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The issue of women in Freemasonry is one which can be quite controversial. We approach this subject with what we hope is an understanding of various points of view. We take no position ourselves except to remind each Mason that they are bound by their obligations and the rules, regulations and edicts of the Grand Lodge to which they belong! Our presentation is primarily for those outside of the fraternity who seek additional information.
Depending on one's location in the world as well as one's philosophical views, this issue may be dealt with much differently. We'll try here to sort out the various viewpoints in a objective manner.
To the majority of Freemasons today (dominated by US and Canadian brethren), the concept of women becoming Masons is, for all intents and purposes, an anathema. This is not because of some sexist feeling or because they feel women are incapable of understanding and appreciating the moral and spiritual lessons that Freemasonry can impart. It is because, simply, in their obligation they have sworn not to be present at the making of a woman a Mason. This is, as stated by their Grand Lodge, one of the 'Landmarks of Freemasonry' and is deemed unchangeable.
In fact, no "mainstream" Lodge/Grand Lodge of Masons accepts women as members or will recognize (acknowledge) any lodge which does. (See our page on recognition for more information on the thorny topic of recognition even within male Masonic bodies.)
That notwithstanding, there are those who quickly point out several other 'facts' (inconsistencies?) involved when addressing this issue:
More traditional Masons will respond that the entire purpose of a 'fraternity' is to be a group of males and that admission of women would change the character of a three hundred year old institution beyond recognition. This is, probably, correct. However, in light of a changing society, how are concerns of separation and inequality addressed? Is there any "correct" answer that would satisfy all parties? It's doubtful....
It must be acknowledged that there are today and have been for decades (centuries, even) females who know themselves to be 'Masons'. They belong to 'lodges' that are composed of either single-sex female lodges or mixed-sex lodges. None of the organizations to which they belong was created by a 'mainstream' Grand Lodge - and that adds to the problem based on the concern for 'recognition' described elsewhere on this site. In fact, some will argue the case that in Ireland a woman was accepted as a regular member of a men's lodge. Of course, they fail to note that she received her 'knowledge' of Freemasonry not by being voted into membership as the male members but rather by spying on them. When caught in her misbehavior, the members of the lodge (after considerable discussion) voted to obligate her as they themselves had been obligated thus bringing her under the bonds of secrecy. If this were in ANY way a precedence, we would have seen other Irish lodges (or other lodges ANYWHERE) do it. None did! It was the exception that proved the rule - and it was done in a time (1700s) when things were far different than they are in the twenty-first century.
It can certainly be argued by members of either sex that an organization with such high and lofty goals as Freemasonry should not worry about the sex of its adherents. Responding to this can lead to heated rhetoric with charges of sexual discrimination. Notwithstanding, however, the fact remains that Freemasonry began as a male-only organization and the vast majority of its members wish it to remain that way.
Without argument, it is agreed that MANY things in 'mainstream' Freemasonry have changed over time: in the beginning, for example, there were only two (not three) degrees, meetings were regularly held in taverns or homes (while no one would even think of having one there now) and community service was done privately and quietly (as compared to the public works visible through - especially - groups like the Shriners). These things - and others - in Freemasonry have changed: it remains to be seen whether the male-only requirement for the fraternity will as well. (At times on the internet one might find a passionate essay or message encouraging this but those who espouse such change are in a very, very small minority!).
The issue is further currently complicated by the differences in the way women with an interest in Freemasonry were 'dealt with' by the Masonic fraternity in England as compared with the United States. In the US during the 1800's, a group designed for women but including men, the Order of the Eastern Star, was created. OES was readily embraced by US Masonry and Masonic buildings throughout the country were made available for their meetings. Eastern Star rules required that the primary officer of the lodge be female (Worthy Matron), but also mandated that at her side was a male Mason (holding the position of near equal importance, that of Worthy Patron). Those in the US saw Eastern Star as a way to 'share' the fraternalism of the Masonic family; those in Great Britain seemed to perceive it more as an incursion into Masonry by women which they felt was unacceptable. Although they seemed to find no objection in 'imitation' masonic groups (i.e. 'women Masons'), they did take umbrage at what they perceived to be an intrusion by a group which was 'sponsored' by Masons but unlike it.
