Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Picture is worth a thousand words: Images of Women Freemasons

It is possible to write a great many thousands of words on women in Freemasonry over the past several hundred years, but those who are in denial about this basic reality will ignore them. So, instead of writing more, and masons such as my friend Karen Kidd have written in greater detail and more cogently on the subject than I can, I will simply offer a random selection of photographs and illustrations which speak volumes. These images give the lie to the claim that women freemasons do not or cannot exist. While it is perfectly fine that there are Masonic bodies which refuse to admit women, even though that seems to
me a curious survival from a less enlightened age, the claim that woman are not or cannot be masons is akin to saying that women cannot or should not be allowed to drive, or vote, etc. Such obediences are entitled to their practices. But really fellows, try to force yourselves to show the courtesy expected of a Mason, at least when speaking in public. You make us all look silly when you sputter and get irate over an issue that intelligent and reasonable men dealt with more than half a century ago.

So, without further ado, here is a sampling of paintings, etchings, and photographs of women masons and freemasons across the ages. It should be clear that they did and do exist. The earliest depictions not being included in volumes dedicated to cryptozoology, we are left therefore, with no other conclusion that represents depictions of reality.

The first of these images come from an early period, and in fact depict a woman who was clearly an operative Freemason. (By the way folks, Freemason did not begin as a term to describe what we now call "speculative"
masonry, a distinction cooked up along with the whimsy that Freemasonry began in London, as there were no small number of operative masons capable of and engaged in speculative thought before the bar hoppers of London formed a Grand Lodge. Rather, it refers to masons who worked in Freestone. Freestone is a stone used in masonry for molding, tracery and other work with a chisel. Oolitic stones are used, although soft sandstones may also be used; in some locations a naturally hardened chalk called clunch is employed for internal lining and for carving.

Elizabeth Aldridge
I include here depictions of women being initiated into Freemasonry in 18th century France, as well as  photographs of anonymous women freemasons, in photographs that span three centuries. Included among these are some interesting examples of Masonic garb. The most unique and creative of which are from the 19th century. I include photographs depicting groups of Women Freemasons with their regalia.

Annie Besant
Additionally, we have a handful of images of Women Freemasons who are or were famous. These images depicting famous women Freemasons include the Honourable Elizabeth Aldworth, a famous woman Freemason in Ireland, who lived from 1693-1775. (nb: these dates are approximate and vary by one to two years at either end based upon the sources).  Aldworth was the daughter of Arthur St. Leger,1st Viscount Doneraile and 1st Baron Kilmayden of Doneraile Court, County Cork, Ireland. She was married in 1713 to a Richard Aldworth, Esq. Little is known of her life is known between her initiation into Freemasonry as a young girl and her death almost sixty years later.

As is to be expected, a fair bit of nonsense has been written about her by Masons concerned with “limiting the damage,” however, her portrait, wearing masonic garb as a mature woman makes it clear that she continued to be active as a mason throughout her life. The lodge her father was the leader of, doubtlessly received its patent from Scotland rather than London, as some have suggested.

Mixed Masonic Lodge in Ghana in the 1930s

Also included are the photograph of a most talented woman Freemason whom, until I went in search of photographs for this blog entry, I had forgotten about, although I have no idea why; the multi-talented and beautiful Josephine Baker. Lastly, I would be remiss if I neglected to post a photograph of the woman who may well be the most famous woman Freemason in the English speaking world today, the talented author and Freemason, Karen Kidd. Karen is the author of a number of books on women and Freemasonry that if you haven't read, you need to. Go look them up.

Josephine Baker

Some titles on this subject, by Karen Kidd, and by other authors include:

Women's Agency and Rituals in Mixed and Female Masonic Orders edited by by Alexandra Heidle and Jan A. M. Snoek.

Initiating Women in Freemasonry by Jan A. M. Snoek

Women in Freemasonry by Louis Goaziou.
Karen Kidd

Haunted Chambers: the Lives of Early Women Freemasons by Karen Kidd

On Holy Ground: A History of The Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry by Karen Kidd

Lastly, one title which might surprise some, demonstrates that no less than Albert Pike was seriously considering the admission of women as Freemasons in the United States. He wrote his own adaptation of the Rite of Adoption with the intention of instituting it in the US.  His book, which is available as a reproduction from Kessinger, is entitled Secret Masonic Rituals For Women: The Masonry Of Adoption.

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