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Article # 8
Discrimination against Women Practiced by Masons

Author: Mrs.Pushpa Vijayaraghavan, M.A.,M.Ed    Posted on: Saturday, May 25, 2002
General Article | 7 comments  | Post your comment

I had visited, while browsing, your website and read with interest the general articles posted therein, which were of a very high order and very scholarly. I find that the site is being appreciated by persons from Australia, South Africa, U.S.A and other countries. I also wish to record my appreciation and express certain feelings of women vis a vis Freemasonry.

Millions of women highly qualified, of good standing in society and of unimpeachable character and attainments are sadly kept out of the institution known as Freemasonry in most of the Countries. There had been several International Organizations in the past admitting men only. For instance, Rotary International and Lions International, some decades ago were exclusively for men. A right thinking lady took the matter to Court and the American Court held that there can not be such a discrimination against women. Both Rotary and Lions thereafter amended their rules and commenced admitting women. Many ladies who had been admitted in those organizations had distinguished themselves in those organizations and are being considered as worthy of emulation. Such is the case in numerous organizations in which ladies have been admitted. The ladies have proved their ability to excel and have made a mark not only in such organizations, but also in all walks of life. Such being the case, we are unable to reconcile ourselves with Freemasonry, which has closed the doors against us so far as membership is concerned, but take considerable pains to collect as many ladies as possible for the important functions. We are thanked on all those occasions with the oft repeated expressions “You have added colour and luster.”, which expression besides being colourless due to frequent repetition, betrays the secret, that without the Ladies the proceedings in Masonry are otherwise dull, colour and luster less. We had also been told that masons always think about us and that they call the Lodge in which they joined first as the mother lodge and the Grand lodge calls the individual lodges as daughter lodges and the other lodges and other constitutions as sister lodges and sister constitutions. We thank for such expressions, but we are unable to comprehend as to why mothers, sisters and daughters, who are so honoured are kept outside the institution and whether any right thinking man can keep his mother, sister and daughter out of his lawful undertakings. Let us now examine the legality and propriety of the discrimination practiced against women by masonry.

2. The United Nations in the Charter of United Nations reaffirmed its faith in certain fundamental Human rights inclusive of the right to equality. On 10 th December 1948, the General Assembly approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which document is hailed as the bedrock of the concept of Human Rights. That declaration has proclaimed that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, and proceeds to declare that “ They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Article 2 proclaims that “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion. Political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” The Declaration was followed by the legally enforceable International Covenant on Civil and political Rights ratified by almost all the countries. The following provisions of the Covenant have to be referred to at this stage .Preamble:-… “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” … “that the individual, having duties to other individuals and to the community to which he belongs, is under a responsibility to strive for the promotion and observance of the rights recognized in the present covenant.” Art 2 enjoins that States shall not discriminate on grounds like sex etc. Art 3:- States … “undertake to ensure the equal right of men and women in the enjoyment of all civil and political rights set forth in the present Covenant”….Art 16:- “Everyone shall have the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.” Art.26 :- “All persons are equal before law…..In this respect, law shall prohibit any discrimination on any ground such as race , colour, sex, language, …” etc. Constitution of India provides for equality for all in Article 14. Subsequent articles 15 and 16 being non discrimination clauses prohibit any discrimination on grounds of caste…sex etc…

3.Several years later, U.N approved the “ Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of discrimination against Women” on 18 th December 1979. The said Convention noted that prior International Conventions, resolutions, declarations and recommendations adopted by the United Nations were “Promoting the equality of rights of men and women” and that despite those instruments of U.N, extensive discrimination against women continued to exist and that “the full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of Peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields.”. Article 1 of the Convention defines

“ discrimination against women” as meaning “ any distinction ,exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex, which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition ,enjoyment or exercise by women irrespective of their marital status, on the basis of equality of men and women , of human rights and fundamental freedoms, in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field. Under Article 2, the States have “condemned discrimination against women in all its form” , for which purpose they had agreed to “pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women ,” and towards that end they had undertaken “ to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women , by any person, organization or enterprise.” The 4 th World Conference on Women in Beijing was a significant landmark. 189 Countries unanimously agreed that the advancement of women and the achievement of equality with men are matters of fundamental human rights and therefore a prerequisite for social justice. All the countries including India, who have ratified the above mentioned Covenants and Conventions are bound to implement the same. The practice of most of the Grand Lodges in excluding women from membership in the Lodges under their jurisdictions is clearly discrimination against women as defined in Article 1 referred to above. States have to under Article 2 take appropriate measures to eliminate the said discrimination by the individual freemasons and the organizations of the individual Lodges and the respective Grand Lodges. One can understand, if the proposal of one individual is rejected on the ground of unsuitability. To reject all the women because they are women is nothing but discrimination against women, which is violative of the above mentioned International Human Rights Instruments. Constitution of India also prohibits such discrimination.

