Featured

New Edition of “Memoir of the Lady Freemason” Released by Prov. Grand Lodge of Munster

By Karen Kidd, PM
(I speak only for me)

THE HONBLE MRS ALDWORTH no cutline
Posthumous image of Elizabeth St. Leger Aldworth, in her Masonic regalia, produced and first published in 1811.

The Provincial Grand Lodge of Munster has released an updated edition of John Day’s “Memoir of the Lady Freemason” and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Largely because the re-release contains a considerable lot about Day himself, about whom I previously knew only a little more than I do about Ralph P. Lester.[1]

Oh, and I got to contribute to the appendix 🙂

The new edition was officially released during the kick off the Cork Heritage Week in County Cork, Ireland, in August. Amid the initial speeches and celebrations, the Provincial Grand Lodge of Munster Grand Librarian and Archivist, W.Bro. David J. Butler, presented the first copy of the fifth edition to The Rt. Hon. The Lord Mayor of Cork, Councilor John Sheehan.

For those who don’t already know, “Memoir of the Lady Freemason,” of which the first edition was prepared and published in 1914, is about as close to a definitive biography as we have about the life and times of Elizabeth St. Leger Aldworth. Though the Provincial Grand Lodge of Munster’s website still refers to Aldworth as “the only Lady Freemason” – they’ve always been very friendly and cordial with me – it’s more accurate to say she was the first known woman Freemason in the modern history of the Craft.

Alworth was about 17[2] and was still Elizabeth St. Leger when she was initiated on a winter evening in 1712 into the Lodge that met in her family home at Doneraile Court, near Mallow in North Cork. The family long has told the story about how she fell asleep in the library, woke to find a Masonic meeting going on, tried to sneak out, was caught and the Lodge decided to make her a member. Continue reading “New Edition of “Memoir of the Lady Freemason” Released by Prov. Grand Lodge of Munster”

Featured

The Grand Lodge of California’s Sudden Détente Toward Co- and Femalecraft Masonry is a Good Thing – I Hope

By Karen Kidd, PM
(I speak only for me)

The Grand Lodge of California, the state’s largest male-only Masonic body, apparently has suddenly concluded that it’s OK with women and mixed Freemasons. Seriously, they’re very chill about it.

This has been evolving for years, but it really became obvious when the May/June edition of California Freemason was issued. The entire edition is dedicated to the long history of women in Freemasonry – that is, as Freemasons – and not-at-all taking the old Malecraft line of ignoring, downplaying, and denying that past, present, and future.

They’re not even being condescending about it. Whoa O.O

The May/June issue of California Freemason includes articles about the universal appeal of Freemasonry “to men and women alike,” feminine symbols that “are threaded into the very fabric of Freemasonry,” and stories about women Freemasons and Co-Masons active in the U.S. All the articles are written as if the women Freemasons have existed for centuries (they have); there’s no problem with that (there isn’t), and that it is something that obviously should be taken for granted (it should).

The edition seems to be doing it’s level best to pretend that this has been the norm all along and invites the reader to buy into that. As if there never was any other less pleasant time in which Malecraft writers marginalized, downplayed, and ignored women-only and mixed Freemasonry.

The message is clear: this is the new line, dear reader. Let us forget the old.

Well, 1) some of us never bought into the old line, and 2) this is all very well and good, but it’s making me, as a masonic historian, more than a little nervous.

We’ve been here before.

This is not the first time that Malecraft Masons in California have been OK with Femalecraft and mixed Masons. The last time it happened, it didn’t turn out so well.

There are more than a few brothers and sisters who don’t want me to talk about that history because things are going well right now in California, and my talking about the unpleasant past, apparently, could endanger that.

“Just let it go,” one Femalecraft Mason said to me very recently. “Don’t screw this up for us.”

On one level, I can see wisdom in that. After all, there is precedent for burying unpleasant Masonic history. When the Antients and the Moderns healed their decades of often bitter differences in the early 19th Century, that generation largely pretended the bitterness never happened. It became as WBro Castells described it:

“Everything of a disagreeable and painful sort was forgotten, or passed over lightly; and a certain delicacy of feeling made everyone refrain from disputes which might engender bitterness and re-open old sores.”1

I can even see something Masonic about that.

However, the historian in me is more than a little alarmed because we have been here before. I hope it doesn’t go bad again, in the same way or in any other, but I can’t take for granted that it won’t.

Not that I can do anything more than watch while I hope for the best. I am but a common brother, no one great in any order.

Still, I am impudent enough to ask the Masonic movers and shakers at the actual center of all of this – far from the periphery where I stand, watch and hope – to please, PLEASE, just bear the unpleasant past in mind; and, above all, be cautious.

At least as cautious as I am trying to be.


The Masonic Order to which I belong, the Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry, United Federation of Lodges2 today is easily the largest Co-Masonic body in North America. Since its Masonic divorce from Le Droit Humain in the 1990s, the Order has grown to the point that it’s approaching the numbers of other mixed bodies in the world and now itself has become an international body.

That growth is its own mostly unwritten history, but this blog will be focused, instead, on why the developments in California are giving me pause.

Universal Co-Masonry has its largest North American presence in California. In no other state or province (outside of Colorado, the state in which the Order’s headquarters is located), does the Order have more lodges of multiple bodies than in California. There are more Blue Lodges of Universal Co-Masonry in California than any other state, including Colorado.

Some of the earliest Lodges of the order were consecrated in California and, then as now, those Lodges tend(ed) to be among the strongest in the Order.

Louis in about 1925
Louis Goaziou, Grand Commander of co-masons in North America, in a photo taken in about 1925.

Perhaps that was partly why Bro. Louis Goaziou, a leading founder and President and Grand Commander of Co-Masonry in North America during the first part of the 20th century, tried to steer the Order toward closer relations with Malecraft Masonry in the U.S. His aim seems to have been more about détente and acknowledgment rather than full on amity, recognition and other front office agreements.

Such things, really, are not necessary.

