Women in Freemasonry
The Beehive By Fred Milliken
The following article originally ran in the September 2005 issue of Masonic Magazine.
It was somewhere around two years ago that I read some material on the changing direction of men’s and women’s career paths. It seems more and more guys are stopping at a High School education and immediately entering the workforce, while more and more girls are continuing on to higher education and high priced careers. High School honor rolls show that two-thirds of honors students are females. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 1972, women were 42% of the college undergraduates, but by 2001 they were 56%. In 2001, women represented 60% of the Bachelor’s Degree recipients.
Moving on, what do Annika Sorenstam, Suzie Whaley, Jan Stephenson, Michelle Wie, and Se Ri Pak have in common? They have all crashed the men’s PGA tour.
And this year who has not heard of racing car sensation Danika Patrick? Her achievements have boosted racing attendance and viewing by 25%.
All this is enough for me to conclude that the 21st Century is the Century of the ascension or re-ascension of women, except in age old traditions. It is ironic that those institutions and organizations that have been around the longest and show centuries of tradition are those that exclude or limit full participation by women. The two most notable are the Christian Church and Freemasonry. In the case of the early First Century Church there were leadership positions occupied by women. As time went by the Church became dominated by male leadership but it didn’t start out that way. Is that true in Freemasonry? Well let’s take a look.
In the “York Manuscript No. 4,” written in 1693 and belonging to the Grand Lodge of York (England) we find that it gives “he and she instructions.” In 1696 two widows are named as members in the Operative Masons court. In 1714 Mary Bannister was apprenticed as a Mason for seven years.
In the early 1700’s, as best as I can tell around 1712, Elizabeth St. Leger, later Elizabeth Aldworth, was initiated into Lodge No. 95, Cork, Grand Lodge of Ireland and later became its Master. Upon her death she was given a Masonic funeral. It is worth noting that this occurred before the Grand Lodge of England was formed and exclusion of women became an “ancient landmark” with Anderson’s Constitutions in 1723.
You have to jump all the way to 1893 for the next big development for Women in Freemasonry. Actually that’s not as bad as it looks considering that the 19th Amendment to the American Constitution was not ratified until 1920. In 1893 Le Grand Loge Symbolique Eccossaise, Le Droit Humain, French Co-Masonry, was formed in Paris. In 1903 the first Co-Masonry Lodge was formed in the USA.
Next was the development of women-only Lodges, often offshoots of Co-Masonry. First was the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry founded in England in 1908. This group was followed by the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons in 1913. Today it is estimated that 60,000 female Masons belong to these two English Grand Lodges. In 1945 in France the Union Maconnique Feminine de France was formed as an all women’s Grand Lodge.
There is more that can be reported worldwide, but needless to say there are women in Freemasonry all over the world. Those who say there never was a women Freemason are wrong. Those who say, “there is no tradition of women in Freemasonry,” are also wrong. It has been more than one hundred years with women Freemasons performing essentially the same work we men do. I anticipate the next rebuttal. But, but……, you say, all this is not recognized. It is irregular, clandestine. Commenting on the two Female Grand Lodges in England in March 1999 the Grand Lodge of England stated that:
“Freemasonry is not confined to men” and except for the fact the Lodge membership was female, they were otherwise “regular”.
There is a new age dawning. It is the age of the ascension of women, everywhere in every walk of life, co-equals and second to none. While most of us in North America are under obligations not to be at the making of a Mason of a woman, that does not exclude dialogue. I see three steps we in North America should take right away:
1) Talk to women Masons. This business about there being a prohibition of no Communication says nothing about discourse but rather forbids sitting together with a woman Freemason in a tiled Lodge meeting or Communication.
2) Socialize and share projects with women Freemasons. Again while we cannot sit in Lodge with them we can unite in a dinner or a community or charitable affair.
3) Rent space to them. Lodge buildings are under funded and in need of more tenants to help pay the bills. This is a much better idea than fund raisers for those who won’t raise dues.
I respect those male Freemasons who want a men’s only Lodge. No one should have fraternal intermingling of the sexes rammed down their throat. On the other hand I respect those women who claim the right to experience all the joys of fraternal communion that men do. Why should they be denied? So let us open up lines of communication, dialogue, and sharing, and see where that takes us, operating within the legality of our Grand Lodges. And let us always respect the freedom of choice, the choice that Burger King advertises when it says “Have it your way.”
As a Roman Catholic Mason I have a good sized wager with a close Masonic friend on who will first treat women as co-equals, the Church or the Fraternity. If you want to know where my money was placed, well you will just have to E-Mail me. I have enjoyed this opportunity to put a bee in your bonnet.
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