The Oregon Scottish Rite Freemason, January, 1996

From the Editor's Desk:

We have long promised to bring you essays and writings, controversial or not, from Masonic leaders nation and world wide. This month, Carolyn Clark Campbell, a Mason of an American Women's Lodge in New York under the aegis of the Women's Grand Lodge of Belgium, presents us an introduction to Women in Freemasonry. Sister Campbell commands respect for her unique and balanced position in American Freemasonry.

Women in Freemasonry

by Carolyn Clark Campbell

I am a woman, an American, and a Freemason. When I tell American men who are Freemasons this, they are generally surprised. This is largely because of the fact that American Freemasonry has been cut off from the rest of the world. Women Freemasons internationally now number in the tens of thousands. There are more than 60,000 women Freemasons in England. Women's lodges also exist in France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Turkey, Argentina, Canada, and now, the USA. I have undoubtedly omitted a few countries with which I am not yet familiar. I am, by the way, the daughter of an American Mason who was 32nd degree Scottish Rite.

As most Masons know, while Freemasonry grew out of operative Masonry which had its roots in the middle ages, modern Freemasonry was officially born in June of 1717 when in London four Lodges got together to form a Grand Lodge. From England, Freemasonry was introduced into the American colonies and also into France. The first Provincial Grand Lodge of Massachusetts was founded in July or August of 1733, with a deputation from the Right Honourable Anthony Browne, Viscount Montagu, Grand Master of England. (Who was, incidentally, my first cousin, 11 times removed -- I am descended from his grandfather.) Freemasonry was likewise introduced into France in about 1735. The first woman was initiated into Freemasonry in France in about 1740.

Since around the turn of this century, women's Lodges have become widespread in France. In 1945, the Women's Grand Lodge of France was established by women's Lodges which had previously been under the jurisdiction of the (men's) Grand Lodge of France. The French women undertook a commitment to bring women's Freemasonry to the rest of the world, and have been keeping that commitment. It is from them that most of the Lodges in other countries exist today. As each country gains enough Sisters and enough Lodges, that country forms its own Women's Grand Lodge. Women's Freemasonry is a very rapidly growing movement around the world. Since women's Lodges were originally founded by men who were Masons (of course, a Mason must be initiated by a Mason), women's Freemasonry has the same original source and tradition as men's Freemasonry.

Women's Freemasonry, in which only women are members, is not the same as co-Masonry, in which both men and women are members of the same Lodge. In 1892 the French Lodge "Les Libres-Penseurs" de Pecq initiated Marie Deraismes, who was a well-known feminist writer. Since this co-Masonry was a violation of the rules of the Grand Orient, this Lodge was disbanded. However, Marie Deraismes and a Brother, George Martin, gathered together Freemasons who were willing to work with them to initiate other women and created the Droit Humain, which continues to exist today and which has both male and female members. The Droit Humain exists internationally, including a number of lodges in the United States. Women's Lodges and the Droit Humain generally recognize each other and are free to visit one another, although their rituals and traditions differ in minor ways.

Since a schism developed in the mid-19th century between English Freemasonry and its progeny (including American Freemasonry) and French Freemasonry and its progeny, much of what has developed out of French Freemasonry has been lost to the English-speaking world. It is perhaps for this reason that our presence has taken Freemasonry in this country by surprise, despite our large numbers and many years of existence. However, I am happy to say, we are here!