In the decades prior, Co-Masons largely preferred to operate under the radar of the Malecraft. The Malecraft were to be acknowledged and respected but close relations were ill advised. The Malecraft, after all, had a habit of throwing persecutions.

I’ll refrain from reciting the usual litany of that very unmasonic behavior in any great detail and just say that co-masons generally felt the Malecraft were, for good reason, best avoided.

Goaziou, who had been arrested in 1908 in Pennsylvania for being a Co-Mason and personally faced other Malecraft persecution,3 certainly agreed with that preference. However, as the years wore on and co-masonry grew, Goaziou seems to have developed a vision of how things could be if the various branches of Freemasonry could just get along.

There was, after all, much to be gained. In addition to harmony and that “certain delicacy of feeling,” a standing down of unpleasantness would be good for Co-Masonry. The Order would be allowed to grow without hiding its light under a bushel and, perhaps, the Malecraft would be willing to assist in that by opening their premises for Co-Masons to rent.

If better relations were possible, Goaziou decided there was too much to be gained for him to not at least try.

In the early 1920s, Bro. Goaziou took the first modest steps, mostly just a bit of outreach. When Goaziou traveled to Co-Masonic Lodges, he worked in visits to Malecraft Lodges.

Those Malecraft lodges, which Goaziou and other Co-Masons habitually referred to as “Lodges of F and AM,” were more than ready to receive him. Within a few years, he was speaking with Malecraft brothers who had “Grand” in their Masonic titles, and he developed a wide-ranging correspondence with many of the world’s leading Malecraft scholars of the day.

Soon Bro. Goaziou was receiving invitations to speak in open lodge, or at least with the lodge at refreshment, and the talks he gave were very well received. For example, he gave a talk on March 2, 1926 during a meeting of Rockridge Masonic Lodge No. 468, F and AM4 in Oakland, California on the topic of “Women in Masonry.” A local newspaper reporter was present, and Goaziou himself later reported to Co-masons in the Order that he was strongly encouraged by this particular lodge visit.

“There is hope for the future when it becomes possible for your Grand Commander to speak on ‘Women in Masonry’ before Lodges of F and AM.”5

During that stop in Oakland, Bro. Goaziou also visited five other Malecraft Lodges and had to turn down invitations to visit others for lack of time.

I could go on quite a while about events and developments in this largely successful effort to heal divisions between Co-Masonry and Malecraft Masonry in California, as well as the rest of the country. Things were looking very promising, much as they are in California now, but . . .

The bottom line was this: it went very badly. So badly, that it hasn’t been tried again until very recently.

I could go into great detail about how badly it went but this is a blog, not a book.6 Very long story short, a few Malecraft Masons of the bottom-feeding sort, who didn’t think much of Goaziou’s efforts or of healing divisions in Freemasonry, began to agitate for legal action against Co-Masons in North America.

The supposed basis for that legal action was never very clear but the overall subject seems to have been, “Get’em.”

In the early spring of 1929, articles slandering Co-Masonry began to appear in third-rate Masonic publications, largely written by the same few authors who acted very like trolls on the Internet today. The articles continued well into the summer and began to be picked up by more mainstream publications – Masonic and otherwise. Imagine the attention it would attract if the New York Times republished something first published in InfoWars.

By that autumn, an effort was underway to pressure the Grand Lodge of California “to take legal action against the Co-Masonic Lodges,” Goaziou warned in his October Circular.

There was as much to lose as there had been to gain. The math was simple enough. If the Grand Lodge of California took legal action against Co-Masonry, other Malecraft Grand Lodges were likely to follow. Legally, Co-Masonry was on very strong ground and probably could/would win any such litigation. Practically, however, Co-Masonry did not then have the resources to fight such a battle and probably would go under if it had to.

For months, Co-Masons held their breath, but Goaziou ultimately received word through back channels that the Grand Lodge of California had decided no such legal action would be taken. Co-Masonry in North America had missed a bullet.

Bro. Goaziou also continued to receive invitations to speak in Malecraft Lodges, and his many friends in Malecraft Masonry encouraged him to continue his efforts at healing the divisions.

However, Goaziou and other Co-Masons had suffered a terrible scare and collectively returned to the prior preference of avoiding Malecraft Freemasonry. Goaziou himself announced that he had been wrong to make the effort and that, “to avoid a recurrence of a similar incident,” he would refrain from those efforts.

It was over.

Now, here we are, about 90 years later. It’s 2019 and things are, again, looking promising in California.


LA MPS 1
A Masonic Philosophical Society meeting in San Diego, California, attended by California Co-Masons [Photo by Maria Isabel Sattui]

Today, not only does Universal Co-Masonry have its greatest presence – outside of headquarters in Colorado – in California, Femalecraft Freemasonry is very much on the rise in the state. Recently, Lodge Aletheia, active in Los Angeles under charter from the Women’s Grand Lodge of Belgium and which traces its history to the 1980s, gave a symposium and had no qualms about advertising it. They weren’t afraid at all.

It is now masonically safer to openly be a Co- or Femalecraft Mason in California. The May/June California Freemason seems to be further encouraging a certain giddy lack of circumspection.

I’ve also heard that the May/June issue of California Freemason itself has prompted significant conversations within the Grand Lodge of California, and that some of the discussions are about how to better show respect and appreciation for the many different threads of Masonry, without violating anyone’s obligations.

Which really isn’t all that difficult. Seriously, it really isn’t. It’s just not something that would have happened even five years ago.

And yet all this – and more – is happening out in the open without the Grand Lodge of California having a snit about it. No threats of lawsuits, getting the state’s General Assembly to move against Co- and Femalecraft Masonry, accosting non-Malecraft Freemasons on the street, breaking into their premises or any other bits of ugliness that could have been expected not very long ago.

Like everyone else, I want to feel very encouraged about that. In a way, I suppose I am feeling encouraged. I’m just feeling it in a very cautious sort of way.

