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From: Freemasonry - A Celebration of the Craft, by J. Hamill & R. A. Gilbert.

Developed by W.Bro. Kent Henderson
Dip. T., B. Ed., Grad. Cert. Ed., Grad. Dip. Ed., M. Ed, Diploma of Masonic Education (Sth. Aust.)
Past Junior Grand Deacon, A. F. & A. Masons of Victoria, Australia.






those outside the Craft are unsure of what Freemasonry actually is, they usually have a better clearer picture of what it does. Its charitable work is well known, and while the needs of brethren in distress have always been a priority for the Craft, Masonic charity has never been restricted to Freemasons alone. Indeed, the vital importance of charity is emphasised to the newly-made mason during the course of his initiation, and although the first Charity Committee, set up in 1724, was designed for the ‘Relief of distress’d Brethren’, Masons were giving generously to wider charities from the first days of the speculative Craft.


When General Oglethorpe (1696-1785) began his settlement of the Colony of Georgia in 1732 he received the active support of the Craft, whose members raised a collection ‘to send distressed persons to Georgia where they may be comfortably provided for’. Thus began a long and noble tradition of relief, wherever and whenever the need arose, with no distinction made between Mason and non-Mason.


The duty of Masons to ‘give in the cause of charity’ was stressed by William Preston in his Illustrations of Masonry (1772) He laid it down as axiomatic that ‘To relieve the distressed is a duty incumbent on all men, but particularly on Freemasons, who are linked together by an indissoluble chain of sincere affection. To soothe the unhappy, to sympathise with their misfortunes, to compassionate their miseries, and to restore their troubled minds, is the great aim we have in view’ Since Preston’s time, Masonic charities have been active in the relief of human suffering in almost every country in the world.


Today some hundreds of millions of dollars are distributed every year by Masonic bodies worldwide. for medical care and research; for social and cultural welfare; and for the relief of victims of both natural and man made disasters. There is, of course, considerable support for Masonic hospitals in many countries, for institutional homes for elderly Masons and their dependants and for Masonic widows and orphans. But this is not at the expense of non-Masonic charities and it is too little recognised that the relief of Masons by fellow Masons removes considerable financial burden from the community at large and releases funds to meet the needs of others.


Natural disasters strike without warning, and for over 150 years the Craft has responded swiftly to meet the immediate and subsequent needs of victims. The needs of other victims, whether of war, man made disasters, or of poverty, have also been met.


Extending its charity to other causes other than the relief of suffering, the Craft also remembers its operative roots. In recent years the United Grand Lodge of England has supported the restoration funds of every cathedral in England and Wales. On a more practical level, it has given grants to assist the stonemasons’ yards at the cathedrals of Canterbury, Gloucester and Winchester, and also at Selby Abbey.


Important though all these causes are, the most visible and significant Masonic charities are those devoted to medical and community care. Of the £18 million disbursed by Masonic charities in England in 1990, and the £525 million raised by the American Masonic philanthropy in the same year, the largest proportions were allocated to aiding the sick and the elderly through a remarkably diverse range of research and support programmes.


Even more extensive is the support given to hospitals and research programmes in the United States. The First Hospital for Crippled Children was founded by the Shriners (the Ancient and Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine) at Shreveport, Louisiana, the Prince Hall Masons have set up Camp Chicota as a summer camp for underprivileged children.


The many Masonic Bodies in the United States also support a wide range of research programmers. These include the Kansas Oncology Centre, the auditory research funded by the Royal Arch Research Assistance Program, and the work on arteriosclerosis of the Cryptic Masons Medical Research Foundation.


Charitable provision for the elderly has always been an important Masonic concern, reflected in the homes for the aged Masons in Britain, Australia, the United States, and in many other parts of the world. Mental health has also been a priority. For more than fifty years the Scottish Rite, Northern Jurisdiction, has maintained an extensive research programme into the causes of schizophrenia, while the practical problems of mental disorders have been addressed by grants approved by the Grand Lodge of England. to be used for community homes and work projects for the mentally handicapped. Significant support is given into research into drug abuse, both by the United Grand Lodge of England and by the Conference of Grand masters in America, which established the National Masonic Foundation for the Prevention of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.


