Women in Freemasonry
Women and Freemasonry
The Grand Lodge of British Columbia does not recognize as regular Freemasonry any self-styled body that initiates women. That said, there are several organizations calling themselves Freemasonry that do initiate women.
There is also an historical record of womens participation in stonemasonry prior to the formation of the Grand Lodge of England; known examplesor legends of women who were initiated into Freemasonry and remained active in their lodges; and the development of Co-Masonry, a mixed-gender order using the rituals of Freemasonry.
Co-Masonry came to the United States in 1907. By 1922, there were more than 450 Co-Masonic lodges around the world, according to Arthur Edward Waites The New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry.
There are at present Co-Masonic lodges in at least fifty nations, including the USA, Canada, Britain, Australia, Greece, Holland, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Belgium, and Venezuela.
Further information on contacting womens masonic organizations can be found at <www.bessel.org/womenfmy.htm>.
Excerpted from a talk given by VW Bro. Rev. Neville B. Cryer to the Philalethes Society, as printed in Masonic Times, May, 1995, Rochester, New York, USA
In 1693 we have the York Manuscript No. 4, belonging to the Grand Lodge of York, which relates how when an Apprentice is admitted the 'elders taking the Booke, he or shee [sic] that is to be made Mason shall lay their hands thereon, and the charge shall be given.' Now I have to tell you, that my predecessors in Masonic Research in England from Hughan and Vibert and from all the rest onward, have all tried to pretend that the shee' is merely a misprint for 'they.' I now am the Chairman of the Heritage Committee of York. I know these documents; I've examined them, and I'm telling you, they say she,' without any question.
Of course, we have a problem, haven't we; to try to explain that. My predecessors would not try to explain this; they were too male oriented. The fact remains that, there it is, in an ancient document of a 17th century date. That this could have been the case seems all the more likely as that in 1696 two widows are named as members in the Operative masons Court. Away in the South of England, we read in 1714 thats before the Grand Lodge of England of Mary Bannister, the daughter of a barber in the town of Barking, being apprenticed as a Mason for 7 years with a fee of 5/- which she paid to the Company. ^
by Bro. Dudley Wright
The Builder, August 1920: England
Although the Antient Charges forbid the admission or initiation of women into the Order of Free and Accepted Masons, there are known instances where as the result of accident or sometimes design the rule has been broken and women have been duly initiated. The most prominent instance is that of the Hon. Elizabeth St. Leger, or, as she afterwards became, on marriage, the Hon. Mrs. Aldworth, who is referred to sometimes, though erroneously, as the "only woman who over obtained the honour of initiation into the sublime mysteries of Freemasonry."
The Hon. Elizabeth St. Leger was a daughter of the first Viscount Doneraile, a resident of Cork. Her father was a very zealous Freemason and, as was the custom in his time the early part of the eighteenth century - held an occasional lodge in his own house, when he was assisted by members of his own family and any brethren in the immediate neighbourhood and visitors to Doneraile House. This lodge was duly warranted and held the number 150 on the Register of the Grand Lodge of Ireland.
The story runs that one evening previous to the initiation of a gentleman named Coppinger, Miss St. Leger hid herself in the room adjoining the one used as a lodgeroom. This room was at that time undergoing some alterations and Miss St. Leger is said to have removed a brick from the partition with her scissors and through the aperture thus created witnessed the ceremony of initiation. What she saw appears to have disturbed her so thoroughly that she at once determined upon making her escape, but failed to elude the vigilance of the tyler, who, armed with a sword stood barring her exit. Her shrieks alarmed the members of the lodge, who came rushing to the spot, when they learned that she had witnessed the whole of the ceremony which had just been enacted. After a considerable discussion and yielding to the entreaties of her brother it was decided to admit her into the Order and she was duly initiated, and, in course of time, became the Master of the lodge.