Because that unpleasant history did happen and forgetting history usually tempts a repeat cycle. Still, I suppose the détente in California – if that’s what’s happening – is a good thing.

Y’all carry on, though I hope you will be cautious. I’ll just wait here in the periphery and see how it goes.

______________________________________
1 See page 27 of the WBro the Rev F. De P. Castells’ “Origin of the Masonic Degrees” (A Lewis, London, 1928).
2 Formerly know as the Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry, American Federation of Human Rights.
Yup, it was illegal to be a Co-Mason in Pennsylvania in 1908. If you want to know more about that persecution, as well as the historical points I’m trying to make in this blog, read this.
4 Merged to help form Oakland Durant Rockridge Lodge #188, F & AM in 1983.
5 Goaziou’s Circular 74 issued May 1, 1926.
6 Seriously, if you want to know, read this.

Featured

Brother Nellie McCool Flies Again!

By Karen Kidd, PM
(I speak only for me)

Brother Nellie McCool 33°, an aviator in her youth during World War II, flew again late this past spring and just might do it again next year.

Nellie preflight
Bro. Nellie McCool just before her flight, as the Boeing Stearman is being prepared (photo by Rosario Menocal)

“It was great,” Bro. Nellie told me last time I saw her. “It was a lot of fun. I’m happy I got to do it.”

Bro. Nellie, 97, went up in the cockpit of a Boeing Stearman, the same sort used to train aviators during the 1930s and 40s, on June 19, thanks to Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation.

The Carson City, Nevada-based non-profit, staffed largely by volunteers and dependent on donations to continue their mission, dedicated to seniors and U.S. Military veterans, which made it possible for Bro. Nellie and the other former aviators in her group to make the flight.

As of the date of this blog, 4005 “dream flights” have flown via the foundation.

Bro. Nellie McCool as an aviator trainee during World War II

Nellie as a WASP
Bro. Nellie McCool as an aviator trainee during World War II

Some of you might remember Bro. Nellie from a previous blog. She was born 25 January 1922 in Lahunta and grew up in Beaver, Oklahoma and Colorado Springs, Colorado. McCool received her aviation training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. She was among the Class 44-7-Trainees and became a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), achieving the rank of Captain in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.

After the war, the WASPs were disbanded and McCool went on to earn her Ph.D. in Psychology from Colorado College and worked at several Colorado schools, including North Junior High, South Security School, and Harrison Senior High School. In the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, McCool worked in intelligence at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Complex. Later, she served 12 years in the guidance, counseling, job development and placement section of the state’s Board of Community Colleges and Occupational Education and she was director of the ABC for Self-Help Inc. counseling service.

Bro. Nellie also is a brother of the 33° and a member of the Supreme Council of the Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry, headquartered in Larkspur, Colorado, only a few miles from her home in Castle Rock.

She didn’t hesitate when the chance to fly again was offered by Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation.

“Today, many of our former United States military pilots live in senior communities,” the foundation says on its website. “We want to take them back to a place in time when they were invincible, ruling the sky as proud military aviators.

As of the date of this blog, 4005 “dream flights” have flown, thanks to the foundation.

Nellie in the cockpit
Bro. Nellie McCool in the Boeing Stearman’s cockpit, with volunteer pilot Tim Newton (photo by Rosario Menocal)

As she did decades ago, Bro. Nellie climbed onto the wing of the Boeing Stearman to get to the cockpit for the flight over and around the Colorado Springs area, which included Garden of the Gods and Prospect Lake.

“When you’re up there, looking down, everything is in miniature,” Bro. Nellie said. “All your problems seem very small.”

Bro. Nellie and the other veteran aviators also made the local news.

Word has it that Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation might offer a flight next spring, and Bro. Nellie said she’ll be ready if and when they do.

“I certainly hope so,” she said.

Featured

Why a Grand Master’s Lodge dress code edict is a sign we’re doomed

By Karen Kidd, PM
(I speak only for me)

If you’re planning to show up in Georgia wearing a tank top, short-shorts, and flip flops, better keep it to Stone Mountain Park, Hearse Ghost Tours, Jimmy Carter National Historic Site and other such places. The Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Georgia, the largest male-only Freemasonic obedience in the state, is having none of it.

“No Mason shall attend any Meeting wearing shorts, an uncollared shirt, t-shirt, exercise wear, open-toed shoes, sandals, or flip flops unless medically necessary,” Grand Lodge of Georgia Grand Master Michael H. Wilson said in his edict issued late last month.

Nothing herein shall be construed as prohibiting a Brother from wearing jeans or overalls with a collared shirt or any required medical device. Nothing herein shall be construed as requiring a Brother to wear a suit, sport coat, tie, or tuxedo unless the Worshipful Master so directs.

Edict out of Georgia

The first thing that caught my attention was the notion that medical situations exist that require the wearing of flip flops (apparently it isn’t just a post-mani-ped thing). Once I got over that, it occurred to me just how damning it is that a Grand Master anywhere has to tell Freemasons how to dress in Lodge; that enough Brethren there don’t already know.

And if they don’t already know that . . . well, it’s yet another sign that we’re doomed.

PreWorldWarIILodgeinCairoEgyptGranted, the Georgia edict inevitably would puzzle a Freemason, such as myself, hailing from an Order where everyone wears pretty much the same thing in lodge (guys wear white suits, gals wear white robes, it’s all very standardized).

Something like the Georgia edict just wouldn’t come up in the Order to which I belong. It just wouldn’t. The Brethren in that Order already know, they don’t have to be told. That said . . .

I think Georgia’s back story also is relevant as the Grand Lodge of Georgia has long been an outlier in Freemasonry.

In 2009, a Lodge under that obedience filed suit in DeKalb County Superior Court after the Grand Master of Georgia decreed a Masonic trial would be conducted to hear complaints about the lodge’s decision to enter a Brother of color.

