Masonic Articles and Essays
Women and Masonry
The Very Ills..... Bro... Louis Goaziou 33o
What historical role have women held in Freemasonry? This article discusses the issue of women in Freemasonry in the early part of the 20th Century.
Masonic Magazines are devoting considerable space to the subject of "Women and Masonry." They appear to feel the necessity of opposing the growing sentiment in favor of equal rights in Masonry as in all other fields of endeavor. It is an admission, on their part, that the subject is a live one, even if they try to make light of it or to treat it as a joke.
They are now reproducing various stories about women who, in the olden days, tried, through curiosity, to obtain Masonic secrets. The stories are amusing and Co-Masons can get as much fun reading them as any of their opponents. But the fact that they are amusing proves nothing detrimental to Co-Masonry.
One or one hundred women, in the past, may have surreptitiously, obtained some knowledge of the secrets of Masonry. But that neither strengthens nor weakens the cause of Co-Masonry. Curiosity is not restricted to women.
Dr. Stukeley, in his autobiography, states that "his curiosity led him to be initiated into the mysteries of Masonry, suspecting it to be the remains of the mysteries of the ancients." (Gould, page 284) And, Dr. Stukeley is only one in hundreds.
These stories may serve to obscure an otherwise clear problem, but they do not dispose of it.
One Masonic paper devoted five long columns of one issue to these stories and then added:
"The subject of Co-Masonry, which means a Masonry to which men and women are admitted, has never been countenanced in this country."
"It has a slight following in Italy and France. Its greatest strength is in Great Britain and its dependencies where it has grown to such an extent as to demand the attention of the Grand Lodge of England. This body has issued warning to all Masons within its Jurisdictions against having anything to do with such organizations recognizing Co-Masonry and has severely disciplined certain English Masons for recognizing the movement."
The above reminds us that the Catholic Church, on several occasions, issued warnings against Masonry and severely disciplined certain Catholics for recognizing the movement. Yes, it disciplined some of them even to death! However, Masonry is still here and growing while the power of Rome is on the decline.
Papal bulls, and even torture, failed to kill Masonry in Latin countries. The bulls of the Grand Lodge of England will fail to kill Co-Masonry in that country. That Grand Lodge has been doing its best to help the Catholic Church kill the Grand Orient of France, and that for over forty years, excommunicating it, and calling its members atheists. However, the Grand Orient is stronger than ever and fighting the battles of the oppressed.
These bulls serve only to make those who issue them ridiculous in the eyes of free men and women. And, in England, the number of Masons who fraternize with Co-Masons has grown since the Grand Lodge issued its foolish bull. Not only that, but Masonry under the Grand Orient of France is gaining a foothold in England.
The same paper then added that the Eastern Star would prevent Co-Masonry from obtaining even the semblance of a following in this country.
Co-Masonry has no quarrel with the Eastern Star. It has never proposed to take its place. However, it may be interesting to insert here what officials of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania think of the Eastern Star:
"After thoughtful consideration and careful examination of the whole subject, we have come to the definite and impartial conclusion, that the Order of the Eastern Star, so far as it affects this Grand Lodge, is subversive of the principles and landmarks of Freemasonry."
That is on a par with the opinion of the Masonic paper about Co-Masonry. That paper no doubt believes that the Order of the Eastern Star is all right, and we agree with it. But the officers of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania say that it is all wrong. So, it is a matter of individual opinion after all. And in the case of Co-Masonry the opinion of Masons is divided just as it is in the case of the Eastern Star. Then why the excommunication? Why not let each individual decide for himself as to what to do in the matter of joining or not joining the Star or Co-Masonry?
We find no fault with any Mason who, being convinced that Co-Masonry is wrong, condemns it. But men who will use the tactics of Rome to right it, men who will publish untrue and unfair statements about it or about its members and will refuse to correct them when called upon to do so, men who will do these things may be members of Masonic Lodges of all degrees, but they are not Masons.
Our Masonic paper quotes as follows the rule according to which women cannot be admitted to membership:
"Coming to the time of our Speculative Grand Lodge, we find the rule that women cannot become Freemasons firmly adopted as a fundamental principle and landmark of the Order and summed up and settled for us in that clause of the ancient charges prefixed to the book of constitutions of 1723 and continued to the present day which lays down that: "the persons admitted members of a Lodge must be good and true men, free born, and of mature and discreet age, no bondsmen, no women, no immoral or scandalous men, but of good report.”
If in addition to the above this paper can bring forward satisfactory proof of any decision adopted in 1723 that no change could ever be made in any of the declarations of principles or rules then adopted, it will have a good case against the admission of women even if it is a shame to keep them in the category of slaves, immoral, and scandalous men. However, we have failed so far to discover anything that will sustain the position of our Masonic paper or of other Masons who say that the present obligation and laws against women cannot be changed by Grand Lodges. On the contrary, we find that many changes have been made since that time and Grand Lodges do not agree as to what constitutes a Landmark.
