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


Friday, May 31, 2019

Female Lodge Consecrated in Washington, DC: America No. 57

Various Masonic Facebook pages have been lit up all week over an announcement that a female Masonic lodge has been chartered in Washington, D.C. by the Honorable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF) of the United Kingdom. 

The officers of the newly created America Lodge No. 57 of Women Freemasons  were installed with Mrs. Lourdes (“Lou”) P. Elias as the Lodge’s first Worshipful Master. She is the wife of Akram Elias, Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia.

The Chaplain of America Lodge, CDR Lynn Chow, USN, Ret. gave the Invocation.


Chaplain Lynn Chow and WM Lou Elias at the Memorial Day event

The new lodge was officially consecrated on May 25th, Memorial Day, in honor of the women in uniform who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the United States and Freedom. It was also the Centennial of the 19th Amendment giving women in the United States the right to vote.


A gala celebration for the lodge officers, members and guests was held at the Almas Shrine Center in Washington, D.C. as an open event that included a traditional Masonic Festive Board, and was attended by the Grand Master of Free And Accepted Masons of the District of Columbia along with several former Grand Masters.

A press release widely distributed by the lodge describes it as "the first Women's Regular Masonic Lodge in the United States." Indeed, the story was circulated on the Internet by the United Grand Lodge of England, and in 1999, the UGLE stated the following about the HFAF and the Order of Women Freemasons: 
There exist in England and Wales at least two Grand Lodges solely for women. Except that these bodies admit women, they are, so far as can be ascertained, otherwise regular in their practice. There is also one which admits both men and women to membership. They are not recognised by this Grand Lodge and intervisitation may not take place. There are, however, discussions from time to time with the women’s Grand Lodges on matters of mutual concern. Brethren are therefore free to explain to non-Masons, if asked, that Freemasonry is not confined to men (even though this Grand Lodge does not itself admit women). Further information about these bodies may be obtained by writing to the Grand Secretary. 
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.

U.S. male Masons will continue to register their shock and awe over the very notion of female Master Masons, dragging out their tired gags about breasts and Senior Deacons, while loudly reciting their obligations as though they wearing garlic to ward off vampires. Many U.S. Masons will indignantly shriek, "There's no such thing as female Freemasons." 

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. 
Regular, recognized male 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. Between 20-25% of the Masons in France are women right now, and Belgium has a substantial number as well. I don't have figures for the HFAM in England, but the OWF was founded in 1908, and they have some 6,000 members today in over 300 Craft lodges operating in the UK and overseas. Tellingly, different grand lodges we deem irregular in the U.S. have consecrated both female and mixed lodges in this country — with several, in fact, in Washington, D.C. Others have been in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and sprinkled throughout the country.


The UGLE has long had a far more pragmatic official position concerning women and Freemasonry than our U.S. grand lodges. When women show up at Freemasons Hall in London and ask about membership, they are cheerfully directed down the street to one of these two female Grand Lodges. In UGLE's view, they ARE completely regular - apart from admitting female members. They don't condemn the practice, they simply inform disappointed women Masons that they can't officially sit in each others' open lodge meetings. And as the statement clearly says, they have never accepted the Eastern Star in England.

HFAF Grand Lodge officers and members in London
UGLE invited the female grand masters of both the HFAF and OWF to their 300th anniversary gala in London in 2017. 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 in 2017, 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 more than two hundred years, we have done the very same with female Freemasonry in this country. The Grand Master of the HFAF said in an interview last December that they are expanding and chartering lodges in India, Spain, Gibraltar, along with the new one in Washington this 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. Female and mixed Freemasonry has never been at all popular in the U.S. historically, and these groups have remained quite small here. But that may change in the next decade. 


Nothing says our male-only fraternity has to begin admitting women, or even to extend recognition to the female grand lodge jurisdictions. Nothing says we have to violate our existing obligations, or even change them in the future. But there is no reason for American Masons to stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that there is a world of women who are not satisfied by weak substitutes like the OES and are every bit as dedicated to the Craft of Freemasonry as we are. 

As the UGLE has clearly demonstrated for the last 20 years, doing so neither "breaks my leg nor picks my pocket."

3 comments:

  1. It is o'kay. Some men will join mixed gender Lodges and some will not, under no circumstances.

    As a professional who has worked along side women, and for women, in both the military, and government sectors, I welcome the idea of possibly seeing more women (who are well informed by Masonic values) bring positive energy into the work place.

    America certainly needs it. I think the culture is not just changing. I would argue, it is also maturing. But having said all that, under no circumstances should people deceive themselves into thinking men and women are exactly the same. Both are very similar, belong to the same human family, and ultimately, cannot exist without the other.

    But as my female associates proudly remind me quite often, "men and women really are different".

    I think the UGLE understands this.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My obligation says something different. #clandestine #bogus

    ReplyDelete

ATTENTION!
SIGN YOUR NAME OR OTHERWISE IDENTIFY YOURSELF IN YOUR COMMENT POSTS IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A GOOGLE ACCOUNT.
Comments will not appear immediately, so be patient. I am forced to laboriously screen every post because I am constantly bombarded with spam. Anonymous postings on Masonic topics have the same status as cowans and eavesdroppers as far as I am concerned. If you post with an unknown or anonymous account, do not expect to see your comment to appear.