The wider aspect of Masonic charity is demonstrated in the life’s work of the English industrialist William Lever (1851-1925), first Viscount Leverhulme and founder of the famous soap company, Lever Brothers Ltd. His career as a public benefactor began in 1888 with the building of the model village of Port Sunlight on the Mersey estuary. He followed this by setting up a profit sharing plan for his workers - one of the first of its kind. The Lady Lever Art Gallery was his gift to the public in memory of his wife, and the Leverhulme Trust grants very substantial sums each year to both academic research and educational projects.


In America there are many Masonic educational programmes, from the Scottish Rite Abbott Scholarships for undergraduates and the Illinois Scottish Rite Nursing Scholarships, to the national museums and libraries at Lexington, Massachusetts, Washington D.C., and elsewhere. For instance, the George Washington Masonic National Memorial is, through its collections, a valuable resource for students of American history. Among the most important of such foundations is the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum of Our National Heritage at Lexington, which contains changing exhibitions on many aspects of American and Masonic history, as well as a magnificent library, and runs a wide range of stimulating educational programmes. It is also developing one of the most extensive collections of Masonic artefacts in the world.







Philanthropy is an inseparable part of the Masonic Fraternity in every land, but it is most prevalent in America.


Whether they are local luncheon groups with a few dozen participants or national groups with memberships in the hundreds of thousands, an almost universal feature of Masonic organisations is their sense of duty in supporting charity. A study of American Masonic charities is essentially a study of the evolving needs of western society. When food and shelter were both immediate and regular concerns, Masons responded with firewood and the fruits of the harvest. When care of widows, the aged and orphans were worries, Masons erected retirement homes and orphanages. When education was needed, Masons built schools and established scholarships, and, as these requirements became improved upon, Masons turned their philanthropy to more specific needs within the community: to crippled children; cancer patients; burn victims; those whose speech, language, sight or hearing is impaired; the homeless; the mentally ill; and many others.


Why Masons are so concerned with Philanthropy can be explained by considering what Masonry is. While there is no agreement on the actual origins of Freemasonry, the nature of the Order that has grown from the first Grand Lodge of 1717 is clear: it has become a worldwide Fraternity teaching universal principles of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. In a broader sense it teaches and promotes borderless brotherhood, moral improvement, mutual support, religious toleration. Civic betterment, freedom of thought, and universal charity. The latter, as if echoing the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians ‘the greatest of these is charity’ is undeniably the most noticeable activity. Certainly, Freemasonry without Charity could never be.


Even when Masonry was a much smaller organisation than it is today, its charitable work was both public and generous - as with the ‘distressed brethren’, who in 1733 were helped to start a new life in the newly founded Colony of Georgia. Similarly, the Masons of Rhode Island put Charity to the fore in 1791 when one of the first actions of the newly founded Grand Lodge of Rhode Island was, a collection made of £11./9.4 Law Money, to be invested into Wood & distributed to the Poor of this Town the ensuing Winter.’


The growth of Masonic Philanthropy has been governed by the gradual development of the Craft. Masonry is not static, and just as society changed its structures as it evolved, so did Freemasonry. Throughout the eighteenth century, and for much of the nineteenth, its evolution in America followed the pattern set in Britain and in Europe, although the final shape of American Masonry was determined much more by the very different political and cultural conditions of a new, pioneering country.


The westward expansion of America was accompanied by the growth and maturation of its institutions. The social organisations that served the first colonists were not well suited for towns, and those appropriate for small farming villages did not meet the needs of industrial cities. The Masonic Fraternity was subject to the same social pressures for change, but it followed a unique evolutionary path. Rather than change its basic organisational unit. The local Lodge, Freemasonry spun off a constellation of collateral organisations, each meeting different needs that arose at different times.


After expanding in organisational and symbolic complexity, American Masons sought to bring women within their sphere. This aim was achieved with the foundation of the Eastern Star in 1855, the Amaranth in 1873, and the White Shrine of Jerusalem in 1894. Both men and women belong to these groups, and to many others of a similar nature - all of which are associated with the Masonic Order by fraternal and family ties. A similar tie binds Masonically sponsored youth groups to the Craft. They were founded much later than the orders for women - Order of DeMolay in 1919, Job’s Daughters in 1920, and the Order of Rainbow for Girls in 1922 - but they are no less important. The next growth in Masonry was away from the seriousness and rather solemn morality of the Lodge and towards more lively enjoyment of social pleasures. With this approach in view, Orders were founded such as the Shrine (1872), the Grotto (1889), and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon (1902). They are, in sense, peculiarly American, for such bodies have become much more deeply entrenched in America than in Britain and Europe - where philosophically speculative Orders rather than socially active ones have become the norm.