That same year, in a more hushed up controversy, the Grand Lodge of Georgia pressured the allegedly independent Order of Eastern Star (OES) to expel its Co-Masonic members or lose the right to meeting in premises owned by Freemasons under the male-only body in that state. The Georgia OES dutifully ferreted out and expelled those members found to be Co-Masons, including one sister who had been a member of the OES for 25 years.

In September 2015, then Grand Lodge of Georgia Grand Master Douglas W. McDonald issued an edict that outlawed homosexuals among its membership.

The following year, then Grand Lodge of California Grand Master M. David Perry declared Georgia’s outlawing of Homosexuality to be “a sectarian stand which is inconsistent with and does not support the General Regulations of Freemasonry.” With that, the Grand Lodge of California withdrew recognition from Georgia and the Grand Lodge of Tennessee, which had issued its own similar edicts and other paper. The Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia likewise withdrew recognition from the grand lodges in Georgia and Tennessee.

McDonald resigned entirely from the fraternity earlier this year “for religious reasons” and that particular unpleasantness seems to have settled down.

I bring all that up to point out that a dress code edict is a very mild edict to come out of Georgia.

Chris Hodapp, in his always delightful and informative “Freemasons for Dummies” blog, argues that this edict points up a debate between “Exterior” Freemasons and “Interior” Freemasons. The Exterior brethren apparently feel that attire not fit for a visit with the Queen, attending a Nobel Prize event, or a five-star restaurant is an affront to the Craft; while Interior brothers opine that it’s what’s in a Freemason’s heart that counts and are just fine being clothed for Lodge as if they’re going to Denny’s.

It makes me wonder how far the latter group is from advocating showing up sky clad for lodge meetings, but that would be a very distracting digression. Maybe another blog.

Per usual, I can see a middle ground between the two extremes and how the latest edict out of Georgia might be trying to find it; but I also see something deeper going on here. It seems both extremes have forgotten more than a little history; and what they should already know without being told.

Historically, dress in a Lodge of Freemasons wasn’t all about showing respect to the Craft (who gets along just fine, regardless of how we dress). It’s supposed to be about recognizing how we meet, act and part with everyone but most especially with our brethren.

Mozart_in_lodge_ViennaIn the beginning, dressing for Lodge meant attire just a little less fit for a monarch’s court. It wasn’t a specific dress code or requirement so much as that’s how folks in the propertied upper classes, the group most attracted to Freemasonry during that period, dressed when they were out in public. It would be disrespectful to others to dress otherwise.

Likewise, dressing up for lodge wasn’t about dressing well or showing respect to the Craft so much as it was about being the equal of every Brother in the Lodge. With everyone dressed more or less the same, it’s difficult to identify someone’s social rank, especially in a dimly lit room.

One piece of Masonic garb that once was de rigueur, but now isn’t so much in the U.S., are the white cotton gloves. The idea behind them in Freemasonry was/is that two Brothers shaking hands could not determine each other’s profession based on the roughness, or lack thereof, of their hands.

It wasn’t about the gloves, it was how the Brothers viewed each other: as equals.

1927 convention croppedAs the decades wore on, Lodge attire continued to track what its members wore in public, where even hobos wore a suit jacket and a hat – always a hat. However, though folks generally wore much the same thing – and not a tank top in sight – it still remained obvious who everyone was in life, based on their clothing. If you were going someplace very special, you still expressed it by wearing your best, even if it basically was a grander version of what you wore all the time.

On that level, it could seem only natural that Lodge attire would track clothing fashion trends outside the Lodge, where things started getting very casual in the late 1960s. That view would ignore the very important exceptions to those casual trends that everyone recognized and still recognizes.

Even in our very casual age, folks still know when they should dress up and when they don’t need to. Folks don’t have to be told that they must dress up when they attend a wedding or go someplace else they consider very special. They don’t need to be told that, they just know.

Apparently in Georgia, enough of the brethren need to be told that the Lodge is a very special place that an edict is necessary.

I imagine those same brothers do know to dress up for their friend’s wedding but they are just fine with wearing PT shorts, a club T-shirt, and tube socks to Lodge. Because they don’t know the Lodge is very special to them.

If they don’t know that, then what else don’t they know?

Civilization is slipping and there are many signs of that. This is one of them.

Featured

Resolved: The Shrine – for its own good and that of Freemasonry – should drop its Master Mason membership requirement

By Karen Kidd, PM
(I speak only for me)

There are times that I probably shouldn’t say anything, but I do anyway.

This blog is one of those times.

On Tuesday, July 16, Grand Lodge of Arkansas Grand Master Jesse D. Sexton issued an edict that recognizes Shriners International as a “civic organization,” according to Chris Hodapp’s “Freemasons for Dummiesblog this week. The edict officially ends the troubles between the Grand Lodge and Shriners International that has gone on for more than half a decade.

“The result of this decision permits Arkansas Masons to again be members of Shriners International for the first time since 2013,” Hodapp’s blog says (with the italics being mine).

DISCLAIMER: I’m a Co-Mason. The Order to which I belong doesn’t have any connections to any “Shrine” along the lines of Shriners International and does just fine without it; but I still have an opinion, notwithstanding.

The use of “allow” and “permit” in reference to Freemasons – “free” being, literally, the operative word – always makes me twitch, particularly when it refers to Freemasons in the so-called “free world.” So far as I know, I didn’t give up my free association rights when I was initiated but . . .

Well, somehow, it seems the Grand Lodge of Arkansas has been suspending those rights quite a lot since November 2012, when the male-only Grand Lodge declared the Shrine “clandestine” and forbade Masons in its jurisdiction to become members of the Shrine. The Grand Lodge “expelled numerous Masons” who joined anyway or tried to transfer to other jurisdictions not having a spat with the Shrine, Hodapp’s blog says.

Hodapp described the spat, which he calls “the long-running feud between the Grand Lodge of Arkansas and Shriners International,” in previous editions of the Freemasons for Dummies blog (not to be confused with his wonderful book by the same name). There’s no need for me to give more than a little background here and then move on to explain why it’s giving me fits.

