"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Sunday, December 09, 2018

UGLE and Female Freemasonry

Anytime the subject of women and Freemasonry pokes its head up, I'm well aware that the brickbats and hand grenades start flying. I know how this goes. Shrieks of "Women CAN'T be Freemasons!" come pouring out onto the message boards and Facebook comments. The blood drains from the faces of grizzled Past Masters and fresh faced new Master Masons alike. At least a dozen self-satisfied sniggerers feel compelled to bring up Senior Deacons and exposed breasts. At least two dozen bring up the Order of the Eastern Star. And there is a great gnashing of teeth.

Of course, women can be Freemasons. There have been female Masons (and not the just ones who listen at keyholes or fall out of wardrobes into meetings while spying) since the mid-1700s. Between 20-25% of the Masons in France are women right now. Regular, recognized Freemasonry doesn't recognize them, they can't attend our meetings, we can't attend theirs. But they do exist, and in decent enough numbers to be taken seriously.

With that in mind, the most recent issue of the United Grand Lodge of England's magazine Freemasonry Today arrived this week featuring an interview with MW Christine Chapman, Grand Master of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons, the smaller of the two principal female grand lodges in England. She's been a Mason for 42 years.

From the interview:

What are the origins of women’s Freemasonry?
The old myth that it began with inquisitive women being discovered hidden in lodge cupboards, grandfather clocks and under floorboards – and that they were made masons to protect the secrets – is entertaining, but none of these women went on to develop women’s Freemasonry.
It began in prerevolutionary 18th-century France with the Lodges of Adoption, which were female masonic societies under the adoption of masculine lodges. When the French Revolution arrived, all these lodges were for the chop, at least metaphorically. However, women were coming to the forefront of French intellectual society and Maria Deraismes, a well-known writer and supporter of women’s rights, was invited to become a full member of Loge des Libres Penseurs, working under the Grande Loge Symbolique de France. Her initiation in 1882 caused a schism, so this lodge and nine others seceded to form a new Grand Lodge called La Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise. And a new parallel movement was formed that eventually became known as Le Droit Humain, or the International Order of Co-Masonry.

Not long after this, the radical feminist Annie Besant travelled to France to join this movement and when she returned to England, she decided to formed the British Federation of the International Order of Co-Masonry in 1902, and remained its leader until her death in 1933. However, in true masonic fashion, there was a breakaway by members who wanted their Freemasonry to run along similar lines to UGLE. So in 1908 a new Grand Lodge was formed called the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry, or HFAM, although they later added The Order of Women Freemasons to their title and are now usually referred to as the OWF. Up until this point, female Freemasons had used the term ‘sister’. But now they decided that as members of a universal brotherhood, it was more suitable to be styled as ‘brother’.
‘It’s almost 24/7 now. I’m always at the end of my mobile and on social media, looking for opportunities to promote the fraternity’
What type of Freemasonry was practised in the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry?
For the first five years of its existence, they practised only the Craft degrees, but some members wished to introduce the Royal Arch. And having received the degree from former members of an extant UGLE chapter, they formed one themselves to practise the Royal Arch. But the Grand Lodge of HFAM decreed that the time was not yet ripe for this introduction.

So on 27 November 1913, Mrs Elizabeth Boswell Reid and her daughter Mrs Lily Seton Challen set up their own Grand Lodge to be known as The Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons, or HFAF, which is my Grand Lodge. Elizabeth Boswell Reid became our first Grand Master. So in 1913 we had three masonic Grand Lodges admitting both men and women, although women outnumbered the men in both HFAM and HFAF. Eventually these fraternities decided to become single-sex, and by 1933, we had achieved this aim in HFAF.
So HFAF was founded on the wave of social change in 1913?

We were inspired by the suffragettes and were founded on a streak of rebellion, because we’d broken away from another group. But they were all founded with the same principles – to empower women. We had one suffragette I know of – Helen Fraser, a great orator who inspired women to join the suffrage movement.

What’s the difference between the HFAF and OWF societies?
The OWF are much larger than us. But we like to think we’re more flexible and can react more quickly to initiatives and seize opportunities. Carpe Diem is one of my mantras and another is that there are no problems, only solutions. Take the consecration of our New Delhi Lodge. We had an Indian lady who came over to the UK, joined a lodge and took her degrees because she was determined to take Freemasonry to India. But she couldn’t get other Indian women to come over to England to take their degrees. So we went out there to make it happen.
What are the misconceptions about women’s Freemasonry?
We sometimes come across men who don’t think we could possibly be doing it at the same level as them. So we’ve had to fight that. Nowadays they’re much more supportive and UGLE is in particular. We also have to fight people who think we are somehow upset that we can’t join the men. At HFAF, we want to work as women, for an organisation of women, doing things for women. We have a saying: it’s a bit like football – the same game, the same rules, but different teams...
Read the rest HERE.

