Freemasonry as we know it today was officially born
in June of 1717, when four Lodges gathered in London
to form a Grand Lodge. From England where it spread
quickly, it was introduced in France after 1735. There,
as in England, because a woman's legal status was that
of a minor with no civil rights, women were refused
membership in the Lodges. This did not sit well with
women belonging to the nobility and even with some men,
who noted the injustices in the arguments used to keep
women away from the Craft.
Around 1740, the " Maçonnerie d'Adoption",
or "Adopted Masonry" was created
to "allow the fair sex to take part
in charity and philosophy".
In 1774. the newly created "Grand Orient de
France" recognized these adopted Lodges, but demanded
that they be subordinate to men's Lodges and remain
under their management and direction. The members were
mason's Wives and their main activity was the organization
of balls and charitable events. They recruited in the
nobility and the Haute Bourgeoisie. For instance, the
"Contrat Social" Lodge was presided over by
the Princess de Lamballe.
During the French Revolution, Freemasonry
became dormant, and so did the Adoptive
Lodges. They were reopened under the Napoleonic
Empire and the Empress Joséphine, wife of
Napoléon I, was Grand Master of one of them.
Although they were specifically designed
for women, they were always presided by
a man. The rituals were allegorical rather
than symbolic. They evoked qualities such
as modesty, candor, faithfulness and chastity.
Their main activities were social and philanthropic.
At the end of the 19th Century, men and women alike
increasingly felt the need for an organization that
went beyond balls and charitable receptions. Participation
in the Lodges helped to develop a feminist consciousness
and a taste for democracy. In 1892, the Lodge Les Libres-Penseurs
in Le Pecq initiated Maria Deraismes, a well-known feminist
writer and activist. This was against the rules of the
Grand Orient which closed the Lodge. Maria Deraisme
remained a close friend of Georges Martin who persuaded
her to create a Lodge where both men and women could
work in full equality. She gathered a small number of
women and a few Freemasons, and in 1893, created the
Droit Humain (DH), a Masonic organization open to both
men and women, which eventually spread to all continents,
including in the United States where it is known as
In 1901, an Adoptive Lodge was reactivated, but this
time under the auspices of the Grande Loge de France.
By the time of World War I, more and more women had
joined the work force, replacing the men gone to the
battlefield in offices and factories. Soon after the
war, women obtained their voting rights. The emancipation
of women was closely followed by the emancipation of
Between 1911 and 1935, several adoptive Lodges were
created, but they had nothing in common with those of
the 18th and 19th centuries. They met regularly to discuss
the same type of subjects as in the men's Lodges, although
they still used Adoptive Masonry rituals. The Grand
Master, a woman, worked with complete freedom, without
the supervision of a Brother.
In 1935, the Grande Loge de France decided to grant
complete autonomy to its adoptive Lodges. But the French
Sisters did not feel ready and asked to be given some
time to form a Secretariat and prepare a congress of
all adoptive Lodges. Meanwhile, World War II started
and all Masonic activities were suspended until 1944.
On September 17, 1945, a new Masonic body was created,
with the help of the Grande Loge de France. This Grand
Lodge was independent and its membership was exclusively
female. it was called the Union Maçonnique Féminine
de France (The Women's Masonic Union of France), which
in 1952 became the Grande Loge Féminine de France or
G.L.F.F. (Women's Grand Lodge of France). The rituals
in use in the adoptive Lodges were abandoned in 1959
and replaced with the Ancient and Accepted Scottish
Rite. The French Rite and French Traditional Rite were
introduced in 1973.
Since then, the G.L.F.F. has been instrumental in
the creation of other national Grand Lodges. Women's
Freemasonry has spread to Belgium, Italy, Switzerland,
Luxemburg, Denmark, Turkey, Germany, Canada, England,
Africa and the Americas.
1911 saw the creation of the first Belgian Lodge
of the Droit Humain, in Brussels. The first women's
Lodge, Irini, was created in April 1974 under the auspices
of the G.L.F.F. The Grande Loge féminine de Belgique-Women's
Grand Lodge of Belgium (W.G.L.B.) was founded in 1981
and celebrated its twentieth Anniversary in 2001. By
that time, 35 Lodges with more than 1500 members had
received their Charter from the W.G.L.B. Three of these
Lodges are located in the United States: Universalis,
created in 1992 in New York, Aletheia,in Los Angeles, and
Emounah, in Washington, D.C.
There probably were a few androgynous operative and
speculative lodges in the English Isles in the 17th
Century and the beginning of the 18th Century. Indeed,
the first known female speculative Mason was Elizabeth
St-Leger, later Mrs. Aldworth, of Cork Ireland, who
is said to have been initiated by her father in 1712,
after she was caught spying on the Lodge's proceedings.
