. On
awakening from a nap and hearing voices in the adjoining room, curiosity
prompted her to remove a brick from the intervening wall where it was
loosely placed and observe the initiation. When at length she attempted to
leave the adjoining room, the Tyler heard her and held her “captive” while
the Lodge debated the situation. Their decision was to obligate Miss St.
Leger and admit her to the Lodge.
There is no firm
determination of what Lodge2
Bro\ St. Leger was entered into or her date of initiation. Lodge numbers
44, 95, and 150 have been proposed. Lodge No. 44, however, was not formed
until 1735 or 1736 making it too late for Bro\ St. Leger’s initiation as “a
young girl” as the varied accounts claim. Her tombstone, however, does show
Lodge No. 44. Likewise, Lodge No. 95 was not formed until 1738, also too
late. And lastly, Lodge No. 150 was warranted in 1746 and was located in
Dublin not in Munster. Conder’s theory that it was a private lodge is most
likely. Whether it continued to operate after the Viscount’s death is
Legend says Bro\ St. Leger
eventually rose to be Master of her Lodge but there is no evidence to
substantiate that claim.
A picture of her in regalia
was published in Robert Freke Gould’s “Concise History of Freemasonry.” The
original is a portrait in the possession of her descendents (Lady Castletown,
Upper Ossory). Many current Internet sites have replicas of the picture of
Bro\ St. Leger (later Elizabeth Aldworth).
Bro\ St. Leger’s apron was
in the possession of her descendents at the time of Bro\ Conder’s
presentation to Quatuor Coronati in 1895.
The evidence in the case
St. Leger points to the truth of this legend of a woman freemason.
Hadik Barkoczy, 1875
Countess Barkoczy was the
last of her family and was given the place of a surviving son by the
Hungarian courts. Her inheritance included her father’s Masonic library
which she read and studied. In 1875 Lodge Egyenloseg, holding warrant from
the Grand Orient of Hungary, admitted the Countess to the order. As a
result, the Grand Orient disciplined several members of the Lodge. The
Deputy Master was expelled from Masonry and other officers of the lodge were
suspended for three, six or twelve months (Builder, 1921). The Countess was
required to return her certificate of invalid initiation. This is the
best-documented instance of a woman being admitted to masculine Masonry.
Early Feminine Masonry
The earliest form of women’s
Masonic Lodges in France used the Rite of Adoption, a rite somewhat similar
to that of the Order of the Eastern Star in the United States. The first of
these Lodges was formed in 1744. They were open to the female relatives of
masculine Masons and were sponsored by masculine Lodges (WGLB, 2004). In
addition, the Master was a masculine Mason. These Lodges were formed under
the auspices of the Grand Orient de France. During the French Revolution
these Lodges went dormant; however, at the end of the 19th
century, there were 150 lodges having 5000 members (Segall, 1994).
Formation of Mixed Masonry
On January 14, 1882, Les
Libre-Penseurs Lodge in France (La Grande Loge Symbolique de France)
initiated Mlle. Marie Desraimes into Freemasonry (Outline, 1993). There had
been discussion of initiating women into this new grand lodge for several
years, but no Master had proceeded with the plans. When R\W\Bro\ Georges
Martin became Master of this Lodge, he proceeded immediately with the
initiation of Mlle. Desraimes. The GL promptly suspended the Lodge, which
split over the initiation. Bro\ Desraimes withdrew from the Lodge rather
than cause the expulsion of her Brethren.
In May 1891 Lodge Le
Jerusalem Ecossiase of La Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise (with R\W\Bro\
Martin in the East) discussed the creation of independent mixed lodges.
When no action was taken, Brn\ Martin and Desraimes determined to create an
independent body. On 1 June 1892, Bro\Desraimes initiated 16 women into
Masonry as Entered Apprentices. On 24 March 1893 these women were passed to
Fellowcraft and R\W\Bro\ Georges Martin was affiliated with the Lodge making
it truly mixed. On 4 April that same year, the International Order of
Co-Freemasonry, Le Droit Humain, was chartered. A lasting form of Mixed
Masonry had arrived in France and would spread around the world from there.
Continental Feminine Masonry
In 1901 Adoptive Lodges were
reactivated in France under the auspices of the Grande Loge de France (Segall,
1994). Soon these lodges operated using the Adoptive Masonry rituals but
eliminating the male Masters in the chair of King Solomon.
In 1945 the Union Maçonnique
Feminine de France was formed with the aid of the Grande Loge de France to
unite all the women’s lodges. This Grand Lodge was independent and its
membership was and is exclusively female. In 1952 the name was changed to
the Feminine Grand Lodge of France (GLFF).
