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The Order of Women Freemasons

A Traditional History

Aims and Objectives

The Traditional History of The Order of Women Freemasons

An Illustrated Lecture by Bro. Irene Peters, S.W. Lodge Anwyl  No. 256 Mold, 1973

Brethren, our order was formed in March 1908 when we were called The Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry. We are a regular Masonic Order open to all women, unlike Adoptive Masonry which restricts its membership to women who are fortunate to have Masons among their near family. As you know, we are open to all women of full age, of good report and holding a belief in a Supreme Being. 

We are firmly established as a genuine Masonic organisation, exclusively for women and our Masonic secrets came into the possession of the Order in a clear and regular way, given freely to women by Masons.

For the last two hundred years, there have been repeated stories told of women who obtained the Masonic secrets by hiding behind doors and listening from cupboards, but it was in no clandestine manner that our modern Order obtained them.

In 1882, a lodge working under the Charter of the Ancient and Accepted Rite of La Grande Loge Symbolique de France. called lodge Les Libres Penseurs, resolved that the time had come when women who had proved themselves free and of mature mind and understanding should receive initiation into Masonry. The first woman to receive the honour of this freely offered initiation was Mlle. Maria Destraimes. As a direct consequence of this noble and far-sighted action lodge Les Libres Penseurs was forced to detach itself from its parent body and form a separate Masonic body known as La Grand Loge Symboloique Ecossaise, so symbolically  identifying  itself with the strong and individual traditions of Scottish Freemasonry.

One of the early initiates was Mrs (Dr) Anne Besant, a woman very active in the Theosophical Society, who quickly became a leader in this new movement. The name of the Order was subsequently changed to that of the Universal Order of Co-Masonry and it spread rapidly throughout the world. It arrived in Britain in 1902 and the first London Co-Masonic lodge was formed on 26th September 1902.

A small number of members of Co-Masonry became dissatisfied with the governance, which was under a Supreme Council of the 33 degree, (domiciled in France) instead of a regular Grand Lodge. These members earnestly desired to have a Masonic Order which held men and women in equal regard and practiced Freemasonry on exactly parallel lines to that of the United Grand Lodge of England, in constitution, ritual and in breadth of interpretation. After much thought and discussion they felt their right course was to secede from the Universal Order of Co-Masonry and this they did in the year 1908.

They formed themselves into three Lodges, under the leadership of experienced Past Masters. Most Worshipful Brother, the Rev. W. F. Geikie Cobb, DD, the Rector of St Ethelburga's, Bishopgate, was elected as the First Grand Master.

The names of the first three lodges were:

Golden Rule. No 1

Emulation. No 2

Lodge of Unity No. 3

They were all consecrated by the new Grand Master on 20th June 1908 and are still in existence to this day.

At its foundation our Order consisted of both men and women founders, but experience taught that it was desirable that men wishing the benefit of Masonic initiation should seek it within the ranks of the United Grand Lodge of England or the Grand Lodge of Scotland and so the initiation of men ceased.. But our women founders agreed that it would be ungrateful, in view of their past services to the Order to ask the one or two remaining men original founder members to retire, and they remained within the Order until their death.

In 1912 Grand Master M.W. Bro Geikie Cobb, retired due to ill health and the first woman Grand Master, Marion Lindsay Halsey, became our new leader.


Grand Master M. W. Bro Halsey, Initiated in Lodge Golden Rule No 1 on 29th April, 1909,  remained in office until 1927 

The Order's work was naturally much restricted during the Great War, by which time three new lodges had been added to our ranks. These being

Lodge of Harmony No 4

Lodge Stability No. 5

Lodge of Installed Masters No 6

but at the end of hostilities in 1918 our Order began to expand.

We soon realised that our Order needed its own permanent Temple and administrative offices. Our still young and poor order was fortunate to obtain the magnificent gift of a freehold house in Pembridge Gardens, Bayswater, London, W.2. from R.W. Bro. Florence E. Turner. The Brethren generously raised a subscription and  the house was adapted to the requirements of our Order, with a Temple  erected in the garden at the rear of the house, and duly furnished as the result of many individual and lodge gifts. Our founder Brethren were justly proud of the beauty and dignity of its equipment and we remember the efforts of our early brethren with gratitude in helping to establish our Order on such a firm cornerstone.

