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From: MASONIC PANORAMA, by Rev. Cryer.

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.


It is some 15 years ago now that I was rung up one evening by a rather distressed wife of a Freemason who wanted my advice. She had heard my name mentioned by another wife and she therefore determined to make this contact.


'Just what is this Freemasonrv', 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. You are a clergyman and a Freemason so 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 and 1would value your advice.’


I start with this incident not only because it touches on one important aspect of the subject on which you have invited me to talk to you today but also because I am sure that it represents. and has for long represented, a concern that women have felt about our Order. Not only. will that heartfelt appeal never leave me, I then began to be, and have since been, all too well aware that to imagine that 'Women and Freemasonry' is a taboo subject or even an apparent non-starter, is seeking to avoid reality.


Whilst it may be a fact, and one that 1 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. What I hope to have amply demonstrated, or it may be for some present 'brought again to mind', by the end of this talk, is that not only do we now need to involve women in this movement but also that t`or long enough the! have established their connection with it. This lecture therefore now divides into evidence from the past, the present situation and some possible prospects for the future.




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 Trinitv, 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. Sometimes the minutes give a strange impression as to what exactly was intended, for the Kent Lodge No 15 recorded that 'wives' were invited to dinner in 1797; the next year it was 'sisters'; and the year following it was 'partners or sweethearts'. You must draw your own conclusions about who came.


The brethren of the well-named True Love and Unity Lodge at Brixham in Devon met at the lodge room at 9 am on St John's Day in 1811, opened the lodge, did essential business, closed it and then walked to church in procession wearing regalia 'with their wives or such female or friend they may chuse to bring with them', afterwards adjourning to the lodge room for dinner. In 1818 we know that for that occasion they had at least half a gallon of rum and half a gallon of gin. Moving further west and earlier, to Penrhyn in Cornwall in 1793, we are told that though the ladies only joinedtheir menfolk after the former had dined, yet the 50 ladies were formally welcomed by the Master and brethren. Furthermore, 'the M.W. Grand Master called for a Charge and on Bro. Turner to render the Entered Apprentice's song, after which the M.W. Grand Master directed his Deputy to return thanks to the Ladies with three.'


Mind you, the brethren could sometimes be a little mean. At Redruth in Cornwall in 1815 it was decided that as the wine and fruit, provided on such an occasion for the ladies, increased the expenses of the day beyond what many in the lodge could afford, these items would be dispensed with in future, as the ladies come only to 'behold their Husbands, Sons and Brothers met together for charitable purposes in Love and Harmony' and not to eat and drink. Out of a total bill for the last occasion of £78 the ladies had cost them £2. Not very hospitable or charitable, methinks.


In some of the oldest lodges in Cheshire there was another interesting custom. On St John's Day, 1789, and in the lodge at the Coach and Horses Inn, Chester, it was announced that a Miss Edwards was appointed Lady Patroness of the Society of Masons, whilst in 1823, presumably on the former lady's decease or marriage, a Miss Mainwaring was nominated for this role by no less than the Rev Philip Egerton, a relative of the noble family that was to provide many of the Grand Masters of this Province.


In 1836 a new lodge was consecrated in Chester and this was immediately followed by a service in St John's Church, where the new floor cloth of the lodge was suspended from the pulpit. The Provincial Grand Chaplain preached from above this revealing object which was said to provoke much talk amongst the ladies, who also accompanied their men to the following banquet, albeit they sat at a separate pair of tables. In Cheshire, as in York and elsewhere, it was quite normal for the ladies to accompany their men when Masonic performances were given in local theatres and where not only did the brethren wear aprons but even took parts sometimes in the production.


Whilst these are examples of the 'social' engagement of women in their menfolk's activities, there are other cases of something that looks more involved. 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, or 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 Booke, he or shee 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 Ist Viscount Doneraile. The truest version of how this lady became involved with a lodge is that she was busy in her father's house when the lodge that he summoned was meeting in the next room. As the wall between the two chambers was being repaired and 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.


There was also the unscrupulous Mrs Bell, the landlady of the Crown Inn, Newgate, near Newcastle upon Tyne, who claimed to have discovered the secrets of Freemasonry by the following stratagem that was announced in an advertisement placed in the Weekly Chronicle:


This is to acquaint the public that on Monday, the

1st inst, being the Lodge or monthly meeting-night

of the Free and Accepted Masons of the 22nd

Regiment, Mrs Bell, the landlady of the house,

broke open the door with a poker, by which means

she got into an adjacent room, made two holes

through the wall and by that means discovered the

secrets of Masonry, and knowing herself to be the

first woman in the world that ever found out the

secret, is willing to make it known to all her sex.