Shriners International describes itself as a “fraternity based on fun, fellowship and the Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth.” It claims almost 200 temples – “chapters” for folks who are spooked by the word “temple” – in thousands of clubs worldwide.

Shriners do have a certain reputation when it comes to the “fun” (I love those fezzes and little cars) and, yes, they are all men. That last bit has more to do with the Shrine’s weirdly unrelated requirement that their members must be Master Masons in good standing in the larger male-only grand lodges in North America. Members of those grand lodges are all men, so it follows that all Shriners are men.

Before anyone arches their back and starts hissing about that, “Shriners’ ladies” [don’t start!] can join independent organizations in which women work toward the same causes as does the Shrine. Those women-only organizations are Daughters of the Nile, The Ladies’ Oriental Shrine of North America, and The Shrine Guilds of America, all of which, like the Shrine, support Shriners Hospitals for Children.

I’m not at all fussed about the gender-centricity of all that because the Shrine is NOT Freemasonry.

What the Shrine is, in fact, is mostly about the good work they do. The Shrine and its auxiliary organizations have for generations supported Shriners Hospitals for Children’s 22 healthcare systems in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Until June 2012, patients in Shriners Hospitals received care without charge and the healthcare systems still offer free care to children not covered by insurance and will waive out-of-pocket costs not covered by insurance.

The change in 2012 is generally blamed on the drop in the size of the Shrine’s endowment due to stock market losses during the Great Recession and that’s true enough. It just isn’t the entire story.

Decline in Shrine membership has, of course, tracked the decline of membership in the larger traditionally male-only grand lodges in North America, which means fewer members now struggle to raise funds to boost the Shrine’s shrinking endowment. More hands are needed so it’s now surprise that the rise of whispers about dropping the Shrine’s Master Mason membership requirement can be tracked along the same timeline.

After all, dropping that requirement would allow the Shrine to increase its membership numbers and, with the inevitable influx or more members for the great work the Shrine does, the endowment could be better supported.

The counter to that is the terror – and I’m here to tell you, the terror is real – that dropping that membership requirement would effectively destroy male-only Freemasonry in North America, at least in the larger gender-based grand lodges. Those Freemasons who buy into the terror argue that there are a good many men who join Freemasonry on this continent only to get to the Shrine.

That’s a bit bewildering to a Freemason such as me who sees Freemasonry as its own thing, as opposed to a pathway to something else but, well, there it is.

It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to those who buy into the terror, I just think it’s mistaken.

If male-only Freemasonry needs the Shrine to survive, then maybe it should be allowed fail. If the male-only grand lodges require another organization to survive, then those grand lodges are already dead.

But they are not and they will not die even if the Shrine completely withdraws its Master Mason membership requirement. We know that thanks to the unintended experiment that has been the troubles in Arkansas, which bears out the flaw in the terror. Freemasonry did not die in Arkansas and neither did the Shrine.

Arkansas was the test case. When the troubles began between that state’s largest Grand Lodge and the Shrine, Shriners International in 2013 changed its bylaws to allow non-Masons in Arkansas to join. Hodapp blogged about that development in July of that year, announcing, “The slippery slope has begun.”

Only, it really didn’t.

In the past six years, there has been no real move to yank Shriners International’s Master Mason membership requirement outside of Arkansas, which means the experiment happened only in that one U.S. state. Over the past six years, the state’s largest male-only grand lodge has suffered a drop in the number of is members, largely because it expelled Freemasons who decided to join the Shrine anyway. Still others transferred membership to other grand lodges still on good terms with the Shrine.

However, while the number of Freemasons in good standing in the Grand Lodge of Arkansas went down, the grand lodge did not die; and the Shrine’s bylaw change allowed it to shore up its own membership until the troubles in that state passed.

Which they apparently did this month. In addition to Sexton’s edict, Shriners International has signaled that it will restore the Master Mason membership requirement in Arkansas.

The experiment is over.

From my position of safety – seriously, I have no ball to drop in this ballot box – I also would hope that the Grand Lodge of Arkansas and the Shrine learned a few things. Obviously, the Shrine dropping its Master Mason membership requirement didn’t destroy male-only Freemasonry in Arkansas’ largest grand lodge; and the Shrine weathered the storm without the Grand Lodge of Arkansas. They are not mutually exclusive, they can part ways and walk their separate paths.

It can happen.

I think, for the sake of male-only Freemasonry and the Shrine, it should happen.

I also think there’s a larger lesson to be learned from this experiment. Imagine how much better things would have been, for both organizations, had the Grand Lodge of Arkansas not forbade its members from joining a nonMasonic (the Shrine is NOT Freemasonry), philanthropic organization that does so much good in the world. The Grand Lodge of Arkansas would not have suffered such a drop in membership numbers over more than half a decade and the Shrine could have continued its good work without all the drama.

What business is it of any grand lodge what other “civic organization” its members join? Why should U.S.-based Freemasons put up with any imposition on their constitutional rights?

It has been an interesting experiment to observe. From my position of safety, that of a cranky old Co-Masonic past master (highly strung opinions apparently emerge once the 47th Proposition of Euclid is imposed), I believe the experiment was a success. And should be tried again.

For now, Shriners International and the Grand Lodge of Arkansas are, publicly at least, returning to their historical rapprochement. However, I cannot be the only one who has noticed a change.

 

The Confectioner’s Wife, Barber’s Daughter, Sisters in Caernarvon and Other Early Women Operative Masons

Stack of books croppedBy Karen Kidd, PM
(I speak only for me)
Sometimes an obvious lie is reason enough for me to find an archive, scratch up the resources to go visit that archive and then spend hours studying the archive to confirm what I already knew: the lie really is a lie.

When your niche history is women Freemasons, as it is mine, there are plenty of lies to be investigated. It seems to be my job in the 21st century, when a lot of history is being rewritten because of lies told in the not-all-that-distant past (thanks, Victorians). It doesn’t pay well but it needs to be done.

