Women and Freemasons

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Freemasonry as we know it has traditionally involved only male Masons. In fact, when four London lodges created the first Grand Lodge in 1717, women were refused membership. When Freemasonry became popular in France after 1735, the same thing occurred: women were not allowed in lodges. Partly, this was because women had no civil rights at the time and in fact had the legal status of minors. Also, stone masons during the medieval time period and previously were men and some Masons felt that a fraternity rather than a more inclusive organization was the best way to preserve tradition.

Not all men and women agreed with this tradition. Some upper class women – many who had considerable power – were unhappy that lower-class men with less social power than they were allowed to become Masons while they were not. Some male Masons, too, felt that the arguments barring women from Freemasonry were unjust and even went against the tenets of equality and brotherhood.

Women Freemasons in France

In 1740, France developed a form of Freemasonry that permitted women to join. This was known as “Adopted Masonry” or “Maçonnerie d'Adoption”. The Grand Orient de France recognized these lodges in 1774, but demanded that they be kept governed by male-only lodges. The message was clear: Masonic Lodges permitting women were subordinate to male versions.

Nevertheless, lodges consisting of women flourished in France, especially among the upper classes, the Haute Bourgeoisie and the nobility. Members of Adopted Masonry tended to be the daughters and wives of Masons and Adopted Masonry lodges tended to focus on social activities and charitable events.

During the French Revolution, Adoptive Lodges, like Freemasonry in France in general, was inactive. When Napoleon came to power, however, interest in Freemasonry and in the Adoptive Lodges resumed. In fact, Napoleon’s wife, the Empress Josephine, was Grand Master of a Lodge. Adoptive Lodges during the Napoleonic era were governed by men, although membership of the lodges consisted of women. Through rituals, women Masons learned tenets such as honesty, fidelity, chastity and modesty.

By the late 1800s, some women did not like the segregation of Freemasonry. One of these women was feminist activist and author Maria Deraismes. When she was initiated to the Lodge Les Libres-Penseurs in Le Pecq in1892, the Grand Orient closed the Lodge. Deraisme was determined, however, and eventually founded a Lodge for both men and women. In 1893, the Droit Humain (DH) became part of a Masonic movement that came to be known as Co-Masonry in the US. By 1901, the Grande Loge de France decided to permit and recognize Adoptive Lodges and as women gained political and working power during World War I, more lodges were created. Although these lodges continued to use Adoptive Masonry rituals, they were governed by an independent female Grand Master and discussed the same issues as male Lodges. In 1945, a new independent Grand Lodge was created, the Union Maçonnique Féminine de France (The Women's Masonic Union of France), which was exclusively female. In 1952, this Grand Lodge became the Grande Loge Féminine de France or G.L.F.F. (Women's Grand Lodge of France). The GLFF has been key in developing women’s lodges around the world.

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