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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.

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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.

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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 🙂

The Co-Mason on the 50 Dollar Bill

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

Edith Dircksey Brown Cowan was an Australian politician, social reformer, women’s and children’s rights advocate and much, much more.

She also was a Co-Freemason.

Nope, I’m not making that up. If I was making it up, I’d certainly think up a better last name. For the nonMasons reading this, a “cowan” is someone who pretends to be a Freemason but who really isn’t.

Bro. Edith was no cowan.

I wish my little blog could do her justice, she really deserves a far more exhaustive biography than I can provide here. I’m not even going to pretend to offer an exhaustive listing of Edith’s achievements. I’m not convinced such a list exists.

She was born Edith Dircksey Brown on 2 August 1861 to Kenneth and Mary Eliza Dircksey Brown on the sheep station Glengarry, near Geraldton in Western Australia. Her mother died in 1868, and Edith was sent to a boarding school in Perth.

On June 10, 1876, when Edith was less than a month shy of her 15th birthday, her father was hanged for murdering his second wife. She left the boarding school and moved in with her grandmother in Guildford, Western Australia. She continued her schooling until, on 12 November 1879 when she was 18, Edith married James Cowan, then registrar and master of the Supreme Court.

About a decade later, her husband was appointed Perth police magistrate. The couple had five children, four daughters and a son, between 1880 and 1891.

Most of her biographers comment that her husband’s career helped open her eyes to wider societal problems, particularly the problems of women and children and the great need for social reform. No doubt it did.

However, it also should be noted that Edith cleared some interesting hurdles that would have – as it, too often, still does – acted like a lead weight on her personal evolution.

Her father’s inglorious end would have been bad enough but marriage and motherhood, what in my time has been referred to as the “mommy track,” relegated a good many late 19th and early 20th century women to obscurity. Not that there’s a single thing wrong with being a good mother, but it was difficult to combine that with public service at the time.

Edith’s life was anything but obscure but there was a pause.

In 1891, the year her last child was born, Edith began work in the Ministering Children’s League. Two years later, she became active the House of Mercy for unmarried mothers, what later became the Alexandra Home for Women.

Those experiences led to her helping to found and becoming first secretary, later president, of the Karrakatta Club for women in 1894, which today is he oldest club for women in Australia.

“Club” doesn’t really live up to what the group actually is because it isn’t all about tea and cake (don’t get me wrong, I love tea and cake). The Karrakatta Club provided – and provides – a forum for discussion and networking about various topics, including women’s rights, current affairs and literature. In that way, the club more resembles the 18th Century salons of France, from which adoptive Masonry ultimately sprang.

I’m not saying Edith Cowan was an adoptive Mason (though I’m sure someone out there will say I did).

I am saying she was on a parallel path that has lead many women into prominence and Freemasonry. The networking within the Karrakatta Club would prove to be a spring board for Edith as she and other members were prominent in the women’s suffrage movement.

Karrakatta Club members, quite notably Edith Cowan, were among the strongest supporters of women’s suffrage in Western Australia, which happened in 1899.

In 1906, Edith became a founding member of the Children’s Protection Society in 1906 and it was through this group that Edith help establish, in 1909, a day nursery for the children of working class mothers children. The society was also was instrumental in passage of the State Children Act of 1907, which set up the Children’s Court, to which she was appointed as a judge in 1915.

Meanwhile, in 1909, Edith co-founded of the Women’s Service Guild, of which she was vice-president from 1909 to 1917. The Guild worked for equal rights of citizenship for both men and women and was instrumental in opening the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women in 1916.

Oh, and in 1916, Edith was made a Freemason.

Edith was initiated 14 October 1916 and she was a founding member of St. Cuthbert’s Lodge No. 408, which was founded in Perth the same year. So I suppose she might have been a founding Entered Apprentice in that lodge or she was made a Master in a hurry. The latter isn’t impossible as such things happened in the early days of worldwide Co-Freemasonry. That certainly isn’t how it’s done in the order to which I belong today but I’m pointing it out because for all I do know about her – or think I do – there’s still a lot I don’t know.

I do know that St. Cuthbert’s wasn’t the first Co-Masonic Lodge in Australia. That started with Victorian Lodge No. 403 in 1911 and Sydney Lodge No. 404 in 1912. Co-Freemasonry remains active, if a bit obscure, in Australia today.

Moving through the blue lodge degrees did not slow Edith down. The same year she was initiated, there was a World War on and edit was in the midst of her four years working with the Red Cross, for which she later was appointed as a member of the Order of the British Empire.

Also the same year she was initiated, Edith became one of the first women elected to the Anglican Synod, of which she became a co-opted member in 1923.

In 1921, when she was 59, Edith became the first woman elected as a representative in an Australian Parliament, as a Nationalist member for West Perth, a year after Western Australia passed legislation that allowed women to run for parliament.

In 1925, she was a delegate to the Sixth International Conference of Women in Washington.