Today’s blog is about one lie in particular that is fading away. For generations, so-called scholars and walk-a-day Freemasons on the malecraft side of the Craft too often repeated as fact that women can’t be Freemasons because there were no women among the medieval operative masons, those who built the great cathedrals.

It’s a stupid lie. I could go into many reasons why it’s so stupid but the most glaring reason is that the operative guilds – a number of which remain active (see below) – have never denied the existence of its women members. It’s not a thing for them.

It has been a thing for some Freemasons, even malecraft scholars, who have promulgated this lie. They had their reasons. Ignorance looms large among them but there also was a desire to use this as an excuse – such as it is – to deny the existence of women Freemasons. They did so without buy-in from the operatives.

And the operatives historically, because of this, have not been very happy with Freemasons – including me by association. Not only did we steal their tools (we did) but we’ve also told lies about them; and ignored what efforts they made to correct us (they seem to have largely given up trying to get their tools back). As Freemasons who want to believe this particular lie have shown no especial interest in listening, the eventual attitude of the operatives, in my observation, has been to tell Freemasons “you go do you, leave us alone.”

This has been the state of things for generations as certain Freemasons nourished this peculiar, shared delusion.

That in mind, I recognize that the opportunity I received in the spring of 2017 to review the remaining medieval and enlightenment period membership records of the London Company of Masons, stored in MS 5984 at the Guildhall Library in London, was very special indeed. Getting permission wasn’t easy as I am a Freemason and, so far as the London Company is concerned, I’m somewhat suspect. They did, however, grant me permission.

There were conditions, mostly that I take great care of these documents as they are old and fragile. That meant the usual: white gloves (I brought my own), strings of white beads (the guildhall’s), staying within sight of the eagle-eyed librarians (who kindly pointed me to other documents), be careful where I breath/sneeze/etc., etc.

I also agreed not to publish photos of the records themselves (though I did take lots and lots of photos that I’m allowed to privately share), so the picture above of the bound records is the best I can do for this blog. I’m grateful for that much.

Not that I didn’t already know names of other operative women masons. I did. Just to name a few . . .

– (My personal favorite) “Gunnilda the Mason” of Norwich, mentioned in Calendar of Close Rolls for the year 1256.

– Four woman listed among the laboring, or “rough”, class of Masons in Caernarvon, for whom payments were recorded in about 1337. Rough Masons did the hardest work at the site. These four women Masons were Juliana filia fabri (Juliana, daughter of the smith), Emmota filia fabri (Emmota, daughter of the smith), Elena de Engoland (Elena of England) and Juliana uxor Ade (Juliana, wife of Ade). Juliana and Emmota, based on their contiguous position in the payment list and that bother were daughters of “the smith,” probably were sisters

We also have records of women operative masons whose names are not given. Clauses in the 1389 Certificate of the Guild of Masons at Lincoln refer repeatedly to sisters as well as brothers. Records of the Corpus Christi Guild at York charge apprentices to swear to obey “the Master, or Dame, or any other Freemason.”

I also knew the name of one woman (well, a teenager) operative mason that I expected to see – and did see – in the London Company’s records. She was Mary Banister, daughter of a barber in Barking, Essex, and her existence had been mentioned by a very few Freemasonic scholars who didn’t buy into the lie about her existence (and were generally ignored for their trouble).

I knew Mary Banister was not the daughter of a mason. Her father was a baker and she was not married when she paid 4 pounds 6 shillings to be apprenticed (same as was habitually charged male apprentices at the time) on 12 Feb 1713. That’s about all I knew about her before I saw the records for myself.

I now know her father was George Banister and that Mary Banister was bound to London Company master John Sumner. The London Company records actually contain two documents about Mary Banister’s binding. She is the only apprentice listed for Sumner in the London Company records I examined. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have other apprentices, the record is not completely preserved, but it is notable that no others are listed for him as one would expect.

I’ve never been able to find anything more about Mary Banister outside the London Company’s records, despite the wealth of genealogical information available online and off. Perhaps that will change one day; or I’ll pay a visit to Essex.

On the same page that records Mary Banister’s binding also is the binding of Richard Noals to his mother, Mary Noals, in January of 1714. Mary Noals was the widow of a Mason, as were many of the women listed in the company’s records, but she clearly was skilled enough to take on her son as an apprentice. Mary Noals also had enough cred with the London Company to be included in the “masters and mistresses” column of its rolls.

That said, some of the widows listed in the membership rolls clearly were not themselves Masons and, as such, usually are listed as acting on behalf of their husbands’ estates. However, those nonoperative women are easily differentiated from those, like Mary Noals, who knew how to handle the tools.

Another widow, Anna Barnes, took on her son as an apprentice on 28 Aug. 1713. In June of 1715, she took on another apprentice, John Barton.

Mary Easton is listed on four pages, which provide us with an unusual outline of her life. We first meet her via her husband, Robert Easton, on 19 April 1705 when he took on Clement William, a tailor’s son, as an apprentice. We see her again on 14 June 1727, by which time she is a widow, when she takes on Robert Green, a basket maker’s son, as an apprentice.

On 14 June 1729, by Mary Easton apprenticed Henry Daintry, the son of a London “victualler,” (The person who person who supplies food, beverages and other provisions for the crew of a vessel headed out to sea). On 6 Sept 1734, Mary Easton took on what may have been her last apprentice, Thomas Morris, the son of a deceased mason. Which is brow raising.

Presumably, a mason would not place his/her child as an apprentice with just any mason and Mary Easton wasn’t the only woman mason in the London Company records to take on a mason’s child. Susanna Munton, who lived in Ivory Street Aldgate, apprenticed John Brocket on 9 Nov 1786. Brocket was the son of London Mason William Brocket who, unlike Thomas Morris’ father, still was living.