4. Some of my close family friends, who are masons have told me that they have Masonic law and Regulations and as per the Masonic Jurisprudence certain Landmarks can not be changed and one such Landmark is that the fraternity is for men only. A Grand Lodge officer, while addressing a meeting attended by Ladies mentioned that masonry teaches good conduct and builds good character and that obedience to law is also taught. If masonry advocates and enjoins obedience to laws, I wonder how masonry can have rules at variance with and violative of Laws, National and International, relating to non-discrimination and fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitutions of the Countries, including India. Certainly this is not obedience to law.

5. Browsing various websites, I have come across some materials to show that women had been in the past admitted to masonry both operative and speculative. I have pasted the relevant passages hereunder.

BY V:. W.: and Rev. NEVILLE B. CRYER 
MASONIC TIMES, May, 1995, Rochester, New York

In 1693 we have the York Manuscript No. 4, belonging to the Grand Lodge of York, which relates how when an Apprentice is admitted the 'elders taking the Booke, he or _shee_ [sic] that is to be made Mason shall lay their hands thereon, and the charge shall be given.' Now I have to tell you, that my predecessors in Masonic Research in England from Hughen and Vibert and from all the rest onward, have all tried to pretend that the 'shee' is merely a misprint for 'they.' I now am the Chairman of the Heritage Committee of York. I know these documents; I've examined them, and I'm telling you, they say 'she,' without any question.

Of course, we have a problem, haven't we; to try to explain that. My predecessors would not try to explain this; they were too male oriented. The fact remains that, there it is, in an ancient document of a 17th century date. That this could have been the case seems all the more likely as that in 1696 two widows are named as members in the Operative masons Court. Away in the South of England, we read in 1714 -- that's before the Grand Lodge of England -- of Mary Bannister, the daughter of a barber in the town of Barking, being apprenticed as a Mason for 7 years with a fee of 5/- which she paid to the Company.

18th Century:
Women Freemasons prior to the formation of the Grand Lodge of England

Turning next to the subject of actual cases of women who were made Masons in speculative rather than operative lodges, there is quite a bit of evidence to support the contention that this was at one time permitted. The most famous (and best-documented) of these women Masons was Mrs. Aldworth, made a Mason in the 1700s. Here is a brief account of her Masonic career, as written in 1920 by Dudley Wright and posted to the internet in 1994 by William Maddox.

In his talk to the chapter of the Philalethes Society, cited above, Neville B. Cryer described the well-known particulars of the initiation of Elizabeth St. Ledger (later Elizabeth Aldworth) as a Speculative Mason -- and he noted that this occurred in 1712, before the Grand Lodge of England was formed -- and thus before it was declared that the exclusion of women was an "ancient landmark," and a stop was put to female participation in the Craft.

Numerous other examples of females joining Masonic lodges could be given here (Cryer and Wright cite several each), but lack of space forbids. The pattern set by Elizabeth Aldworth -- of rare and exceptional cases of women being made Masons -- was the norm from the time of the establishment of the GLoE until the 19th century advent of Co-Masonry, a mixed-gender .

Those passages show that women had been admitted in freemasonry and later on “ the all males only” rule was brought as a landmark. I understand that during my grandfather’s time no mason would even inform others about his membership. Later installation proceedings were televised and the photographs appeared in the news media also. Even in Chennai, there was publication of photographs of certain functions in Newspapers. Some Masonic rituals were done in a mixed audience. Those evolutions were later innovations and if the landmarks had been changed or had permitted the innovations, admission of women can also be done . Women had been good and ideal mothers, loving and affectionate sisters and caring, exemplary and sincere wives. Can they not be good brothers in the fraternity of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of human beings. I request the brethren in Freemasonry to consider the views expressed by me on behalf of thousands of women. Let me close with a prayer to God Almighty, whose blessings are invoked by masons in their meetings, to guide them properly so that, they would not offend the Divine Law of creating man and women with equality and also the man made law of elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.

[The author is a senior member of the faculty of a renouned Educational Institution. She is an erudite scholar and prolific writer. She has expressed the views of multitudes of enlightened women. Her article is posted with the view to elicit the opinion of other ladies and brethren. It is made clear that the article does not reflect the opinion of the Masonic Research Circle, which maintains the web site or its moderator. Discussion is invited and email is to be addressed to --- Moderator]

Click Here To Post Your Comment

Bro.Jogani wrote on Sunday, May 26, 2002:

Subject: Discrimination against Women Practiced by Masons !