According to Milliken, the Irish Masonic historian, she was initiated in Lodge No. 95, which still meets at Cork, but there is no record extant of her reception into the Order. It is, however, on record that she was a subscriber to the Irish Book of Constitutions, which appeared in 1744 and that she frequently attended, wearing her Masonic regalia, entertainments that were given under Masonic auspices for the benefit of the poor and distressed. She afterwards married Mr. Richard Aldworth of Newmarket and when she died she was accorded the honour of a Masonic burial. She was cousin to General Antony St. Leger, of Park Hill, near Doncaster, who, in 1776, instituted the celebrated Doncaster St. Leger races and stakes.
by Bro. Dudley Wright
The Builder, November 1920: England
In 1879 several Chapters owning allegiance to the Supreme Council of France of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, at the instigation of the Grand Orient, seceded from that allegiance and reconstituted themselves as La Grande Loge Symbolique de France. One of these Chapters, bearing the name of Les Libres Penseurs, meeting at Pecq, a village of Seine et Oise, in November 1881, proposed to initiate into Freemasonry, Mlle. Maria Desraimes, a well-known writer on Humanitarian and women suffrage questions, which they did on 14th January, 1882, for which act the Lodge or Chapter was suspended. Mlle. Desraimes was instrumental in bringing into the ranks of Freemasonry several other well-known women in France, with the result that an Androgynous Masonic body, known as La Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise was formed on 4th April, 1893 although its jurisdiction at that time extended over only one lodge, that known as Le Droit Humain, which came into being on the same day, and which, in 1900, adopted the thirty degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.
One of the principal workers in the formation of this new Grand lodge was Dr. Georges Martin, at one time a member of the Lodge Les Libres Penseurs. The schismatic movement spread to Paris and Benares and afterwards to London, at which last-named place, in September, 1902, the Lodge "Human Duty," now No. 6 on the Co-Masonry Register, was consecrated. The title "Co-Masonry" in lieu of the earlier term "Joint Masonry" was adopted in 1905.
American Federation of Human Rights
Reprinted from a brochure published by
American Co-Masonry, The American Federation of Human Rights. Larkspur, Colorado
Freemasonry is an ancient fraternity which groups under its banners men of every race, of every nationality, and of every religion. Wishing to do away with all cause for division and strife, Freemasons continually seek the means which will help all human beings to unite and become as one in the cause of the good of the whole. Masonic orders are divided into several rites which, though they may differ, spring from the same goal. That common goal is the reunion of Man with his Divine Source.
American Co-Masonry is a Masonic order which works the Scottish Rite from the 1st through the 33rd degrees, plus some degrees of the York Rite. That which distinguishes the American Co-Masonic Order from other Masonic workings is that, instead of admitting men only to its ranks, it admits women on an equal footing. It is sovereign and does not depend on any foreign rulership or control. American Co-Masonry proclaims equal rights for both sexes and absolute freedom to search for the truth; the utmost toleration is demanded from all members.
American Co-Masonry operates as a non-profit corporation chartered by the State of Colorado under the name "The American Federation of Human Rights," with headquarters in Larkspur, Colorado.
American Co-Masonry, through its organization, its disciplines, its philosophic orientation, and symbolic rituals, continues the traditions of the old Mystery Schools, providing an opportunity for spiritual growth and service to humanity.
"Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you..."
Declaration of Principles
Freemasonry is a system of morality developed and inculcated by the science of symbolism.
American Co-Masonry is founded on the principles of freedom of conscience, solidarity and justice, and is based on the facts of Brotherhood. It is organized as the American Federation of Human Rights, Incorporated, and stands for the Human Duty of mutual service.
It is Freemasonry opening its Temple to women as well as to men, because it recognizes that united strength is necessary and that efforts made by one sex alone are inadequate for the solution of economic, social and ethical problems.
In accordance with the ancient declaration of Freemasonry, The American Federation of Human Rights asserts the existence of a Supreme Power under the name of "The Great Architect of the Universe," at the same time leaving Human Reason at perfect liberty to differ in regard to His Attributes.
It imposes no restrictions on free search after truth, and in order to secure that freedom, exacts the greatest tolerance from its members.
The principles of Co-Freemasonry
by Bro. Dudley Wright
The Builder, February, 1921: England
Certificate of Incorporation
- Co-Freemasonry asserts, in accordance with the ancient declarations of Freemasonry, the existence of a Creative Principle, or Supreme Being, under the title of "The Great Architect of the Universe."