In 1959 most of the GLFF
lodges abandoned the Adoptive Lodge ritual and began using the Ancient and
Accepted Scottish Rite. The French Rite and French Traditional Rite were
introduced in 1973. However, in 1994 there was one remaining Lodge in the
Feminine Grand Lodge of France, Cosmos, No. 76, which still used the Rite of
Adoption (Segall, 1994).
In 1981 the Women’s Grand
Lodge of Belgium was formed. This GL plays a role in the orders for women
in the United States today (see below).
English Mixed and Feminine Masonry
On 26 September 1902 Annie
Besant, who had been initiated, passed and raised into the International
Order of Co-Freemasonry, Le Droit Humain, in France, spearheaded formation
of Lodge Human Duty, No. 6 of LDH in London (Outline, 1993). She and others
believed that English lodges should follow the UGLE requirement of belief in
a Supreme Being even though the lodges would not be recognized by the UGLE
as regular. On that basis she negotiated the “Annie Besant Concord” with
the Supreme Council of LDH allowing English-speaking lodges to add that
admission requirement for all candidates. That requirement was subsequently
passed along to all English-speaking lodges of LDH around the world (Grand
In 1904 the English-language
Dharma Ritual was developed in India and was passed to other
English-speaking lodges of LDH. A Spanish version of the Dharma Ritual was
developed as well and passed to western hemisphere Spanish-speaking Lodges
of LDH (Grand Lodge, 2004).
In 1908 the first English
all-female Masonic order was formed: the Honourable Fraternity of Antient
Masonry, which became the Order of Women Freemasons in 1958. This
foundation was followed by the creation of the Honourable Fraternity of
Ancient Freemasons in 1914. These two orders have over 60,000 members in
Great Britain. Although they are not recognized as “regular” Freemasonry,
the UGLE does acknowledge their existence and even rents lodge rooms to
Two additional mixed
Masonic orders were formed in England: Order of Ancient, Free and Accepted
Masons for Men and Women (1925) and the Grand Lodge of Freemasonry for Men
and Women, 18 February 2001.
Mixed and Feminine Orders in the United
French Officers in the
Continental Army formed one Lodge of Adoption in the United States in 1778.
Vinnie Ream Hozie, initiated into that Lodge, has been called the first
woman initiated on American soil (WGLB, 2004).
Scarce records indicate
the possibility that there was one feminine Lodge in the United States in
the 1790’s in Boston. This Lodge was referenced in correspondence from
Hannah Mather Crocker who was supposedly the Mistress of the Lodge, St.
Ann’s (WGLB, 2004).
The first Co-Masonic
Lodge was founded in Charleroi, PA, 25 October 1903 as Alpha, No. 301 of LDH.
That lodge was French-speaking. Other non-Anglo lodges were formed over the
next few years (Outline, 1993).
In 1908, Annie Besant
formed the first English-speaking Lodge for LDH in the United States
bringing the Dharma Ritual with her.
Other early Lodges in the
United States were opened under the auspices of the Grand Lodge Symbolic of
Memphis-Misraim and the George Washington Union (WGLB, 2004).
Current Orders in the
Today there are a number
of Masonic Orders admitting women in the United States. One is completely
female: the Women’s Grand Lodge of Belgium with 4 lodges (Brodsky, 2005).
One order, the Ancient
and Primitive Rite of Memphis-Misraim, allows each Lodge to choose if it
will be all male, all female, or mixed. This order has 1 all-female lodge
in the United States, 1 all-male lodge and 4 mixed lodges (Wintermute,
The Order of
International Co-Freemasonry, Le Droit Humain, maintains a presence with
approximately 13 lodges in its American Federation (Rodemaker, 2005). In
addition, the American Federation of Human Rights has 12 mixed lodges (Geroyan,
2005) and the Eastern Order of International Co-Freemasonry’s North American
Federation has 4 lodges.
Other Orders of Masonry have small presences in
the United States (Ceccanti, 2005):
Order of Ancient Freemasonry for
Men and Women – an English order with one lodge in the US.
George Washington Union — a mixed
obedience chartered by the Grand Orient de France in 1976.
Serenisima Gran Logia de Lengua
Espanola de New York, a masculine order which chartered at least one
feminine lodge in New York and mixed lodges in Miami (which are now related
to one of the English mixed orders – see the first bullet). Formed in 1931.
Gran Loggia d’Italia has two mixed
lodges working in Italian in the United States.
La Grande Loge Haitienne des
Orients d’Ourte-mèr has one lodge in the northeast.