Take note that while the UGLE doesn't officially have any sort of visitation relationship or actually grant recognition to the female grand lodges, they do cooperate. Their Grand Masters were invited to the gala 300th anniversary celebration of UGLE last year. When ladies contact the UGLE asking about becoming Freemasons themselves, they do not rear up on their haunches, snort and harrumph about "NO WIMMIN," or offer up an alternative like the OES (which actually does not officially operate in England, and carries no standing with the UGLE). They cheerfully point to the two female grand lodges down the street. They even cooperate with each other with their University Scheme program, which seeks to introduce Freemasonry to college students by establishing lodges connected to college and university campuses. Interestingly, UGLE and the HFAF conferred with each other when they crafted their recent transgender policies last year, which were forced upon them by changes in English laws.

All of this is a lesson U.S. grand lodges need to pay attention to as the society shifts around us. Just as American grand lodges ignored Prince Hall Freemasonry for two hundred years, we have done the very same with female Freemasonry in this country. The Grand Master of the HFAF said in her interview that they are expanding and chartering lodges in India, Spain, Gibraltar, and Washington, DC in the coming year. There are numerous other female lodges already at work across the U.S. that almost none of us are even remotely aware of. 

American Masons have been able to pretend that the Order of the Eastern Star was sufficient for women to join as a panacea for legitimate Freemasonry, with suitable male Masonic lifeguards on hand to make sure they weren't actually conferring Masonic degrees. The internet, combined with societal upheavals and a shifting gender role landscape, is going to make the future very different.


  1. I have had the opportunity to attend female lodges in France that have men as guests. Both the candidate and master read papers that obviously have been worked on with considerable effort.

  2. Good for them. But, we should not recognize them or any other clandestine Grand Lodges.

    1. Remember, they are irregular, not clandestine. In Masonic terms these words are not the same thing.

  3. Help on this word clandestine. Given all the disputes, the lack of recognition between grand lodges, (California and Georgia and Tennessee for example), the quasi recognition by even the UGLE of female grand lodges (referring candidates to their web sites, inviting them to celebrations, grand officers of UGLE married to female grand officers), refusal of "ecognized"grand lodges to initiate African Americans or Jews, confusion of who can sit with whom in rites like the Cryptic (?Leave if irregulars present?) , and of course the continuing and steepening loss of members and buildings and lack of young members, it is really hard to think of a good definition of clandestine that is helpful. As another example, Prince Hall lodges are not the entire story --Hiram and St. John grand lodges in some jurisdictions are robust. Are they clandestine? now that some Prince Hall grand lodges are recognized, they are to them. And who can sort it out and who has the time to do so? The distinction between irregular and recognized and regular and clandestine has become bewildering.

  4. Learning GrasshopperMon Dec 10, 03:01:00 PM 2018

    @henryfio, UGLE acknowledges that OWF and HFAF are Regular Grand Lodges (not Clandestine or Irregular), practicing Ritual consistently with that of UGLE. Totally agree, there is no "recognition" between the Grand Lodges, as "recognition" implies inter-visitation, which is not allowed.
    Recognition and Regularity are different concepts... Just because a Grand Lodge is Regular does not mean there is Recognition (current state of relations between GL of AL and GL of CA, for example). Similarly, just because a Grand Lodge is not Recognized by another Grand Lodge, does not imply either Grand Lodge is Irregular or Clandestine.

  5. It comes down to a simple question, really: When we speak of the universality of Masonic Principles, are we or are we not serious?

    I can think of no reason (intellectual...moral...practical) that should preclude women being attracted to the principles of the Craft, aspiring to be, or actually becoming Freemasons. The logistics of that (even if nothing changes vis-à-vis the existence of Lodges for women or co-Masonic organizations) will work itself out, with likewise (one would hope), less misguided animosity from GL Freemasonry over time. If the principles of the Craft are "universal," then it would be wise to acknowledge that these would naturally strike as sincere a chord in the hearts and minds of women as of men.