- It maintains an open "Volume of Sacred Law" in every lodge, when duly formed for Masonic purposes.
- It maintains the ancient landmarks of Freemasonry.
- It withholds recognition from all irregular and clandestine meetings, or lodges not holding proper charter.
- It imposes no restrictions on the free search for Truth, and to secure that freedom exacts tolerance from all its members.
- It is open to men and women, without distinction of race or religion, who are free, of good report, and abide by strict morals.
- It pledges its members to obedience to the laws of the country, loyalty to their nation or national sovreign, silence with regard to Masonic secrets, a high standard of honour, and ceaseless endeavour to promote the welfare of humanity.
- Every Freemason is bound faithfully to observe the decisions of the Supreme Council to which he or she owes allegiance.
Excerpted from the August 7, 1907 Certificate of Incorporation
of The American Federation of Human Rights in Washington, DC, USA.
"The particular business and objects of this society are to demand equal rights for both sexes before the law, to labor according to the Constitution and General By-Laws to be made and adopted by the society for the mutual improvement of its members by combating ignorance under all its forms, the building of human character, the practice of solidarity, the upholding of high standards of honor and of social justice with a kindly feeling towards all, and a ceaseless endeavor to promote the moral and material welfare of the human race, and to that end, to organize and to conduct throughout the United States of America, branches or Lodges of Co-Masonry..." ^
Similarity of ritual
According to Arthur Edward Waites The New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry (1922), American and British male freemasons would recognize and follow Co-Masonic work with ease, for the allegories and symbols are universal throughout Freemasonry. In addition, Co-Masonry makes use of a European continent-style Chamber of Reflection prior to initiation.
Women Freemasonry today
There are two groups of Women Freemasons. The first, formed in 1908, is now styled the Order of Women Freemasons. The second, formed in 1913 as a schismatic group wishing to work the Royal Arch degrees, styles itself the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons. Since 1929 both groups work the Royal Arch degrees and there appears to be little if any real difference between them.
The Order of Women Freemasons currently comprises just over 350 Craft lodges, based in the British Isles, Australia, Canada, Malta, Zimbabwe and also southern Spain. The Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons have lodges throughout England and the Isle of Man, one in Gibraltar and two in Spain. A short history of the Order of Women Freemasons was written by Irene Peters in 1973. The Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon does not recognize these groups as regular Freemasonry.
1902||First lodge of Co-Masons was formed in London [androgenous]|
1908/06/05||Founding of Grand Lodge, Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry [androgenous]|
1913||Break-away group styling themselves "The Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons"|
1920 c.||"Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry" restricted membership to women|
1958||"Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry" name changed to "Order of Women Freemasons"
The Order of Women Freemasons
27 Pembridge Gardens
London W2 4EF
t : 0171-229 2368
e : owf.org.uk/myform1.html
w : owf.org.uk
The Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons
402 Finchley Road
London NW2 2HR
t : 020 7443 5268
e : firstname.lastname@example.org
w : hfaf.org/
Men and women
The American Federation of Human Rights
P. O. Box 70 Larkspur
Hexagon House Surbiton Hill Road
Surbiton Surrey KT6 4LS
tel: 0181-339 9000 ^
Most of this material has been compiled by Catherine Yronwode who can be contacted at email@example.com
Mrs. Elizabeth Aldworth The Hon. Elizabeth St. Leger, daughter of Lord Doneraile of Doneraile Court, County Cork, Ireland, was born in 1693 and married in 1713 to Richard Aldworth, Esq. From a narrative published by the family in 1811 it appears that, upon secretly observing the first two degrees of a Lodge at labour in her fathers home, she was discovered and, after discussion, initiated in the Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft Degree. A champion of Freemasonry, Mrs. Aldworth died in 1773. Further details can be found in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum vol viii (1895) pp. 16-23, 53, 6. vol. xviii (1905) pp. 46-7. Also see vol. lxxvi (1963) p. 212-13.