She even received a Masonic funeral at the time of her
However, with the creation of the Grand Lodge of
London and the publication of Anderson's Constitutions
in 1723, women were barred from what became known as
regular Free-Masonry. Mention is made of a Mrs. Bell,
in 1790 in London, and a Mrs. Harvard, in Hereford,
in 1770, but these are isolated cases and do not prove
the presence of women in Masonic lodges. Usually, the
story goes that these ladies were caught spying on a
Lodge meeting and since they had learned the secrets
of the Craft, the only way to prevent them from divulging
them was to initiate them right then and there and make
them take the oath of silence of a Free-Mason.
In 1902, Annie Besant, who had been initiated in
a Droit Humain Lodge in Paris created the Human Duty
Lodge in London. This was the beginning of co-masonry
in England. In 1908, a dissident group created the Honourable
Fraternity of Antient Masonry, whose membership was
exclusively female and who adopted the Emulation Rite.
In 1958, it changed its name to the Order of Women's
Free-Masons. In 1913, a second Women's Grand Lodge was
founded under the name The Honourable Fraternity of
Antient Free-Masons. 1925 saw the creation of the Order
of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons for Men and Women.
Today, the two female English Masonic bodies count
as many as 60 000 members. In March 1999, the Grand
Lodge of England finally acknowledged their existence,
recognizing that "Freemasonry is not confined to
men" and stating that except for the fact that
the Lodges consist of women, they are otherwise "regular".
The most widely circulated story of a woman Mason
in the U.S. is that of Catherine Babington, who lived
in Kentucky in the 1800's. Near her house was a two-story
building used by Masons as a Lodge room. Catherine is
said to have concealed herself in the hollow pulpit
at every meeting of the Lodge for more than a year,
seeing all the degrees and learning all the work. She
was finally discovered and on being closely questioned,
she showed a remarkably proficient knowledge of the
ritual. She was kept in custody for more than a month,
while the Lodge decided what to do with her. She was
eventually obligated but not admitted into the order.
If the story is true, it is again an isolated case and
is not indicative of the acceptance of women in Masonic
It seems, however, that a Women's Lodge did exist
briefly in Boston in the 1790's. Its Worshipful Master,
Hannah Mather Crocker (1763-1829) has penned a series
of letters on Free-Masonry which were published in Boston
in 1815. She claims she had knowledge of the craft because
"… in the younger part of life, [she] did investigate
some of the principles of Free-Masonry" to assuage
the fears of her friends whose husbands were Masons.
And she goes on: "I had the honour, some years
ago, to preside as Mistress of a similar institution,
consisting of females only; we held a regular lodge,
founded on the original principles of true ancient freemasonry,
so far as was consistent for the female character."
Another document mentions "A short address by the
Mistress of St-Ann's Lodge".
It is believed that the first American Lodge of Adoption
was formed in Philadelphia in 1778 by French officers
in the Continental Army. In the 19th Century, Albert
Pike, Supreme Commander of Scottish Rite Freemasonry,
created a Rite of Adoption based on the French ritual.
One of the first women to be initiated in his Lodge
of Adoption was the sculptor Vinnie Ream Hoxie, who
created the statue of Abraham Lincoln displayed in the
Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.
Adoptive Masonry in the United States owes more to
Rob Morris of Kentucky, however. In 1850, he published
an Adoption ritual under the name "The Rosary of
the Eastern Star", which would lead to the creation
of the Order of the Eastern Star (OES), a para-masonic
body open to Free-Masons and their female relatives.
The Eastern Star was based partly on the French Adoptive
Rite and partly on several 19th century Orders in America
which, in turn, were likely based on the French Order.
Some of these early groups were Mason's Daughter, Mason's
Wife, Heroine of Jericho, True Kindred, and others.
Rob Morris first conceived and arranged the Star Degrees
in 1850, simplifying the ritual in 1860. From 1865-1868,
Robert Macoy recast the ritual and organized the Chapter
system. The Macoy ritual is the foundation of the OES
as we know it today. The OES claims a membership of
more than one million members worldwide.
The first co-masonic Lodge was founded in the United
States in 1903. In 1907, the American Federation of
the Human Rights was incorporated in Washington D.C.
It has several Lodges in the U.S. There are other co-masonic
bodies, among them George-Washington Union and the Grand
Lodge Symbolic of Memphis-Misraïm. We should also mention
the existence, now or in the past, of Women's Lodges
or Grand Lodges working exclusively in Spanish, French
The three Lodges created by the Women's Grand Lodge
of Belgium since 1992 hope to one day form the Women's
Grand Lodge of the United States.
The first Chilean Lodge, Araucaria, was created in
1970 to "give Chilean women a space in which to
develop intellectually and spiritually in a non-dogmatic
framework free of religious prejudice." 1983 saw
the creation of the Women's Grand Lodge of Chile which
also seeded Lodges in Bolivia and Argentina thanks to
its traveling Lodge, Cruz del Sur. Today, there are
Women's Lodges or Grand Lodges in Brazil, Argentina,
Chile, Bolivia, Venezuela and Mexico.