A History of Women’s Masonry
Barbara L. Thames, 18°
Eastern Order of International Co-Freemasonry
As all masculine Masons, especially in those Grand Lodges stemming from the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), know, women are not allowed to be Masons. In the Obligations of the rituals of some Grand Lodges (GLs), each Mason swears to “not be present at the making of a woman Mason.” Others specifically say that a masculine Mason may not sit in Lodge with a woman Mason. Still others do not even admit the possibility of female Masons’ existence so don’t require that sort of statement in their Obligations.
However, no matter what each of
you has sworn over your years in Masonry, there are woman Masons around the
world AND in the
What some of you may not know is that there have been a few women initiated (and passed and raised) into masculine Lodges. Rumors abound about a large number of initiations held to bind the women to secrecy when they have observed or learned of Masonic rituals, but only two are well documented.
The most prominent woman Mason to
be initiated into masculine Masonry was the Honorable Elizabeth St. Leger. The Grand Lodge of British Columbia and
Her father, Viscount Doneraile,
was a zealous Mason and often held occasional Lodges in his home. Conder believes that this Lodge meeting at
Doneraile House was a private Lodge not on the rolls of the Grand Lodge of
Ireland. This Lodge met to initiate a
gentleman named Coppinger. Miss St.
Leger was in a room adjoining the Lodge room where some construction was in
progress. On awakening from a nap and
hearing voices in the adjoining room, curiosity prompted her to remove a brick
from the intervening wall where it was loosely placed and observe the
initiation. When at length she attempted
to leave the adjoining room, the
There is no firm determination of
what Lodge2 Bro\ St. Leger
was entered into or her date of initiation.
Lodge numbers 44, 95, and 150 have been proposed. Lodge No. 44, however, was not formed until
1735 or 1736 making it too late for Bro\ St. Leger’s initiation as “a young girl” as the varied
accounts claim. Her tombstone, however, does show Lodge No. 44. Likewise, Lodge No. 95 was not formed until 1738,
also too late. And lastly, Lodge No. 150
was warranted in 1746 and was located in
Legend says Bro\ St. Leger eventually rose to be Master of her Lodge but there is no evidence to substantiate that claim.
A picture of her in regalia was
published in Robert Freke Gould’s “Concise History of Freemasonry.” The original is a portrait in the possession
of her descendents (Lady Castletown,
Bro\ St. Leger’s apron was in the possession of her descendents at the time of Bro\ Conder’s presentation to Quatuor Coronati in 1895.
The evidence in the case of Bro\ St. Leger points to the truth of this legend of a woman freemason.
Countess Barkoczy was the last of her family and was given the place of a surviving son by the Hungarian courts. Her inheritance included her father’s Masonic library which she read and studied. In 1875 Lodge Egyenloseg, holding warrant from the Grand Orient of Hungary, admitted the Countess to the order. As a result, the Grand Orient disciplined several members of the Lodge. The Deputy Master was expelled from Masonry and other officers of the lodge were suspended for three, six or twelve months (Builder, 1921). The Countess was required to return her certificate of invalid initiation. This is the best-documented instance of a woman being admitted to masculine Masonry.
The earliest form of women’s
Masonic Lodges in
In May 1891 Lodge Le Jerusalem
Ecossiase of La Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise (with R\
In 1901 Adoptive Lodges were
In 1945 the Union Maçonnique Feminine de France was formed with the aid of the Grande Loge de France to unite all the women’s lodges. This Grand Lodge was independent and its membership was and is exclusively female. In 1952 the name was changed to the Feminine Grand Lodge of France (GLFF).
In 1959 most of the GLFF lodges abandoned the Adoptive Lodge ritual and began using the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. The French Rite and French Traditional Rite were introduced in 1973. However, in 1994 there was one remaining Lodge in the Feminine Grand Lodge of France, Cosmos, No. 76, which still used the Rite of Adoption (Segall, 1994).
In 1981 the Women’s Grand Lodge of
Belgium was formed. This GL plays a role
in the orders for women in the
On 26 September 1902 Annie Besant, who had been initiated, passed and raised into the International Order of Co-Freemasonry, Le Droit Humain, in France, spearheaded formation of Lodge Human Duty, No. 6 of LDH in London (Outline, 1993). She and others believed that English lodges should follow the UGLE requirement of belief in a Supreme Being even though the lodges would not be recognized by the UGLE as regular. On that basis she negotiated the “Annie Besant Concord” with the Supreme Council of LDH allowing English-speaking lodges to add that admission requirement for all candidates. That requirement was subsequently passed along to all English-speaking lodges of LDH around the world (Grand Lodge, 2004).
In 1904 the English-language Dharma
Ritual was developed in
In 1908 the first English
all-female Masonic order was formed: the
Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry, which became the Order of Women
Freemasons in 1958. This foundation was
followed by the creation of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons in
1914. These two orders have over 60,000
Two additional mixed Masonic orders were formed in
French Officers in the Continental Army formed one Lodge
of Adoption in the
Scarce records indicate the possibility that there was one
feminine Lodge in the
The first Co-Masonic Lodge was founded in
In 1908, Annie Besant formed the first English-speaking
Lodge for LDH in the
Other early Lodges in the
Current Orders in the
Today there are a number of Masonic Orders admitting women
One order, the Ancient and Primitive Rite of
Memphis-Misraim, allows each Lodge to choose if it will be all male, all
female, or mixed. This order has 1
all-female lodge in the
The Order of International Co-Freemasonry, Le Droit Humain, maintains a presence with approximately 13 lodges in its American Federation (Rodemaker, 2005). In addition, the American Federation of Human Rights has 12 mixed lodges (Geroyan, 2005) and the Eastern Order of International Co-Freemasonry’s North American Federation has 4 lodges.
Orders of Masonry have small presences in the
Order of Ancient Freemasonry for Men and Women –
an English order with one lodge in the
· George Washington Union — a mixed obedience chartered by the Grand Orient de France in 1976.
Serenisima Gran Logia de Lengua Espanola de
Gran Loggia d’Italia has two mixed lodges
working in Italian in the
· La Grande Loge Haitienne des Orients d’Ourte-mèr has one lodge in the northeast.
The following is a copy of the inscription on her
tombstone in the churchyard of St. Finbar Cathedral (
In Pious Memory of
Arthur, First Viscount Doneraile.,
Her remains lie close to this spot.
Initiated into Freemasonry in
Lodge No. 44 at
In this County.
1 Numerous web sites display the
following quotation from the “Grand Lodge News” of the UGLE following the
"There exist in
"The Board is also aware that there exist other bodies not directly imitative of pure antient Masonry, but which by implication introduce Freemasonry, such as the Order of the Eastern Star. Membership of such bodies, attendance at their meetings, or participation in their ceremonies is incompatible with membership of this Grand Lodge".
2 Other opinions exist: for Lodge, No. 44, see Appendix A; for Lodge, No. 95, see “Women and Freemasonry.” The Builder, August 1920, and the Yronwode internet site; for Lodge, No. 150, see “Women Freemasons,” The Builder, February 1921.
3 Hanna, John G., “A Mason Must be a Man,” Masonic Light, April 1952.