Anderson and his coworkers on the Charges and Constitutions of 1723 were not conceited enough to think that what they were preparing could not be changed and improved upon. They were too honest and too desirous of serving humanity to attempt to fasten unchangeable rules on future generations. In fact, as is generally the case with all constitutions, that of 1723 had some defects that were no doubt noted after it had been in operation for a while. Anderson worked on some alterations with the result that in the minutes of Grand Lodge, on Feb. 24, 1735, we find the following:
"Bro. Dr. Anderson, formerly Grand Warden, represented that he had spent some thoughts upon some alterations and additions that might fittingly be made to the constitutions, the first edition being all sold off. Resolved, that a Committee be appointed to revise and compare the same, and, when finished, to lay the same before Grand Lodge.” (Gould, Vol. III, Page II.)
Gould tells us, on page 282, that innovations started as early as December 27, 1720, when the office of Deputy Grand Master was established, and the Grand Master was empowered to appoint that officer and the Wardens. This encroachment upon the privileges of the members was resisted for several years.
Who will deny that, slowly but surely, Grand Lodge and Grand Masters assumed new powers that were not dreamed of in 1717 or 1723?
Many of the old charges have been changed. The word "freeborn" in the declaration quoted above, excluding women, has been changed to "free" in many jurisdictions. Lately, the Grand Lodge of England violated another supposed Landmark, that of physical perfection, when it decided "that a man, though not physically perfect, may be made a Mason, if he is able to understand our secrets and mysteries and to exemplify them when properly called upon."
Grand Lodges violate no rule or landmark when they decide to make changes, even if they be so radical as to decide to admit women.
On the Monday, June 24, 1723, questions of innovations were before the Grand Lodge of England with the following result:
"And the Question moved - that it is not in the power of any person, or Body of men, to make any Alteration, or Innovation in the Body of Masonry without the consent first obtained of the Annual Grand Lodge. And the Question being put accordingly - Resolved in the Affirmative." (Gould. Pages 373-4.)
That decision clearly proves that it was in the power of the annual Grand Lodge to make Alterations and Innovations. And, no subsequent change, not even the elimination of the words "without the consent first obtained of the Annual Grand Lodge, "can alter the fact that it was never intended that any Annual Grand Lodge could take away from the next one the power to make Alterations in the laws.
Various reasons have been advanced for the exclusion of women. According to some writers, the rule is a relic of Operative Masonry. Others have told us that the rule dates from the building of King Solomon's Temple when a woman failed to keep a secret. Besides the fact that in the early days of Speculative Masonry women were excluded from almost everything except home duties, there was then another reason for her exclusion which, we are glad to say, does not exist today at least in most of the countries.
Gould, on page 269, quotes the following from the Swalwell records:
"No woman, if she comes to speak to her husband, or any other person, shall be admitted 'into the room,' but speak at the door, nor any woman be admitted to serve those within with drink, etc."
It is a generally admitted fact that the early Masonic Lodges were quite different from the Lodges of today and members met mostly to have a jolly good time. They indulged freely in intoxicating liquors, and the stories that were told would not look well in print. It stands to reason that no women were wanted, and no decent woman would have cared to attend such meetings. Today we find that some of the bitterest opponents to the admission of women look upon the Masonic Lodge as a last refuge where they can be free from women. To them, Masonry is a social club, and while the few devoted members do the work in the temple, they smoke, play cards, or tell doubtful stories in the ante-room.
We have an entirely different idea of Masonry and have been unable to find a single Masonic reason for the exclusion of women. However, we have never advocated, and do not advocate now, that all Masonic Lodges open their doors to women. The change from exclusion to admission must be gradual to avoid disaster. In fact, we believe that the Co-Masonic Order is the proper experiment. The Grand Orient of France had the proper conception of the situation when it decided to recognize Co-Masonry and to permit its members to attend Co-Masonic meetings and thus learn of the problems confronting Lodges having both men and women members. It felt that its own Lodges were not yet prepared to admit women, and it remained a strictly masculine organization. After a few years of contact with Co-Masonic Lodges, the Grand Orient may decide as a second step to admit women as visitors, and then later, it may decide to admit women as members. The change from exclusion to admission should in all cases be gradual.
Masonry teaches the principles of the highest morality. It teaches good citizenship. It searches after Truth and more Light. Is there any good reason why women should be denied the advantages to be derived from such teachings? Is there anything in the wonderful symbolism of the working tools or in the ineffaceable lessons of the Sublime Degree that would not be as beneficial to women as to men?
The woman of today, with all her rights as an American citizen, cannot be compared to the woman of 1717, and the men who decreed at that time that women could not enter Masonry would probably be the first to advocate her admission if here today.
The women voters of the United States and other counties need Masonry just as much as the men voters. They are not in need of entering the ranks of Lodge members. There are now too many of these. But, they need to enter the ranks of Masons.
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