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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”

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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.

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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.

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 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