(Adding insult to injury, as it were, another female group 'attached' to male Freemasonry in the US - the Order of Amaranth - also appeared on the scene in the late 1800s.)
An announcement in the 'Grand Lodge News' of the United Grand Lodge of England that followed the March 10, 1999 Quarterly Communication of UGLE shows some of the difference in position vis-a-vis Eastern Star.
It should be noted that the mixed order (Grand Lodge Droit Humain) is not included in the sentence which talks about regularity. Perhaps this is because GL D-H reportedly allows political and social (including religious) discussion in its Lodges.
In any event, the UGLE position seems far different from that taken by most US and Canadian Grand Lodges and leaves Freemasonry for not the first time in a quandary as to what is appropriate overall. Because each Grand Lodge is sovereign unto itself, rulings of one do not affect another except insofar as they change or alter the 'landmarks' as defined by a particular Grand Lodge. We wrote in 2000 that we thought it was questionable as to how these Grand Lodges would react upon becoming aware of this position of the 'Senior' Grand Lodge in the world to whom many look for precedent. By 2006, there has been apparently no reaction whatsoever and US/Canadian GLs seem to be simply not addressing the matter in any way.
Many (most?) mixed-gender lodges (Le Droit Humain and some Grand Orient lodges) which exist today have - as far as can be ascertained - changed some things which 'mainstream' Freemasons consider absolutely and unequivocally essential: an open Bible upon the altar when the lodge is at work, prohibition of political or religious discussions, etc. Because of this, such mixed lodges are far more removed from 'mainstream' Freemasonry. They consider themselves Masons but the large body of Freemasonry does not and very likely will not in the next century at least. As one pundit has commented: I can call myself an automobile but that doesn't make it so! Conversely, we are assured that some mixed-gender lodges (American Co-Masonry/AFHR, for example) does have the same essential elements as male-only traditional Freemasonry.We suspect that sooner or later things will change relative to women Freemasons and all of this will be much clearer. We'll plan an update for this page in the year 2075 by which time that MIGHT happen....
Freemasonry - USA
4 Belgium Masonic Obediences
Los Angeles Lodge #32,
Womens Grand Lodge Belgium
and Bro. Trevor Frey has several documents relative to Women's Freemasonry on the website of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and the Yukon. Click here.
In 2006, the Grand
Lodge of Scotland added some information on this topic at their website
We do want to thank the many members of the groups listed above who've written to provide amplifying information. In an area fraught with misunderstandings and great apprehensions over loss of 'control', we've been very pleased with the fact that EVERYONE who has contacted us about this particular page has been extraordinarily gracious! THAT is what 'fraternity' is all about!!!!
July, 2008: A new ostensible male group, the so-called "Grand Orient of the United States of America", is attempting to gain credibility for their internet sham by linking to the many mixed and female groups. It is, simply, an attempt to ride on the coat-tails of the reputable groups listed above. Don't be misled!
Summer, 2009: A new book has been released relating to women in Freemasonry. We've not had a chance to read it but have heard some good reviews. Brother Karen Kidd is particularly active online and has recently won an award in an essay contest about Freemasonry sponsored by the United Grand Lodge of England. Those interested in the history of this movement might enjoy her work. Let us know....
December, 2009: A particularly odious scam is apparently being perpetrated on some women who have expressed online their interest in pursuing Masonic membership. If you have been approached by someone ostensibly representing "Egyptian Freemasonry" and/or a Brad Cofield, we encourage you to read this page before proceeding.
wording changed and links added July, 2005 and again in August, 2005 and
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