I read your article, it is an excellent article, I enjoyed every word of it and I fully agree with your opinion.In this connection we have just initiated "FREEMASONS' FAMILY CIRCLE" where all the Brethren Family will take part and most of the get to gether programmes will be organised by the ladies so that we Brethren's family members can come more closer to Freemasonery.The inaugration of this new family Circle is today at 7-30 p.m. by our Grand Master. I once again Congratulate you for your article which will give more awareness to ladies regarding the objectives of Freemasonery. With regards,and best of luck, Mahendra Jogani Secretary, FREEMASONS' FAMILY CIRCLE (FFC)

ttait wrote on Monday, May 27, 2002:

Subject: Discrimination

I am a woman that would enjoy the oppurtunity to become a Mason... I am also a person with a firm belief in tradition... Fraternal organizations are, by their nature, for men. Just as sororities are designed for women. I don't see where this can be considered discrimination. Is it discrimination that nuns are all female? Women are not excluded from Masonry, by their gender - they are excluded by their heritage and marital status... I am not the daughter, sister, granddaughter or wife of a Mason - I cannot even join Eastern Star. If Masons did rewrite all the rules of Fraternal organizations and open the door to female brothers....Well, it stands to reason, these women would have to still meet the criteria of Eastern Star, correct? So where would that leave women like myself? Ironically, it would leave me just as excluded as I am now. Catch 22, Murpheys Law, Discrimination, or oversight? I don't want to go in with the men, I just want to go in...

revenk wrote on Wednesday, June 19, 2002:

Subject: Discrimination

It will be very welcome move if we decide to admit women on equal footing into masonry some day. It will help the fraternity grow and flourish. There could have been valid reasons in ancient times to exclude women in this organisations. Only men worked for earning a living for the family those days. Much of such ground does not exist in the present world. Unless we change with times, unless an organisation is adaptive and dynamic and unless an organisation is flexible, it cannot survive for long.

Dutchrose wrote on Wednesday, June 19, 2002:

Subject: duscrimination against women, practised by masons

Dear Mrs.Pushpa Vijayaraghavan, dear brethren, First of all, I understand fully your sentiments, Mrs.Pushpa Vijayaraghavan, being a woman myself. However, on behalf of my brethren, I feel obliged to set some things straight. Freemasonry for women exists for a long time. As you mentioned rightfully in your email, freemasonry for men AND women is established already in 1893, by a lodge in Paris, France. Unfortunately le Droit Humain, as the Grandlodge is called, is not working in India at the moment. Yes; the UGLE does not recognize us. On the other hand, the UGLE does not recognize several masculine Grandlodges either. Personally, it is of no great importance to me. you see,we here in Europe, have various lodges, for men only, for women only, and for men AND women. In Belgium for instance, freemasons have made a covenant, to meet eachother on special occasions in the lodges for men and women. What IS important to me, is the mutual respect and fellowship shown from brothers and sisters all over the world. So you see, freemasons do not really discriminate women, we all work in our own lodges, with the same traditions, etc.,in our own ways. best regards, Betty Langenberg PM Lodge Pythagoras, E.'. Rotterdam the Netherlands

giovanni wrote on Tuesday, July 25, 2006:

Subject: Discrimination against Women Practiced by Masons

As a male masone I am NOT all against women freemasons. To the contrary, I am strongly against co-masonry. Ours is a work on energies, the consequence of which has effects in the subconscious. It's undisputable that women energies are quite different from males' ones. Also brain has a different structure.

EnToPan wrote on Monday, January 14, 2008:

Subject: Women and the Holy spirit

The brain structure and the female energies can be different but the holy spirit is not stupid and works in a different maner . So if i was the Almighoty God i could say : In this Lodge they are men and women so i will give my energies in another way to harmonize the whoole. The Spirit sees the Egregor of the Order..

firemst wrote on Tuesday, April 21, 2009:

Subject: Discrimination?

Discrimination? I fear it will exist as long as we as humans remain resolute in not subduing our passions and improving ourselves in masonry. I think each and every freemason, myself included, must look honestly in their heart for the answer to this quandary. Personally, I feel there is a place for all three obedience in freemasonry as practiced here in the USA. Male only, Female only, and Co-Masonry. There are no differences in brain or structure/nature of the divine spark. Some humanely implanted prejudices are what stop the matter from becoming so. They are humanly contrived prejudices which are false, and are continually being proven wrong by science. The differences in brain structure attributed to exclusively female brains as found in the past are now being found in many brains of male subjects as well. The differences exist for the same reasons why our skin, eye, hair colors, blood types and sizes are different. It is the will of the divine that we survive in our environments upon this earth. The divine spark which makes us all brothers, male and female are identical to each other. This is what makes all equal in brotherhood. As far as Eastern Star as discussed. That is NOT Freemasonry, and is not a substitute for such. As worthy as the organization is, it is as much freemasonry as football (or soccer) relates to baseball. I pray that one day the formal units of lodges as a while will be as open minded and accepting of women such as I who are masons as the individual masons I know have been. All have shown nothing but brotherly it should be. For we are all brothers; male and female; white, black, yellow, red, brown, yellow haired to black. We are all Brothers! Fraternally yours, Darylee, 2º American Co-masonry, AFHR, Renaissance Lodge #5, Orient of Detroit.

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