It seems the younger Brocket could have been apprenticed to his father but he wasn’t. His father must have known Munton, which suggests a strong working relationship. No fee is listed, so maybe Susanna took on this apprentice without a fee. Which could lead to some speculation about how strong her working relationship was with the elder Brocket but the remaining record tells us little else. Maybe, one day, we will know more.

Like Mary Banister, not all apprentices are male. Sisters Catherine and Elizabeth Undershaft, daughters of wood salter George, who had died, were apprenticed five days apart in April 1767 to George Freshwater.

The London Company also records woman masters who took on female apprentices. One of these was Susanna Twiss, daughter of Shrewsbury cloth merchant John Twiss, to Frances, widow of Richard Holt, on 28 March 1751. John Twiss had died before his daughter was apprenticed.

I could drone on a while listing one operative woman mason after another, I found enough women members in the London Company records to fill up several pages, but I’d rather this blog not turn into a list. I’ll mention only a couple more.

In my opinion, the most interesting woman mason listed in the London Company of Masons membership rolls is Mary Latour. Her husband, René, was not a mason. René Latour was a confectioner by trade and “bottle groom” to William III.

I don’t know what a bottle groom did in the time of William III and it does seem to be something of a mystery. Even my inquiry to the Royal Collection Trust has failed to resolve the mystery, though one guess I’ve heard is that this person kept a bottle of wine handy in case the king wanted to imbibe. In any case, the position appears to have been honorary, it seems this was more of an excuse to pay René Latour a stipend to keep him on side, rather than give him an actual job to do.

Not that it didn’t pay well. The remaining record indicates René Latour was paid £54 per year, which was not a small sum at the time, and his office answered to the king’s groom of the horse. René Latour died in 1702.

The London Company’s records don’t record how Mary Latour came to be an operative mason in her own right but she clearly did. On 8 October 1714, in her 12th year as a confectioner’s widow, she took on her son, also René, as an apprentice.

Almost two years later, on 24 September 1716, she took on another apprentice, Henry Rogers, the son of a joiner, itself an indication of how closely stone masons worked with wood carpenters.

That Mary Latour had two apprentices with no evidence of a Mason working in her stead – that she didn’t need another mason working in her own stead – is clear evidence of the obvious: that Mary Latour was an operative mason in her own right. No lie will undo her existence and the truth eventually wins out.

Mary Latour was, however, a member of the London Company at a time when membership was beginning a long, slow decline. The cathedral building period was over and there was no longer so much work available for masons.

The last woman mason I noted in the London Company records was Mary Simpson, widow of John Simpson, who apprenticed Robert Staning on 15 June 1805 and her son, John Simpson, on 9 January 1812. The latter date suggests Mary Simpson’s son was very young when her husband died.

Mary Simpson’s inclusion in the London Company’s records precedes a period when the company dropped the word “Mistresses” from the “Master and Mistresses” column in its record. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when but it documents a very important point in human, as well as masonic and Freemasonic, history. There had been a change in attitude toward women’s work that could be its own paper and women began to find themselves more firmly excluded from various professions.

There’s no reason to suppose that the London Company of Masons restricted its membership based on gender. Instead, it seems that there came a generation in which social conventions arose that caused the number of such women to drop, that human beings in general decided on a stricter division of labor based on sex. The London Company of Masons didn’t cause those social conventions, its records are simply one indication that it happened.

Which points up the real reason behind the lie I was investigating. Women were not excluded from Freemasonry because there had been no operative women masons. They were excluded because social conventions developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries that were adopted by Freemason en masse and elsewhere in life that created a belligerence toward women in professional and social life.

That is a more difficult and certainly less sexy reason to explain women’s exclusion but it’s true, notwithstanding.

Most of the women on my list are from the English-speaking world and I won’t make any apologies for that. I don’t speak other languages especially well and I really don’t have the skills or resources to scour archives in other languages.

That said, my own Anglo-centric research has turned up early women masons, which suggest women masons existed at the time in other parts of the world. This, of course, requires they be looked for, recognized and no longer ignored but I won’t be doing that any time soon.

That said, I think I’ve done well considering almost all of my sources have been primary (I’m not generally building on the work of other scholars) and it has taken a considerable amount of resources to do what I’ve done. So if you want to go find operative women masons documented in not-English speaking parts of the world, you go do that 🙂

There’s plenty of modern operative masonic history to occupy me as well. In April, fire broke out beneath the roof of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral in Paris, which was built by medieval stone masons. As mentioned above, I have not gone looking for lists of early stone masons outside the English-speaking world but there’s every reason to believe women were include among the operatives who built Notre-Dame.

With its destruction, stone masons are in demand for its rebuilding. And, of course, this group of highly skilled workers who know how to wield a mallet and chisel includes women. It seems no one is now bothering to deny that truth.

Consensus Blindness, Blue Dental Tartar, and Early Women Freemasons

By Karen Kidd, PM
(I speak only for me)

American author Robert Temple writes about extraterrestrial aliens in world history.

Some folks have a problem with that.

I pay more attention to an observation he made in his article “Forbidden Technology,” that first was published in the summer 2001 edition of Freemasonry Today:

Technology is forbidden when it is not allowed to exist. It is easy to forbid technology to exist in the past because all you have to do is to deny it. Enforcing the ban then becomes a simple matter of remaining deaf, dumb and blind. And most of us have no trouble in doing that when necessary. . . I call it consensus blindness. People agree not to see what they are convinced cannot exist.

In this article, still available online at Temple’s website, Temple talked about optical technology long denied by “experts” in the field that nonetheless – and quite stubbornly – existed for millennia. Those experts long denied the evidence as observed by their own eyes.

The same principal of “consensus blindness” long also has been applied by most scholars of Masonry – including those scholars who are not Freemasons – about the existence of early women Freemasons: that they didn’t exist at all.

When they have been found to have existed, their existence is downplayed, marginalized and ignored.

And when folks like me insist that those early women Freemasons did exist, well, I also can be marginalized, downplayed, and ignored.