In 1928 R.W. Bro Adelaide D. Litten, who had held the office of Grand Treasurer since 1920, succeeded as Grand Master

Grand Master M. W. Bro. Adelaide D. Litten, Initiated In Lodge Emulation No. 2 on July 9th 1909, remained in office until 1938

Under the leadership of Grand Master Litten, the Order resolved to spread its work to the provinces in order to enable women there to partake of the joys of Freemasonry. Lodge Mercury, No. 11 was founded with a Charter and the status of a Travelling Lodge, on the precedent of military lodges chartered under the older Obediences of England and Ireland. Under the founding mastership of Lady Markham and in order to carry out its work for Freemasonry, Lodge Mercury, No. 11 travelled to centres in which women already known to members of the Order were anxious for initiation into Freemasonry. Able and experienced Brethren, together with complete sets Masonic furniture, were sent to initiate candidates and to guide these new centres until they were sufficiently strong to start lodges for themselves. 

The Constitution of our Order has always recognised  Royal Arch and Mark Masonry as part of pure and antient Masonry under its jurisdiction and early in 1929, Grand Master Litten considered that our Order was sufficiently advanced to promote the founding of Royal Arch Chapters. Among the past and present members of the Craft lodges at that time were women who were already Royal Arch Masons. On June 11, 1929, the first Convocation of Pre Chapter, No. 1 was held and two further Chapters, Logos  No. 2 and Zodiac No. 3, were consecrated the following  year. Later two new Chapters were consecrated in London  and Provincial Chapters in Liverpool, Sunderland, Manchester and Birmingham. These Royal Arch Chapters are governed by a Supreme Grand Chapter, with a Constitution based on  that of the Supreme Grand Chapter of England.

In 1938 the founding master of Lodge Mercury No. 11. W. Bro Lucy Bertram O Hea, CBE, Lady Markham, became Grand Master.

Grand Master M.W. Bro. Lucy Bertran O'Hea, CBE, The Lady Markham, Initiated Lodge Harnoby No. 4 and First Master of Lodge Mercury No.11. Remained in Office until 1948

Since its formation in 1929, Lodge Mercury No. 11 has added more than forty-two lodges to the Order, and it always has several centres in course of preparation.

The second World War again halted our forward progress, our brethren were dispersed far and wide, but before the war ended, five new Lodges had come into being. It is interesting to note that all of these were in the recently heavily bombed areas. At the cessation of hostilities the work was renewed with redoubled energy; new degrees were inaugurated and new centres opened. 

In March, 1946, the first Mark Lodge-Keystone Mark Lodge No. 1 was consecrated by the then Grand Mastet M. W. Bro. Lucy B. O'Hea, C.B.E .Lady Markham.

When Grand Master O'Hea retired she was replaced by M.W. Bro Mary Gordon Muirhead Hope.

Grand Master M. W. Bro Mary Gordon Muirhead Hope, Initiated in Lodge Golden Rule No 1 on Feb, 1918,  remained in office until 1962 

In 1948 GM Muirhead Hope resolved that the four Cryptic Degrees should be worked as part of the continuing Order of the Holy Royal Arch Jerusalem. It was agreed that these four degrees, Most Excellent Master, Royal Master, Select Master and Super Excellent Master, should be worked by the Order following the tradition of the Scottish rather than that of English Masonry. This decision allowed further interesting and ancient degrees of the Red Cross of Babylon (Knight of the Sword, Knight of the East, and Knight of the East and West) were also authorised to be worked in London under the auspices of the Supreme Grand Chapter.

In 1948, a Petition was presented to Grand Lodge that the Order should add the Christian Chivalric Degrees, as time and circumstances permitted. After considerable deliberation, it was agreed that this Order should work the Templar Degrees under the old English (York) Rite Series as established under the original Grand Conclave presided over by Thomas Dunckerley, and also worked by the North of England Templar Encampments, the Baldwyn Encampment (Time Immemorial) and the Irish Rite of High Knight Templar, rather than to accept the present division of these into those worked under the authority of the Grand Priory and of the Ancient and Accepted Rite. This decision was based on the regret expressed by nearly all Masonic Writers on the division of Chivalric Masonry in the nine teenth Century. It was felt that this new Order was in no way bound by the compromise then arrived at, and should go back to the original working of the Chivalric Degrees in the follow ing sequence. Knight Templar, Knight of Malta, Rose Croix of H.R.D.M., Knight Kadosh, Royal Arch Knight Templar Priest. The first Chivalric Degree worked by the Order was, .therefore, that of the Knight Templar (Military and Religious Order of the Temple) thus going back to the ancient tradition of the historic Order of the Temple, which originally permitted the admission of women.