    That said (and as much as there is to recommend cooperation on all matters of principle), there is much to be said for the maintenance of Brotherhood and Sisterhood within separate organizations. Men & women are, in significant ways, different creatures, and there are aspects of the personalities of each that fully blossom only in the company of others of the same gender.

    The modern world throws men and women together in every avenue of life, and this is both to the advantage and disadvantage of each. It seems to me that there is (perhaps more than ever) a need, even in the most inclusive society, for a place where one may have a respite from interaction with the other!

    1. In Washington about thirty or more years ago there was a spirited ongoing debate about the admission of African Americans and women to the city's clubs. One argument was that by being ineligible, groups were hurt professionally because they could not take their clients to dine and to events that those who were members of the prestigious venues could. A second point that the excluded groups were paying taxes for police, fire, and other services benefiting the segregated facilities. A third point was that some were allowed to join as they were "whiter looking" than others. And so on it raged. Of course the women felt that having to enter through a separate door and sit in a small dainty boutique salon waiting for a man to escort them to an allowed event like a memorial service was grossly humiliating. When this was all changed, reciprocal clubs in other cities were informed that visits by Washington members who were women or African American would be received or relations would terminate. Of course Washington was a very valuable reciprocal privilege and albeit sometimes grudgingly the clubs elsewhere fell in line. See https://www.universityclubdc.com/Default.aspx?p=DynamicModule&pageid=364590&ssid=275215&vnf=1

      The clubs have done well since the change, - they preserve in corners a certain old boy flavor for those who like port and cigars - - joined occasionally by women who also like port and cigars - there have been very successful presidents and treasurers who happen to be women or African Americans and nobody thinks about it. The exclusions of Jews, women, African Americans, from a fraternity whose reason for 300 and more years has been to bring diverse people together is a good reason for warning anyone about joining. It is time for the grand masters to confront this problem. For example, not a dime should go to the Alexandria memorial until its board has African American masonry represented and exhibits to boot and grand masters should insist. The Shrine charities should cease to get officers from segregated grand lodges. Can there be any doubt that all of this is going to turn decline into total destruction?

  6. Regular and Recognized are two very different concepts. Just look at Italy, where two grand lodges (Grand Orient of Italy and Regular Grand Lodge of Italy) exist, and are recognized by many regular grand lodges, but don't recognize each other, and don't share the same list of recognition from regular masons. Then you have certain Prince Hall grand lodges that are regular in both origin and practice, but sonce the PHA grand lodge of the state has already been recognized, the others will not be. Then the women's lodges that are descended from regular grand lodges and are regular except that they are women. Then there are those "irregular" rites that although not existing in the United States, are condoned by recognized grand lodges in other jurisdictions. Then the issues with the "sublime" degree of Master Mason, which is not sublime in many jurisdictions. Those lodges that don't admit pagabs, gnostics, or other pariahs, or only admit Christians, or to flip it around, those recognized lodges that don't expell atheists (which direction are you gonna go?). Then there's the issue with the Shrine, and recently the Templars. The various French grand lodges. Those lodges that are questionably indeoeninde from the state (Cuba, Russia, Kazakhstan, etc.).

    (I'd also like to point out that, according to the article, the women DO NOT want to join mensm lodges. So those men who instantly go on the defensive about not wanting women in their lodges should reread the article. These *women-only* lodges aren't advocating co-masonry)

  7. Brother Anonymous, all very well put. and helpful. Because I belong to blue lodges in a number of jurisdictions, there have been periods when I could not sit with myself because of the jurisdictions to which I belong being at war. When I have spoken to some lodges they have had to recess because the brethren were from grand lodges at war with each other and could not sit together in a tyled lodge. That is just the blue lodge situation, and the situation in other bodies gets even more chaotic. As for the Scottish Rite, the Southern Jurisdiction has managed to stay segregated and anti gay by the dodge of only taking members from regular grand lodges, and since those grand lodges hosting a number of its valleys are segregated, the Scottish Rite can claim that it is not segregated but enforcing regularity. Similar situations exist with the Eastern Star, Amaranth, White Shrine of Jerusalem, and so on. You make a valid point about Prince Hall, as some of the Prince Hall grand lodges that are recognized have grand masters for life and Evangelical Christian motifs while in the same state there exist Prince Hall grand lodges that better fit the idea of regularity (had anyone inquired deeply) but will not be recognized. This extends to other bodies like Royal Arch, Cryptic, and Scottish Rite Prince Hall bodies -- some of which are now recognized but which are really not as valid as others which are not. Candidates are lied to because they are not joining as promised in the ritual a universal brotherhood which will permit them to travel in foreign places -- not if they are Jews, African Americans, gays, and in places Asians who are Buddhists or Taoists, or so on, along with a list that is long of other excluded. The candidates are lied to. They are not told about the exclusions. The con is that they are joining a universal brotherhood, which is simply not true.

