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


Friday, July 05, 2024

Male and Female Grand Lodges Counter Misinformation With New 'Council for Freemasonry in England and Wales'

by Christopher Hodapp

If you've been reading Freemasonry Today, the official magazine of the United Grand Lodge of England, over the last couple of years, you've doubtless noticed an increasing number of articles highlighting female Freemasonry and reporting on cooperative actions between the male-only UGLE, female Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF), and the the Order of Women Freemasons (OWF). Back when the UGLE celebrated its 300th anniversary of the founding of the first grand lodge in 2018, the female grand masters from both the OWF and the HFAF were invited to the festivities. In fact, for quite some time, UGLE has stated that they consider both organizations to be in all ways "regular" Freemasons, apart from admitting women as members. In recent years, they have cooperated in joint public outreach programs, such as UGLE's Universities Scheme, which brings Freemasonry's message and opportunities to university campuses and encourages students to join a nearby Masonic lodge.

A couple of weeks ago, the UGLE, the OWF and the HFAF announced their most public cooperative partnership yet: the formation of a new Council for Freemasonry in England and Wales, a joint commission made up of representatives of the three English grand lodges specifically created to present a united voice for Freemasonry in the United Kingdom.

In a statement released online, the Council explained its formation and purpose:
This new Council aims to enhance further existing and longstanding collaboration and promote the fundamental principles of Freemasonry, including merit, tolerance, diversity, and inclusion, between the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), the Order of Women Freemasons (OWF), and the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF).

Even in 2024 Freemasonry continues to face various unfounded criticisms and inaccurate misconceptions, often stemming from deep-rooted prejudices, or preconceived falsehoods. Contrary to the erroneous claim that Freemasonry is exclusively male, women’s Freemasonry has been an integral part of Freemasonry in the UK for over a century. While Freemasonry is practised in single-sex Lodges, this is no different from many other activities, including most sports as well as many other community groups.

The establishment of the Council for Freemasonry will formally establish an overarching forum for collaboration. In addition, the Council will bring together the community service ambitions of all three bodies, coordinate communication and engagement with other organisations, drive the membership growth ambitions, particularly for women Freemasons, and allocate resources and facilities for the general benefit of both male and female Freemasonry.

The Council will include the heads of each Grand Lodge, and each Grand Lodge will provide the President for a twelve-month period, chairing Council meetings in strict rotation. The President for the first two years will come from the OWF and HFAF, with UGLE covering the third year.

The formation of the Council for Freemasonry in England and Wales marks a pivotal step towards enhancing cooperation, addressing misconceptions, and promoting the values of Freemasonry. This historic initiative reaffirms Freemasonry’s commitment to integrity, friendship, respect and service, while keeping community service and charitable giving at the absolute forefront of this historic organisation.
Almost immediately, the new Council got a chance to make its first big public noise. It all started over the news of a longtime male-only institution. 

In May, London's venerable Garrick Club (see these photos from their website) voted to admit women to full membership after almost two centuries of being exclusively for men. I guess Old Blighty is now saved after this brave and bold move. 

You'd have thought the good news just came in from Waterloo. It was the biggest victory since Old Boney got sent packing. Naturally, the UK press could scarcely contain itself.

The Garrick was originally founded in 1831 as a gentleman's club for actors, theatrical directors, and playwrights, along with deep-pocketed patrons of the arts—as its bylaws stated, for those of "gentlemanly accomplishment and scholarship." The club is named for David Garrick, considered to be the greatest actor of all time, or at least in the 18th century when he lived. Fans of Winnie the Pooh stories may have heard of the Garrick; upon his death, author A.A. Milne left the rights and royalties from the Pooh stories to the club in perpetuity. 

As a big, odious clot of bellyachers, the press in the UK despises same-sex clubs of men (Not clubs of women, of course. Same-sex clubs for men are branded as secret enclaves of deal-making, back-patting, and good-ol-toffey-nosed job networking, while same-sex clubs for women are to be celebrated as 'bold, brave, groundbreaking, and long-overdue.') So, whaddya think the UK press did after beating their rheumatic chests in victory over toppling another venerable bastion of male-only institutions? Of course, they took it as an opportunity to once again swipe at the Freemasons for not following suit and 'getting on the right side of history.' 