In 1926, she helped found the Western Australian Historical Society.

Cowan died 9 June 1932, survived by her husband. Her funeral took place in the same cathedral in which she’d been married and she is buried in Karrakatta Cemetery in Karrakatta, Nedlands City in Western Australia.

Four years after she died, her mother Lodge built its own premises, becoming the first purpose built Co-Masonic Temple in Australia.

A stone clock tower, the Edith Dircksey Cowan Memorial, stands in her honor at the gates of Kings Park in Perth.

In 1975, Edith was featured on an Australian postage stamp.

Her great-great-nephew, David Malcolm, became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australia in 1988.

In 1991, Western Australian College of Advanced Education became the fourth university in Western Australia and took on a new name: Edith Cowan University.

And an idealized engraved portrait of Edith Cowan has featured on the reverse of Australia’s 50 dollar bill since 1995.

The Motion of 1877: How the Grand Orient de France really became adogmatic

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

The story usually is retold like this: Protestant minister Frédéric Desmons in 1877 “strenuously urged” the Grand Orient de France (GOdF) remove from its constitution and its rituals all reference to the Great Architect of the Universe (G.A.O.T.U.). The GOdF approved the idea and it was done. The United Grand Lodge of England, in a valiant effort to defend faith and the landmarks of Freemasonry, withdrew relations from the GOdF, as did almost the rest of the Masonic world.

The above story is why members of the dogmatic orders, those that require belief in a Supreme Being or Power, too often refer to the GOdF and other adogmatic orders as “godless” and “atheistic.”

Those insults have stuck. I’ve even heard French Freemasons refer to the GOdF and other adogmatic Masonic orders in this way.

Trouble is the story isn’t true, not even on its face. And yet it is retold even by those who should know better and by those who may know the truth but who want to maintain the result of the story, which I’ll just start calling “the lie.” The point of the lie is to justify continued quarantine of Republican sentiments inside France and to keep other equally Republican-minded Freemasons, particularly those in the United States, on board.

And, nope, I’m not suggesting a tin-foil-lined conspiracy theory. Better Masonic historians than me have known the truth and have written about it for generations. However, the rank and file in Freemasonry, sad fact be told, pay little attention to Masonic historians(1) and the front-office folks very often would rather the lie be maintained.

That said, I can cram the truth into a single blog only by oversimplifying what really did happen. So, in an effort to head off a frenzy of mad keying, I’ll admit right away that I am well aware of what I’m leaving out. What I’m leaving in will be, I hope, inspiration enough for folks who want to know more to seek it out.

The dates, names and other details in the lie are accurate, in keeping with the strategy of passing off lies by wrapping them in a few truths. Lodges of the GOdF did meet in a General Assembly(3) in September 1877 during which a motion, No. IX, was made by a Lodge (not Desmons, but he’s coming soon) to replace certain words in the order’s constitution. The motion was to remove the phrase “Its principles are the existence of God, the immortality of the soul and human solidarity” and replace it with “Its principles are absolute liberty of conscience and human solidarity.”

A majority at the assembly voted in favor of the change and Desmons (there he is) wrote up the report and read it aloud. That was about all Desmons had to do with the motion, which did not – not even one little bit – advocate the suppression or removal of the G.A.O.T.U. from French Masonic Ritual or the order’s constitution. As WBro. Alain Bernheim noted(2) in 2011:

“Whoever wrote that Desmons favored the suppression of the G.A.O.T.U. likely never read what he said. The G.A.O.T.U. was not mentioned once in his report which concluded with the words: ‘Considering that Freemasonry is not a religion, that consequently it does not have to assert doctrines or dogmas in its Constitution, [the General Assembly] approves motion No. IX’.”

There’s a considerable amount of backstory I could get into and any number of relevant rabbit holes I could run down but, again, this is a blog not a book. Instead, I’ll point out that the Third Republic was a thing in 1877, bringing with it many ideas, including freedom of conscience and “laïcité.” The latter often is referred to as secularism as a way of life, rather than one’s life being predicated upon one’s faith or lack thereof.

The point wasn’t to suppress faith but to recognize it as a personal matter that should have no bearing upon a person’s livelihood, position in life, qualification to become a member of a fraternal order or anything else. The motion of 1877 was to make faith a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy within the GOdF by removing belief in a Supreme Being or Power as a membership requirement.

And. That. Was. All.

Meanwhile, across the channel in the United Kingdom, what had been for decades an overwhelming anxiety to keep Republican ideas – in the United States, France, where ever else they cropped up – in check got kicked up a few dozen notches with the rise of the Third Republic. English Freemasons in particular self-recruited into the crusade to keep French ideas in France and, with Third Republic ideas entrenched in French Freemasonry, brethren in the U.K. took up the additional challenge.

