An FAQ about women and Masonry today, plus the history of female Freemasonry.
Because Freemasonry was originally founded as an organization for men, there are naturally lots of questions about how women fit into it. That includes the most common question: Can a woman can become a Mason? In fact, female Freemasons appear in the fraternity’s history from its earliest days—and even in its symbols. Today, many lodges around the world continue to accept both men and women, or women only, or men only.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about women and Freemasonry.
Can a Woman Be a Mason?
The short answer is yes. Around the world, including in the state of California, there are three strands of Freemasonry:
- Masculine Masonry: Exclusively men (this includes the Grand Lodge of California, our jurisdiction)
- Feminine Masonry: Exclusively women
- Mixed Masonry: For both men and women
Women can become Freemasons by joining a lodge that practices feminine Masonry or mixed Masonry.
These streams of Masonry function separately. For example, members from a masculine order, like the Grand Lodge of California, aren’t allowed into the closed meetings of feminine or coed lodges, or vice versa. But they are all founded on the teachings and traditions of ancient Freemasonry.
What Is Female or Co-ed Masonry?
Here are some of the most popular organizations practicing mixed Masonry or female Freemasonry:
Feminine Masonic Orders:
- Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons: Based in London, the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons promotes friendship, inspiration, and empowerment in its members and provide aid and charity to their communities.
- Women’s Grand Lodge of France: The mission of the Grande Loge Féminine de France is the constant and unlimited search for truth and justice, in order to contribute to the “perfection of humanity.” Women’s Freemasonry has a long history in Europe and in France in particular.
- Women’s Grand Lodge of California: The mission statement of the Women’s Grand Lodge of California is to foster personal growth and to serve and provide aid to their families, communities, and the world. It’s connected to the United Women’s Grand Lodge Alma Mexicana and includes (at present) three lodges in the Los Angeles area.
- Women’s Grand Lodge of Belgium: With 41 active lodges in Belgium, the Women’s Grand Lodge of Belgium reflects universal Freemasonry: a strong commitment to all human rights and a freedom of conscience, and a rejection of discriminations.
Mixed Masonic Orders:
- Le Droit Humain International: Translated to “the Human Right” in English, members of Le Droit Humain International search for truth and seek to promote the progress of individual worth, without the imposition of dogma, or requiring the abandonment of cultural or religious ideas.
- Grand Orient of France: With over 50,000 members and 1,200 lodges, the Grand Orient of France permits both men’s and mixed-gender lodges.
- George Washington Union (GWU) Grand Lodge: With lodges in North America, GWU was established from the Grand Orient of France in 2002. In conferring the degrees of Masonry, GWU requires two written papers from each candidate before advancement to a higher degree.
What Is the Order of the Eastern Star?
Apart from becoming a Freemason, there are several appendant Masonic organizations that women can join.
The Order of the Eastern Star (OES), which is coed, is one of the best known. In fact, the Eastern Star was the first membership organization in the U.S. that gave women a voice on a national scale. It’s open to Master Masons and their female relatives and spouses, as well as descendants of Master Masons.
Are There Any Famous Female Freemasons?
Here are a few early examples:
- Maria Deraismes (1828–1894): Deraismes was a distinguished author and lecturer, politician, and pioneering force for women’s rights in the 19th century in France. In 1892, she cofounded a new, mixed Masonic order which later became Le Droit Humain (the co-Masons).
- Vinnie Ream Hoxie (1847–1914): In 1866, at age 18, Hoxie was selected by the U.S. Congress to create a statue of Abraham Lincoln, making her the youngest artist and the first woman to receive such a commission. At some point, she was made a Mason. A few years after completing the Lincoln statue, she completed one of Albert Pike.
- Annie Besant (1847–1933): A leader in the women’s rights movement in the United Kingdom, Besant established England’s first lodge of mixed Masonry in 1902, now the International Order of Co-Masonry.
- Annie Cobden-Sanderson (1853–1926): A founding member of the Women’s Freedom League, and a high-profile member of the Women’s Social and Political Union.
- Marion Halsey (1861–1927): While serving as the second grand master of the mixed grand lodge HFAF, Halsey played an important role into creating the first purely feminine Masonic order in 1935. Today the HFAF Order of Women Freemasons has more than 6,000 members in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world.
- Mabel St. Clair Stobart (1862–1954): As founder of the Women’s Sick and Wounded Convoy Corps, and later the Women’s National Service League, Stobart commanded all-women medical units to serve in the first Balkan War, and brought much-needed medical assistance to Serbia during World War I.