This brief outline of the gradual evolution into the complex structure that is Freemasonry today indicates the organisational adaptations Masonry has made to continue to meet the needs of its members. It serves to show also how the development of Masonic Philanthropy has been determined by positive changes within Masonry as much as by the changing needs of society - for every Masonic body has its own part to play in the charitable work of the Craft.


Individual cases of distress are often still met by a local Lodge or Chapter, but the evolution of American society and the geographic dispersal of Lodge members have made such needs less common and less easily recognised. To meet these changes, American Masons have turned to more organised forms of relief. A Masonic Home for widows and orphans was founded, in Kentucky, as early as 1886. This action was followed by the Grand Lodge of North Caroline in 1872 and since then by most other states: thirty-nine state Grand Lodges maintain homes for aged Masons and their widows and eleven still have orphanages, but the need for the latter has diminished over the years.


The existence of such homes has been used to argue that Masonic Philanthropy is directed principally towards its own members, but this charge cannot stand up. According to a 2001 report by Brent Morris over half of the money given by American Masons for charity benefits society at large: today, more than 58% of Masonic Philanthropy is directly spent on the American Public. The list seems endless, but includes clinics devoted to childhood speech, language and learning disorders; the Museum of Our National Heritage in Lexington, Massachusetts; the Peace Chapel and Auditorium at the International Peace Garden on the U.S.-Canadian border in North Dakota; a foundation paying for sight-saving eye surgery; dental care for the handicapped; and medical research in cancer, schizophrenia, arteriosclerosis, aphasia, and muscular dystrophy.


This partial list only scratches the surface, but the point is deep: Freemasons are dedicated to the relief of mankind, and their works are a living testimony to their ideals. Masonic Philanthropy is well organised and the vast sums raised for charitable purposes are carefully distributed, but nationally organised activities are only a part of the story: each local Lodge and Chapter has its own philanthropic work which is carried on without fuss and is rarely known to the public. Nor is such philanthropy limited to financial giving. For example, the Masonic Service association quietly oversees a Hospital Visitation Program with a goal that every V.A. Hospital in the United States has a Masonic volunteer working with patients. How can a financial value be placed on the more than 500,000 hours a year spent on this work.


The most visible part of Masonic Philanthropy, however, is the provision of hospitals, health care and medical research. This work involves huge budgets and it is easy to point with pride to the Shriners’ Hospitals and to the sublime simplicity that motivates the philanthropy behind them: if a patient can be helped, the services are provided - cost is never a consideration. Basic medical research, on the other hand, has a lower public profile, for it is not as photogenic as large hospitals and smiling patients, but its results are every bit as important and they illustrate perfectly the universality of Masonic giving, for they benefit all mankind.


It is a relatively simple matter to calculate the extent of Masonic Philanthropy in the areas of health, educational and institutional support of the elderly, and to set out significant contributions to no-Masonic national charities; for example, special support is given to the Muscular Dystrophy Association by the Tall Cedars of Lebanon, and to the American Diabetes Foundation. But it is far more difficult to calculate the increased community activity by individual Masons who have been inspired to greater service by the teachings of their Craft.


This inspiration is, perhaps, best seen in the Masonic contributions to the International Peace Garden straddling the border between North Dakota and Manitoba. Every year an International Music Camp is held in the Garden, with performances often presented in a unique 2,000 seat auditorium built in 1981 by the Masons of North Dakota and Manitoba and shaped like the Masonic Square and Compasses. This Masonic Memorial Auditorium was a gift from American and Canadian Masonry to the Peace Garden, just as the Peace Chapel, Built in 1970, was provided and is maintained by the General Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star as a gift to all people who seek world peace through divine guidance.


In these and many other ways, Masonic Philanthropy, which is truly international in scope, reaches every walk of human life. It is maintained and applied by Masons in every country where Freemasonry is established. For Masons everywhere it ca justly be said that Charity is their Way of Life.


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