    1. @Paul Tell me wich juristictions dont allow jews to visit?

  8. Dear Brother Elixir, For exam[pe, do reference the long article by Chris in this thread about the lodges in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the Swedish jurisdiction in Finland ,as well as one of the principal grand lodges of Germany and its overseas lodges. Of course a Jew who had converted to Christianity would be eligible for initiation. But a Jew who had not renounced Judaism would not be eligible. There are no Jewish members in those lodges.

    1. You said that a jew would not be able to visit.
      The GL of Sweden does allow non-christians to visit all degrees (previously only up to VI). If any muslim or jew from a regular and recognised lodge want to visit he is welcome.

      The GL of Finland has lodges in Sweden and only requiers a belif in a supreme being, I was even present when the passed two muslims. In Denmark there are two systems wich works under the GL of Denmark wich allows non-christians.

    2. Brother Elexir, On the Jewish issue, when I was in Sweden a Jewish brother was with me and he could not visit because he was told degree work was in process. In any case, when the cousin of a friend and brother who is Jewish was assigned there and interested in joining, he asked about his possible initiation and he was informed that as a Jew that Jews were not initiated, which is the case in the other countries discussed as well. There are a few Finnish lodges in Sweden that take Jews, but there are far more Swedish lodges in Finland. Certainly there are possibilities of anomalies to the participation of Jews in some countries , but one would think the very need to have a discussion to try to understand the scene is unfortunate in a supposedly universal brotherhood.

  9. A little off topic, but I think interesting regarding women, is Ordination. Back in 2000, President Carter cut off ties with the Southern Baptist Convention after 60 years of service because of their refusal to Ordain women as Priests.

    Remarkably, the Church of Sweden does Ordain women to the Priesthood and has a female Archbishop. The Archbishop supports same sex marriage. The charity work performed by the Church of Sweden around the world is (in my opinion ) simply amazing.

  10. If it was anything other then VII-X it was in violation of our bylaws.
    Those degrees where opend to non-christians this year.

    Take into account that the rituals where written at a time when there basicly only was christianity in Sweden.

    Take also in account that due to the structure a non-christian brother would not be able to go futher then VII°. Shutting a brother out of 4 degrees as well as a few offices dont seem fair to me.

    As for the church of sweden, its losing members fast for a varity of reasons. Priests are free to choose if they want to officate at same sex marriges.

    1. Brother, the fact remains that the Swedish GL doesn't initiate Non-christians. You maybe can visit, but you are not aloud as a member.

  11. In order for the UGL of England to recognize as regular a grand lodge that admits women, it would have to remove the "men only" clause from its "Basic Principles for Grand Lodge Recognition," originally adopted in 1929, and restated as its Standards of Recognition in 1989. In fact, I am not aware that the UGLE has made any changes to its Standards of Recognition.

    Those Standards begin with these words:

    "To be recognised as regular by the United Grand Lodge of England, a Grand Lodge must meet the following standards."

    The clause in question is number 3 of those standards, which reads as follows:

    "3.) Freemasons under its jurisdiction must be men, and it and its Lodges must have no Masonic contact which admit women to membership."

    Ergo, the UGLE does not consider the OWF and/or the HFAF to be "regular."

    1. Hence their qualifier that both are "otherwise regular" apart from admitting women. One thing we tend to gloss over in the U.S. are the carefully
      laid traps found within current English and E.U. laws regarding "discriminating" organizations. A male only club in that part of the world has a thin line it can walk to remain clear of crusading authorities who want to remove any and all difference between the sexes (er, genders, er, whatever the hell the current wave of faddism in in vogue). This is also what motivated their announcement last year of a transgender policy. There are bureaucratic squints at work who pounce on specifically the Freemasons in Europe at every turn with allegations of secret business deals and cronyism, and their whole aim is NOT to prevent such goings on, but to make sure ALL people get in on them, too. So now UGLE has a written policy about "transitioning" Masons showing up to lodge in "smart skirts."

  12. Mackeys Jurisprudence clearly state. Women cannot be Freemasons... Are we just gonna forget out landmarks?! Might as well allow kids and 90 year old in to!


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