I can assure you that Haunted Chambers: The Lives of Early Women Freemasons
Rather you will find a clear cut case made that female Freemasonry has been with us for many centuries in spite of the male dominated fraternity that has operated with blinders on and deliberately refused to acknowledge the facts of life. And so it would seem to me as Brother Kidd takes us through story after story of female Freemasons from as far back as the early 1700s for Speculative Masonry and centuries prior to that in Operative Masonry, yet very few of these women were known to me. And I would hazard a guess that I am not alone in my ignorance but that the vast majority of my compatriots in the fraternity share my lack of knowledge.
Right up front Brother Kidd let’s us know that this book
“I will tell you about women who managed to be made Freemasons (and not a few who tried but failed) in otherwise Malecraft Lodges. I’m going to tell you a story that many have tried – and largely succeeded- to suppress. I’m going to tell you the truth. I chose to ferret out these stories about to pass away from this generation; to recover that which is about to be lost and to seek the truth. Too long the stories of these women were suppressed, downplayed and denied. It’s past time to rescue those stories that still can be retrieved and to see that each of these Brethren in the Craft have their due.”
Kidd chronicles the lives and Masonic histories of Elizabeth St. Leger Aldworth, Hannah Mather Crocker, Henriette Heiniken, Mary Ann Belding Sproul, Catherine Sweet Babigton, an Irish Girl, Vinnie Ream Hoxie, Helene-Countess Hadik Barkoczy, Salome Anderson, Isabella Scoon and many others (recognize any names yet?).
But first she lays the foundation of factual history of female participation in Masonry in three chapters, one on women in medieval Mason Guilds, one on women in early Modern Freemasonry and one on Adoptive Masonry. I have dubbed these three chapters – Fact, Denial, and Recognition (that some outlet for women was needed).
We learn that from the 1200s on some women were admitted to the Guilds and a few even rose to be Master. In Operative Masonry Kidd documents women in the Operative Lodges with some even rising to the position of “Dame” or female Master.
Next she takes us through early Speculative Freemasonry where in the 18th Century women were locked out of Masonic Lodges and men perhaps feeling guilt over that decision or perhaps under female pressure steered women into Adoptive Masonry. Kidd tells us she thinks she knows the real reason for this hardening of heart, this exclusion of women.
“Though it may seem complex, the true reason is quite simple. Women of that period, like women in much of the world today, failed to meet a very basic requirement of admission into the Craft: they were not free.”
“This most compelling of reasons is seldom mentioned by Masonic scholars but it happens to be the true reason. It goes to the heart of several centuries of gender-biased history that can, and has filled volumes. All that need be gleaned from those well documented studies is why 18th Century Male Masons, for the most part, believed women so unfree that they could not enter even their own gender-based or mixed lodges.”
She goes on to say that it was James Anderson in his “Constitutions” who first put this into writing in 1723. Anderson wrote:
“The persons admitted Members of a Lodge must be good and true men, free-born, and of mature and discreet Age, no Bondsmen, no women, no immoral or scandalous men, but of good Report.”(Emphasis Kidd’s)
Kidd interprets that thusly:
“It is no accident that Anderson placed women between these two categories of the unfree. The implication is clear. Women were no freer than slaves or men enslaved by their own passions. So far as Anderson and other Malecraft Masons of the time were concerned, a woman’s lack of freedom rendered her unfit to be a Freemason. Malecraft Masons of the time, whether they knew it or not, barred women from Freemasonry for this reason and only this reason.
All other theories are simply flawed attempts to justify the unjustifiable.”
The stories of the women Freemasons are well told and well documented. The one I found most intriguing while at the same time most telling was the story of Hannah Mather Crocker perhaps because I am from Boston. Hannah was born in 1752 in Boston. Her father Samuel Mather was a famous Boston preacher. And in time Hannah had a son named Samuel. I mention this because the library of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts is named the Samuel Crocker Lawrence Library. You would think therefore, as a Massachusetts Mason who visited Grand Lodge often, I would have heard of Hannah Mather Crocker. Never heard of her. But she was a most interesting lady and Mason. As a young woman she smuggled written dispatches in her undergarments to Colonial Major General Joseph Warren who also was the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.
Unlike many of the other female Masons in Haunted Chambers: The Lives of Early Women Freemasons
Hannah Mather Crocker corroborates the claim that there were female Masons for her existence as a Mason remains unchallenged to this day.
Some of these eavesdropping women of the later 1800s who were made Masons, when confronted, the members of the Lodge were said to have debated between two options, killing the woman or making her a Mason. Kidd makes a telling observation here.
“Further, in no part of Freemasonry has there ever been a rule that any nonMason who discovers the Secrets of Masonry must die. And yet this ‘rule’ turns up in many of these stories about early women Freemasons. Where could such a detail have come from?”
“I think it’s no accident that the idea of killing eavesdroppers begins to turn up in these accounts after the William Morgan affair in the United States. In that case, Freemasons were accused of killing one of the Brethren for threatening to reveal the secrets of the order. Somewhere in all this, it seems to have become a generally held belief, even among rank-and-file Freemasons, that there was such a rule. And, thus, it entered the lore that envelops the stories of these women.”
There are two general things I am looking for when I read a non-fiction book.
- Is it factual and well researched
- Did I learn something – new
Haunted Chambers: The Lives of Early Women Freemasons
“Much can be observed about this image but conclusions are difficult to draw. Clearly, she is garbed as a Master Mason. Her clothing, with its mini-mal bustle, slim-tailored sleeves and skirt short enough to reveal her feet all suggest a fashionably dressed lady of the late 1880s.”
“Her working tools present a puzzle of place. While the 24-inch gauge is almost universal in Freemasonry as a working tool of the Entered Apprentice, the trowel is a Master’s tool in US Malecraft lodges but not in English, Canadian, Australian, and Scottish Malecraft lodges. Further, the trowel is mentioned only in passing in most Co-Masonic Blue Lodge traditions. However, placing her in the US as a woman Freemason in the 1880s seems most unlikely as Co-Masonry did not arrive in the US until 1901.”
“The ‘G’ in all the squares and compasses on her clothing is striking. The symbol is portrayed in this manner in most US and Scottish Malecraft lodges. It is also used in French Freemasonry. However, it is not used in English or Canadian Freemasonry. Again, the US and Scotland seem unlikely but even in France, it’s much too early for a woman to be a Master Mason as Co-Masonry didn’t develop there until the 1890s and Femalecraft Masonry until the next century.”
“She is also wearing a wrist watch with a leather band, which again places this no earlier than the 1880s.”
“So who is she and how did she come to pose for this photograph? All elements in this image indicate it simply should not exist in that time or place. And, yet, there it is for us to ponder.”
And that my friends is some good writing and using your noodle!
But what really makes this book
Masonic historian W. Fred Vernon is quoted as saying:
“……..and I have no doubt other ancient Lodges have their lady members just as ancient buildings have their haunted chambers.”
Well my chamber which is not haunted will have this book prominently displayed as part of my collection. It should be in your library also. I highly recommend Haunted Chambers: The Lives of Early Women Freemasons