Wednesday, September 23, 2009

LIFE: The Busy, Brotherly World of Freemasonry (in 1956)


The October 8th, 1956 issue of LIFE Magazine is one of the most regularly traded issues of that publication on Ebay. It featured a cover story—"The Busy, Brotherly World of Freemasonry"— about the wide ranging and popular world of the Masonic fraternity, which was at its zenith at that time. There were more than 3.5 million Freemasons in the U.S., and the WWII generation participated with gusto in the appendant bodies, as well. The article claimed one out of every 12 adult American males were Masons then.

Consider this excerpt:

In the Lexington, Mich. district, a fourth of its 2,500 residents belong to Masonic organizations. Twenty-one of the town's 39 businessmen, seven of its 15 male high school teachers, two of five councilmen are Blue Lodge members. . . "If there were suddenly no Masonic order in Lexington," said one, "there would be a void hard to fill."


LIFE was, above all, a photographic record of current events, so it is especially interesting to see how the fraternity was depicted at that time. No spooky anti-Masonic pap offered up as "compelling counterpoint." No dissenting sidebars featuring portentous warnings or perennially indignant proclamations of Masonic skullduggery. Not even snarky snickers of sarcasm over Shriner and Tall Cedars costumery. Only brief references to the Morgan excitement and the historic conflict with the Catholic Church. (However, no mention of Prince Hall or "Negro Masonry" either. The fraternity as depicted was a very white world.)

LIFE has digitized all of its issues, which is an amazing resource, now available on Google.

And take the time to enjoy the ads, too ("Wash 'n' wear boys wear ORLON NYLON")

(Hat tip to Brother Matt Byers for spotting this.)

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