Private English mens' clubs were all the rage in the 19th century, and nobody in their right minds wanted to eat or socialize with actors anyhow back in the 1830s, so it made sense for them to establish a club of their own. The clubs flourished throughout the 20th century, as any faithful reader of P.G. Wodehouse novels* can attest, but private anythings for men have come under attack off and on for the last 50 years or so throughout Western society, especially in Britain. The Garrick still has plenty of actors and rock stars on its membership rolls, but it's also got its share of the upper icing-covered layer of the society cheesecake these days: not just actors, but lawyers, judges, high-profile businessmen, government ministers and policy advisors, even King Charles III himself. An attempt was made by some members back in 2010 to admit females as full members, but the existing membership failed to make the change at that time. A handful of members resigned in protest over the issue, making a big public show of it on their way out the door, but the Garrick held fast for another 14 years.

Earlier this year, the Guardian decided to stir the pot again and publicly published a list of the current Garrick members in an effort to force another vote on admitting women. As has been done in the past, the goal was to paint male membership in private clubs as a shameful, despicable fetish that shouldn't be permitted in a progressive society. Consequently, the club's reputation took a public beating over it, with the usual claims that these big-deal, establishment male movers and shakers in important parts of government and other institutions meet in their private clubs to make deals, craft legislation, scratch each others' needy backs, hire each other, and otherwise screw over whatever the English version is of smelly Walmart people and the Deplorables. And, by Zeus' thunder! the laydeez deserved to join their ranks so they could do it too, dammit! 

So, to stab into the soft underbelly of this story, the Guardian's exposure of the members fulfilled its purpose: a bare majority of 51% of the members of the Garrick finally voted in May to open the doors to the ladies, and immediately named Dame Judy Densch and Sian Phillips as full members. 

I suppose the Empire is saved now.

So what does this have to do with Freemasonry?

After the story broke reporting the Garrick's admission of women, the longtime journalist and English peer Baroness Patience Wheatcroft (not a made-up name), posted a column on the New European site entitled, Forget About the Garrick, What About the Freemasons? She seemed to have no problem with the Garrick excluding women because it's just an old geezer home for unemployed, has-been actors, and she even spent a few paragraphs declaring such clubs to be just fine and harmless because they're really unimportant to powerful people:
Put aside the fact that the rules ban business talk, a stricture that admittedly might be hard to implement, the [Garrick's] ornate Covent Garden building is not the beating heart of Britain. It is a haven for elderly thespians and those who wish to rub shoulders with them. Yes, that includes a gaggle of Conservative politicians but Michael Gove would probably be more interested in collecting the autograph of Brian Cox or Hugh Bonneville than trying to discuss matters of state. Jacob Rees-Mogg, should he ever deign to sit at the communal long table, would surely be too occupied playing to the crowd to say anything of import. . .

The Cabinet Secretary and the head of MI6 have stressful jobs and, like Pooh, probably enjoy a bit of relaxation and some favourite food. As they, along with a gaggle of judges, rushed for the club exit in the face of the Guardian campaign, they weren’t trying to ensure that women have equal access to power, merely that their own careers would not be blighted by allegations of unfair discrimination. Their willingness to drop their Garrick membership shows how little they value it – these people know where power really resides nowadays: in Silicon Valley, the trading desks of Goldman Sachs, and the offices of Blackrock.

However, the Baroness continues, as for those flaming Masons:
And right next door to the place where the Garrick’s historic vote was taken early this month – the Connaught Rooms – is the imposing Freemasons’ Hall. That’s home to the United Grand Lodge of England, an organisation which far pre-dates the Garrick and which remains firmly closed to women.

If the Guardian really wanted to pursue the principle of equality, then the mysterious power and influence of Freemasonry could be worth its attention. This international movement lists its principles as “Integrity, Friendship, Respect and Service”, all qualities that might be thought to have appeal to those of every gender and none. Undoubtedly, the movement does charitable works but there are some who suspect that its charity most decidedly begins at home.

Elaborating on its aim of fostering friendship, the Grand Lodge literature says: “All members share a sense of togetherness that strengthens their ability to succeed and grow”. Would it be at all surprising if that success at work was given a helpful nudge, perhaps a promotion, by a fellow mason in the same company?
And, yes, lest you think it was somehow left out of the piece, farther down in her editorial, the baroness managed to work in the universal English press anti-Masonic mark of snark: a reference to 'rolled-up trouser legs' (although, the term 'dodgy handshakes' was somehow left out).

Funny. This 'New European' sounds remarkably like the 'Old European' to my tin ear...