One relevant detail here: In 1875, two years before the GOdF General Assembly motion, the UGLE entered into fraternal relations with the Grand Orient de Belgique, despite the GOdB having actually removed “To the glory of T.G.A.O.T.U.” from its statutes. The UGLE didn’t become bothered about that until it decided to make it an issue and severed relations with the Belgian order in 1921.

To be clear, tensions between British – particularly English – and French Freemasons are even more deeply rooted in the French Revolution and the following decades of instability in France. French Masonic refugees in the U.K. often didn’t care much for how cozy the UGLE was – and is – with the Monarchy, the aristocracy and the Anglican church while English Freemasons didn’t care for what they saw as “mysticism” among French Freemasons(4).

In March of 1878, the UGLE had its own con-fab and adopted a resolution that included this run-on sentence(5):

“That the Grand Lodge, whilst always anxious to receive in the most fraternal spirit the Brethren of any Foreign Grand Lodge whose proceedings are conducted according to the Ancient Landmarks of the Order, of which a belief in T.G.A.O.T.U. is the first and most important, cannot recognise as ‘true and genuine’ Brethren who have been initiated in Lodges which either deny or ignore that belief.”

Leaving aside the canard about belief in a Supreme Being or Power being a landmark – hey, I can blog again – the rest of the UGLE resolution seems to entirely misunderstand the 1877 French motion. Except there was no misunderstanding, not really. This was the 19th Century, not the 14th. The UGLE front office knew then, just as they know now, what the 1877 motion was about. The reasons for this “misunderstanding,” and the subsequent promulgation of the lie, are deeper and far more complex than the UGLE resolution would suggest.

So what happened?

In a nutshell the UGLE, anxious to keep French ideas and politics – especially the anti-monarchical(6) and anticlerical bits – confined, was as anxious to get other Grand Lodges in the world on board. Going after French Republicanism would not convinced many of those Grand Lodges, especially those in the United States where Republican politics – classically defined, not the political party – are much appreciated.

Framing the 1877 motion as an attack on faith would.

And so it went. The rest of the Masonic world largely bought into the lie and the great schism happened. It persists to this day.

Yup, the above is an over simplification. Those who want to continue to believe the lie won’t care and those who want to learn more can go elsewhere and learn it from better folks than me. However, I will remind everyone of this: knowledge brings with it responsibility. You might have believed the lie before but now you have reason to know better.

Don’t blame me; I’m just the messenger.

And I advocate nothing. I’m not saying the UGLE and the GOdF should make nice or anything thing like that. Their official relations are no business of mine, they can do whatever they want.

I would, however, recommend that individual Brethren in the dogmatic and adogmatic orders have more respect for each other and recognize the right of all the orders to exist. Choice, above all else, should be respected. Candidates who believe in a Supreme Being or Power have lodges they can enter and candidates who don’t can find lodges that will accept them. It’s a system we know can work largely because it does.

And Humanity is in greater need of perfection than God is in need of glory. There is plenty of room for lodges that do one, the other or both.

Y’all be cool.


(1) Grand Lodge of Iowa Grand Historian Joseph E. Morcombe complained in a March 5, 1918 letter to then North American Universal Co-Freemasonry Grand Commander Louis Goaziou about a Brother who had expressed some “facts” to him about the motion of 1877. “I rapped him hard on the statement that the Grand Orient of France had never been recognized by English or American Masonry,” Morcombe lamented. “Yet such as he are the leaders and light-givers of the brethren. They will not dig for facts, taking their own intuitions or the mere say-so of others as ignorant as themselves as gospel, against all arguments that can be brought.”

In the same letter, Morcombe also explained to Goaziou why he even bothered to labor as a Masonic historian among so many “ignorant” brethren. “When will American Masons be open-minded and logical; when will they search for the light of truth without stipulating ahead or on the way that they will not venture into certain fields?,” Morcombe wrote. “Sometimes I am disgusted enough with hypocrites and ignorances in the Craft to cease my endeavors. But then comes the new ascension of the fighting spirit, and I try to hit all the harder.”

In my observation, that “fighting spirit,” rather than any attention payed by rank-and-file Freemasons, is what drives many modern scholars in the Craft as well.

(2) The correct word in French is “Convent.” In English, think “convention.”

(3) “Etudes Maconniques – Masonic Papers” in “My Approach to Masonic History”, an address delivered May 26, 2011 in Sheffield before members of the Manchester Association for Masonic Research. The address is available online here: http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/bernheim27.html#_ednref39

(4) See Andrew Prescott’s “A Body without a Soul? The Philosophical Outlook of British Freemasonry 1700–2000,” a paper Prescott gave during conferences for Free University of Brusells, the Cornerstone Society and the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre beginning in 2003. A version of this paper is available online here: http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/prescott13.html

(5) See Robert Freke Gould’s “The History of Freemasonry” (J. Beacham, 1886) Volume III, page 26

(6) Yes, I hear y’all over there in Ireland, but I really would like to bring this blog home in less than 10,000 words