A17Y lady that is desirous of learning the secrets of

Freemasonrv may do so by applying to that welllearned

woman who has lived 15 years in or about



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. Though the minutes of the Lodge do not record the incident, it is known that this latter event took place in connection with the Royal Kent Lodge of Antiquity, No 20.


It was likewise a native of Kent, England whose career in the Craft, though short, is revealed in a scarce print entitled 'The Freemasons Surprised, or the Secret Discovered: a True Tale from a Masons’. Lodge in Canterbury'. The item consists of a poem below an engraving which shows the interior of a large tavern in which a Masonic meeting is in progress. On a central table are three candlesticks, one overturned (or is it laid down to indicate a meeting in progress?) and one broken, a bowl of punch, glasses, rummers, pipes and tobacco. The ceiling has been broken through by the weight of a young woman who had been concealed in the loft. Her legs in stockings and shoes are exposed as far as her hips and suggest that she was struggling in mid-air above the astonished and confused Freemasons, some of whom are angry but others are convulsed with laughter.


Whether this was fact or fiction we cannot be certain, but there is no questioning the story of 1783 in New Brunswick where 10,000 refugees from the United States were settled. Meetings of Masons were held in private homes and James Sproule invited brethren to use his log cabin. This humble abode had onlv two rooms so when the men arrived James's wife, Mar);, picked up her knitting and went through the curtains that separated off the other room. However subdued the working was that night, Mary heard enough to let it be known that she was acquainted with their doings and was herself subsequently initiated. She is said to be Canada's only woman Mason but she never attended another meeting, though her gravestone was adorned with the square and compasses. It is worth recording, perhaps, that one of her descendants became Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New Brunswlck in 1954. 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.


In Taylorsville, North Carolina, a woman named Catherine Sweet concealed herself at meetings of Lee I,odge No 253, for more than a year. When she was finally discovered she could answer the whole of the extensive catechisms for the three degrees and in 1840 she was initiated in the lodge where five of her uncles were members. She never visited a lodge again but she is reported as having retained her interest in the Craft for the rest of her life.


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, I 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. Time and space prevent our next section from being exhaustive but I hope that what I here describe will give the correct impression of the variety, the persistence and the enthusiasm with which forms of female Masonry flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries.


There first appeared in France in the 1730s 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.


In 1745 there was again in France an Order of the Knights and Ladies of the Anchor where a nautical spirit prevailed. The Grand Orient was called 'the Roadstead', the Lodge was 'a Squadron' and the ladies made their voyage to the island of Felicitv ' under the sails’ of. the brethren. One hesitates to ask what exactly was the content of their ritual.


The mood changed for others when in 1747 the Chevalier Beauchene (which name means 'Glorious Oaktree'), a famous Masonic Master in Paris, formed the Order of Woodcutters (or Fendeurs) It was open to both sexes and the forms of ritual were in many respects a copy of those used by the Italian secret societies called the 'Carbonari' (or Charcoal burners). The Lodge here was a wood-vard which represented a forest, the Brethren were called Cousins, the candidate a 'Brick' and the whole rite was held in a garden at a place called 'New France near Paris. The Father Master took up his place on a log, was crowned with leaves, and had a green cordon with a wedge of boxwood hanging from it, an axe in his hand and a pipe in his mouth. Largely patronised by the upper bourgeoisie, its aim was to teach virtue, caring love, friendship and help for poorer folk.


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. That this was not merely a French phenomenon is shown by the following title page of a booklet published in London in 1765. It reads:



OR Masonry by Adoption

Explaining the making of a Masoness

with the form and furniture of the Lodge

the working of their Lectures &c

with their signs, Tokens clearly explained

by a Sister Mason.


The booklet was printed for V. Hookham in Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields (where the present United Grand Lodge has for two centuries had its headquarters and V Street at the Bible & Crown, Little Tower Hill.


An early member of the French branch was the Duchess of Chartres, wife of the Grand Master of the Grand Orient. She was succeeded by the Duchess of Bourbon in 1775 and in 1780 the Grand Mistress was the Princesse de Lamballe, a personal friend of Marie Antoinette. The Princess was put in prison in 1792 and, on refusing to take the Revolutionary oath against the monarchy, she was torn to pieces by the mob in that same year. In due time the wife of Napoleon, the Empress Josephine, joined the Order, as later did her successor, Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III.


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.


What developed from these early: stages we shall now look at in more detail, but no one who studies the topic of ‘Women and Freemasonry' should ever forget that as far as the speculative Craft is concerned the ladies have been on the scene for a very long time - and some very influential ladies amongst others.