In 1948 Lodge Mercury No. 11 first crossed the Border to carry Women's Masonry into Scotland. The first centre was in Glasgow; this was soon followed by two enthusiastic lodges in Aberdeen, and on January 17th, 1959, our first lodge in Edinburgh was consecrated. Masonry in Scotland has always had its special and particular traditions, and these our elder brethren were determined should be maintained in our Scottish lodges, as it has been proved that the two traditions can work side by side in complete amity.

In March 1950 the first Chapter of the Rose Croix of H.R.D.M., Mystic Cup No. 1, was founded, to be followed in one year by a second Chapter, The Rose and The Flame, No. 2. The final degrees of Grand Elected Knight Kadosh and Royal Arch Knight Templar Priest were worked annually at Headquarters, London.

In October 1950, a petition was presented to the Grand Mark Council for permission to add Royal Ark Mariner to the work. This was granted and the Degree of Royal Arch Mariner began to be worked by the three London Mark lodges.

The affairs of the Mark and Royal Ark Mariners lodges were controlled by the Grand Master's Mark Grand Council and the Grand Master's Royal Ark Council, respectively.

Also in 1950 the Order determined to take a further step, that of offering Masonic initiation to English-speaking residents overseas. Many women visiting friends or relations in England enquired if it were not possible for them to become Freemasons during their stay in the Mother country. It was therefore decided to form a special lodge, named Voyagers, for this purpose, and also that of enabling these women, when returned to their own countries, to be kept in touch with Headquarters and, gradually, if circumstances proved fruitful, to form Lodges in their particular part of the world. The conception of Lodge Voyagers proved so popular that there were 425 founder members when it was consecrated on 2nd December 1950 and there are now over 700 members. In the eight years of its existence, not only have visitors to these shores received degrees here, but members of Lodge Voyagers have travelled in teams to Canada, where there are now four Craft Lodges in Ontario; to Adelaide, South Australia, where our first lodge in the Southern Hemisphere was consecrated
on October 31st, 1957, and to Southern Rhodesia, where our first lodge was consecrated in Salisbury on November 6th, 1957. Nearer home, overseas lodges have been consecrated in Guernsey, Jersey and Belfast. Faith in what we have to offer, and the longing for it that we have found in women
overseas, have given us the courage to undertake and guide these ventures, and the reward was felt most directly when representative members were able to be with our British brethren at our Golden Jubilee Festival in the Albert Hall on September 7th, 1958.

In 1952, the Order resolved to augment the working of the masonic Chivalric degrees by inaugurating the second great Order permitted to Masons under the Articles of 1813, that of  the Knights of the Red Cross of Rome and Constantine, with its adherent degrees of Knight of the Holy Sepulchre and St. John the Evangelist.

The Royal Order of Scotland was inaugurated in 1954, and meets at Headquarters.

By 1958, when we celebrated out Golden Jublilee, this work in the provinces had so grown that it became necessary to found Lodge Mercury No. 111 for the purpose of covering all England north of the river Trent, while Mercury No. 11 continued south of that line. In the first few years of a new provincial lodge, senior officers were drawn from existing lodges. The work required much devotion, skill, leisure and money and to help the financial side of the work, an Expansion Fund was built up by contributions from all members of the Order who believe that, as Freemasons, they are also called upon to be masonic missionairies. 

On Sunday 7th Sept, 1958, our Order celebrated its Golden Jubilee and our Grand Officers were photographed at headquarters.

M.W. The Grand Master, Mary Gordon Muirhead Hope

R.W. The Deputy Grand Master Dorothy Alice Taylor           R.W. The Assistant Grand Master Mildred Rhoda Low

So Brethren of Lodge Anwyl, we are heirs to a glorious Masonic tradition, and it is our duty to pass on to our daughters the aims and objectives of our Order. Our lodge goes from strength to strength. At our 24th regular meeting which we held on Sunday 22 Oct at Bethenia, Oakenholt, Flint, we were hounoured to receive R.W Bro M.H.P. Sowerby, PGW, Grand Inspector of North Wales and North West Midlands, G.M's. G.S when she represented our current Grand Master, Most Worshipful Brother Mildred Rhoda Low, at the installated of W.Bro Joyce Marian Sprake. 

Today we have a membership of 51 members, made up of 5 Honorary Members, 25 Founder Members, 9 Joining Members and 12 Initiate Members. 

Brethren, may the Great Architect of the Universe continue to adorn our Order with moral and social virtue. And may we continue to grow and proper to be able to give the benefit of Masonic initiation to our daughters.

Home Lectures of the Craft Lectures of the Holy Royal Arch Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite The Royal Order of Scotland York Rite Side Degrees English Knights Templar Order of Women Freemasons Walter Leslie Wilmshurst Preston Illustrations of Masonry Masonic Tutor Support

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