But this time, when the press began to crank out "the Garrick now admits wimmin, so wut in God's holy teeth is wrong with those bloody Masons?" columns, instead of spreading out and laying prostrate for another public flaying by the rent-seeking, activist presstitutes pounding on their tripe-writers, the brand new Council for Freemasonry immediately answered

United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), The Order of Women Freemasons (OWF) and the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (Freemasonry for Women) are united in our surprise and unease at an article published in The New European by Patience Wheatcroft. The article contains a number of significant inaccuracies and we feel obliged to respond in order to provide Baroness Wheatcroft, and her readers, with an accurate representation of the truth.

Beginning with the numerous claims about Freemasonry’s entry requirements, we are delighted that the author has visited the UGLE website and reflected on the organisation’s core values of Integrity, Friendship, Respect and Service. While she was there, it is a shame, however, that Baroness Wheatcroft did not manage to locate the section of our website dedicated to Women Freemasons, who have been proudly meeting in this country for over 100 years. Indeed, even more simply, a cursory Google search would have revealed the websites of the two female Grand Lodges that meet in the United Kingdom, as well as their numerous social media channels. The links for all three of our websites can be found in the footer of this statement and we encourage you to peruse them at your leisure.

Secondly, on the points raised about our charitable commitments, we are proud of the impact that we, as Freemasons, have within the community. We are pleased that in 2020, during the dark and uncertain early stages of the pandemic, Freemasons contributed over £51.1 million to deserving causes. This includes not only financial contributions but also the dedication of over 18.5 million hours annually to volunteer work. In 2021, as the societal impacts of the pandemic continued to take hold, UGLE allocated over £4.7 million through specific relief programs, focusing on community support, food aid, domestic abuse, homelessness, and mental health.

Thirdly, in relation to the points made about members, we celebrate the diversity of our membership. Freemasons have been part of a unique and enduring social organisation for over 300 years, with no political or religious affiliations. Our diverse memberships include individuals of various ages, races, religions, cultures, and backgrounds. This is something that we wholeheartedly celebrate.

In reference to Baroness Wheatcroft’s remarks about customs within Freemasonry, we are surprised that such timeless traditions appear unfamiliar to a sitting Member of the House of Lords, where ancient practices linking the existing body to its predecessors are rightly celebrated. In the same way, our traditions come from historical links to medieval stonemasons and more information can be found about this on our websites and social media channels.

Finally, we are proud to be Freemasons. Articles such as the one referenced above only serve to spread misinformation and misconceptions and we are determined to not only stand up for our members, those of all genders and those of none, but to present, once and for all, the truth about Freemasonry.

Our doors remain firmly open.

United Grand Lodge of England, Order of Women Freemasons & the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (Freemasonry for Women)
One of the primary jobs of the new Council for Freemasonry is to counter public misinformation and press attacks against the fraternity by spreading the message that English Freemasonry is NOT just for men; that male and female Masonic organizations coexist, and are all alive and well and open for membership; and that none of these three grand lodges in Britain have any desire, intention, or reason for changing their practices or ideology of being a sanctuary from the outside world for their particular members, male or female.

So, if Baroness Wheatcroft finds herself somehow lacking in enough titles, memberships and benefits of her lofty station in life, she's certainly free to apply to the OWF or HFAF. After all, she's got as much chance of getting in as anyone else, provided she can pass an investigation and ball-and-cube vote. . .

*Just as an aside for Wodehouse fans, not only was P.G. himself a member of the Garrick (which doubtless provided him with endless fodder for his fictional Drones Club stories), but so are both actors Stephen Frye and Hugh Laurie, who played Jeeves & Wooster in what are the very best filmed versions of those stories ever made. 

Small world. Wouldn't want to paint it...


  1. Some Honourable Members: "Oh, oh! Oh, oh!"

  2. Something I usually include in stories like this from the UK is an aside pointing out that the Order of the Eastern Star, the so-called American 'alternative' for women wanting a Masonic experience (even though it really isn't), is not permitted to operate in the jurisdiction of the United Grand Lodge of England. Moreover, the anti-discrimination laws that affect private associations in England and in the European Union countries differ from those in the US. So UGLE has long had a pragmatic relationship with the female grand lodges in their backyard. Consequently, English Masons don't share the sort of gasping, pearl-clutching shock and horror over the subject that American Masons suffer from.

  3. Darn good article. You are spot on about the Order of the Eastern Star. It does not convey a "Masonic experience" for women no more than the Shrine, alone, conveys a Masonic experience for men. In both instances, you have to have the experience of Masonry beforehand. -Bro. Johnson.


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