There are those Masons in England and Wales who still speak today as if the idea of women being involved with Freemasonry is something quite unthinkable. This may explain why those who are critics of the Craft include some who point a finger of scorn at this 'all male' organisation and ask why there is no place for women in the operation. It is as well therefore that any paper on this subject should specify once and for all the fact that women are already involved in Freemasonry and there is really ample opportunity for more women to be so engaged if they wish.


It is not easy for an English Freemason to grasp that this is the case. I can well remember my surprise, as I went on a tour of some 80 Masonic Halls in Scotland, at noticing in almost all of them the provision made for 'The Rite of the Eastern Star'. Some of the halls were actually set up on the day I called, for a meeting that afternoon or evening and I realised just how integrated male and female forms of Freemasonry were in that land. Here was an active Masonic movement in which the wives, widows, sisters and daughters of Freemasons were participating and on the very premises that were alternately occupied by their husbands, blood brothers and so on.


I knew when I was in North America that I had no need to spell out the details of this Rite (especially as some present would be members of it) but, 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. For those who want to learn more may I commend the comprehensive article which my late lamented friend, Roy Wells, wrote in the 1993 issue of our Quatuor Coronati Transactions. What is certain is that the 'Eastern Star' shows no signs of waning and is happily shining forth at least on both sides of the Atlantic as well as elsewhere.


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 the women are, if anything, more particular than we men in insisting on the correct presentation of the degree rituals. Certainly I have first-hand knowledge of some of the ladies involved, and those who bear Grand or Provincial office take it very seriously indeed. What is absolutely clear is that this form of Freemasonry is here, and here to stay, and it is both odd and sad to note how some survey the Masonic scene in my land without accepting the fact that 'Women and Freemasonry' has here one of its strongest expressions.


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 My first acquaintance with it was some 35 years ago when I was sent as part of a lodge deputation to interview a possible candidate, meeting also with his wife at their home. We were most graciously received. allowed to start asking questions, and then the wife said, ;I do assure you that my husband would make an excellent candidate because I have seen him at work with ritual.' We were all flabbergasted and then, recovering, asked her what she meant.


‘Well’, she said, ‘if am a Past Master in our lodge and my husband has just finished as Senior Deacon and that is how I know’.


She revealed, of course, that the lodge was a Co-Masonic one, which we had never encountered before. For us it was a conundrum, as no one who has participated in any other Masonic or quasi-Masonic organisation is normally allowed to apply for membership, let alone join. We asked for time to consider the matter, and discovered that the Province would allow his application if he gave up his Co-Masonic membership and if his wife was agreeable to this. She was, and the man has long since been through the chair of my first Surrey lodge.


The organisation was really begun in France and took its effective rise from the initiation of a Mlle Maria Deraismes in 1882. Lodges began to be formed into which men or women could be freely admitted and one of the added problems between our own Grand Lodge and the Grand Orient of France is precisely that the latter will accept 'members' of the Co-Masonry lodges as members also of their Order. That the Order of Co-Masons has persisted is evidenced by the production for them in 1982 of a bronze medallion to commemorate the centenary of Maria Deraismes's initiation.What is also interesting is that in 1918 Miss Alicia St Leger Aldworth, a direct descendant of our first woman 'initiate', was a candidate for the Order of Universal Co-Masonry.


Looking at the present-day scene, then, confirms that in addition to the organisations in the USA involving wives and daughters socially, and allowing for those wives still in England and Wales who cook the meals and in some case wait at table on their menfolk, there is plenty of scope for Women in Freemasonry. What needs to be recognised by those outside our movement is that such opportunities already exist.




Is there yet a way forward, in addition to this present involvement? I believe that there is and here, of course, I can only speak from an English and Welsh point of view. Any comments that you, the audience, may care to add as to possible Australian developments will be welcomed for my general enlightenment.


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 organisers and helpers at charity functions. In my present Province of Yorkshire, North and East Ridings, the ladies are invited into the temple, sit with their husbands who are in full regalia and in their normal places in lodge, and someone like myself explains to them basic facts about the Craft and its history or meaning. After 13 such presentations in two years I know that this works and the wife whom I first mentioned would now be much more satisfied


2. The time surely has to come when we recognise the Order of Women Freemasons. In 1933 Elsie Anderson wrote as follows: ‘So far the United Grand Lodge of England has not officially recognised Women Freemasons. I am sure, however, that their attitude cannot be maintained forever. The Honourable Fraternity would only wish to be recognised as the Women's branch. They have no wish to actually work with men in the 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'. The Men's Order recognises the coloured races but refuses recognition of their own kith and kin’. Perhaps the new decision of our Grand Lodge to recognise Prince Hall Masonry may be just the step that will open wider the acknowledgement that would embrace, if not admit, Women Freemasons. I personally hope so.


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. That once referred to sects and political opinions; now it also includes gender.

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