It’s OK 🙂

However, just as there have been optical lenses in Ancient Egyptian archaeological finds dating to the 4th and 5th dynasties at Abydos, so also have women Masons existed throughout all of the modern Freemasonic period.

Including 18th Century North America.

It hasn’t been only lenses in ancient digs and early women Freemasons who’ve been marginalized, downplayed and ignored by folks in their fields who should know better. Consensus blindness is rife in medicine, anthropology, and other fields. I can’t think of a field where consensus blindness hasn’t happened.

Decades passed before research in the early 1980s by physicians Robin Warren and Barry Marshall that revealed that ulcers are caused by bacteria, not by stress and diet, became generally accepted by the medical community. Untold thousands were made to suffer – even died – until that research was generally accepted.

In the field of Ornithology, observers long described most birds as being monogamous, mating for life and not straying outside that pair bond, until enough experts in that field were willing to say otherwise. Now birds are generally understood to be about as monogamous in practice as are humans.

Some of the more egregious examples of consensus blindness have occurred – and still occurs – in the study of history. One example based on gender in history is particularly germane to the history of early women Freemasons.

For generations, when a scholar observed a medieval manuscript image of a man teaching students, that’s all it would be: a man teaching students, such as in this image here:

Man teaching class

Though the text in the manuscript says nothing about him, historians generally would not question the evidence observed with their own eyes and would take for granted that the image was exactly what it looks like: a man teaching.

However, when historians spotted a medieval manuscript image of a woman teaching students, they generally agreed to doubt the evidence observed with their own eyes. They could not take for granted the image was exactly what it looks like: a woman teaching, in this case geometry.

Teaching geometry

The accompanying text in the manuscript says nothing about her but she has been explained away as the “personification” of geometry.

Men are the real thing, women personify the subject being taught by the real thing, and there is a consensus among those who should know better to be blind to anything that suggests otherwise.

In the same vein, historians also have generally agreed that medieval women were not artists in any great numbers. The consensus has been that the lives of medieval women were too restricted; they had too few opportunities or resources; therefore, women just were not artists during the medieval period. 

And where evidence of medieval women artists has been observed – if only in the last generation or so acknowledge – women such as Hildegard of Bingen, Herrad of Landsberg, and Artemisia Gentileschi have been portrayed as notable exceptions to an otherwise hard and fast rule.

However, it seems some light is beginning to shine through that particularly opaque retina in the form of blue dental tartar found in the skull of a medieval nun.

You can follow the link in the previous paragraph to the fuller story of the woman who died in middle age and was buried in a women’s monastery in Dalheim, Germany at around A.D. 1100. This past January, a paper was published in a prestigious science journal written by female University of York Archaeologist Anita Radini about the flecks of brilliant blue she found while examining the nun’s dental tartar.

The blue flecks turned out to be a very expensive lapis lazuli of a type used by manuscript illustrators, i.e. artists, during the medieval period. If this anonymous nun was an artist, particularly in a monastic setting, then other women like her were as well.

The discovery is challenging the consensus blindness about the lives of medieval women, particularly those who must have been scribes and artists.

Had those blue flecks been noticed a generation ago, they probably would have been ignored or in some way explained away because the consensus was that medieval women were not artists. The evidence isn’t being ignored now because fewer scholars are interested in explaining it away. That particular consensus blindness is slipping away.

I told you about all of that so I could tell you about a recent piece of near-miss evidence of early women Freemasons in North America.

Ten years ago, I mentioned in a not-especially-widely read book I wrote about early women Freemasons what little then was known about women Freemasons in 18th and 19th century North America.

I know in my bones that there were more women Freemasons during that period but their memory has been marginalized, downplayed, and ignored because the consensus is to be blind to evidence about them. I also believe that evidence remains to be found by those who have eyes to see.

I only have two eyes; they’re aging and failing, so there needs to be more eyes than mine paying attention to find that evidence. It would be nice if that could happen in my lifetime. I’m not convinced it will, but I live in hope.

So you can imagine I was very excited when a noted U.S.-based scholar of Masonry (I’m not naming names as I don’t want to embarrass anyone) emailed me with evidence that English translations of the French language “Recueil Precieux,” an early 19th Century publication used by many scholars of Masonry who study early ritual history, have habitually left out a section about Adoptive Masonry.

Adoptive Masonry is an early form of modern Freemasonry that tried to allow for the admission of women by creating a space for the female relatives of otherwise male-only Masons. Its existence in France – where women Freemasons long have been taken for granted – is well documented, but Adoptive Masonry is not especially well documented in North America.

The title page of “Recueil Precieux” says it was published in 1812 in Philadelphia.

That English translators have been leaving out a portion of “Recueil Precieux” about Adoptive Masonry (I haven’t entirely nailed down that they have) certainly looks like marginalizing, downplaying, and ignoring something that those in the field have agreed to not see. That much I think is true enough, despite what I’m about to share with you.

“Recueil Precieux” is a publication studied by Masonic ritual experts, not by the likes of me (though quite a few folks claim on my behalf that I am a ritual expert; which annoys me to no end because I’m not, but I’m expected to live up to it and, quite often, I fail). I knew I needed to speak with a scholar better versed in Masonic ritual study than I’ll ever be.

So I did.

That fellow had the sad duty to point out to me what genuine ritual experts have known for generations: that “Recueil Precieux,” despite its title page, was not published in Philadelphia; it was published in Paris. It seems that late 18th Century and early 19th Century French publishers got around censorship laws by claiming their books were published offshore.

And while a section on Adoptive Masonry may habitually have been left out of English translations or “Recueil Precieux,” any such passage likely documents Adoptive Masonry in France rather than in North America.

The evidence did not pass peer review.

And it’s OK 🙂

Yes, I’m disappointed. This isn’t the blue dental tartar I’m looking for in the history of early women Freemasons.

I am, however, heartened that a scholar greater than myself thought it might be. This probably is a sign that more scholars in Masonry now are looking for this evidence and are less interested in ignoring what they observe with their own eyes.

That’s a good thing 🙂