In 2017, the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), the premier grand lodge of masculine Freemasonry, celebrates its tercentenary. Its creation in 1717, two centuries before first-wave feminism, meant that to even the most progressively-minded individual, the idea of admitting women would have been foreign. Yet, in pre-revolutionary France, the movement to include women in Masonic organisations had begun and its legacy continues today.
This legacy of female involvement in Freemasonry is continued today in the form of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF) and the Order of Women Freemasons (OWF).
Female Freemasonry began in France with the sponsorship of female Masonic societies alongside regular men’s Masonic lodges. Various schisms and breakaway groups meant that, by 1913, there existed two female-only orders of Freemasonry. Existing alongside were both UGLE masculine Freemasonry and Co-Masonry for both men and women.
Most Worshipful Brother Christine Chapman, the Grand Master of HFAF, serves as the order’s leader. She recently gave a talk to students of the University, where she outlined the continuing importance of Freemasonry for both men and women in the twenty-first century, emphasising that “the attractions of Freemasonry manifest themselves equally to men and women.”
Following from the lead of UGLE, who have more than 50 Universities’ Scheme lodges, which are aimed at attracting university students into Freemasonry, HFAF has established a similar scheme for young women at universities with an interest in Freemasonry. While Southampton University has a masculine student Freemason lodge, HFAF’s plans to establish a lodge in Bournemouth for university students will draw from females at the University of Southampton (amongst other South Coast universities) into Freemasonry.
“Freemasonry provides a wellspring of moral guidance and knowledge to the young women who join our fraternity. But what it provides above all to the young people of today is a bedrock of stability, which provides order out of the chaos of modern society”
MW Bro Christine Chapman, Grand Master of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons
Apart from the obvious gender differences, many of the traditions of HFAF remain similar to their male counterparts: “we wear the same regalia and use the same rituals as UGLE Freemasons” and still use the masculine form of address for each other – “brother” – owing to the organisation’s roots in Co-Masonry. Similarly, in many cases, female Freemasons use the same meeting venues of the male masons, and there exist many marriages between UGLE and female Freemasons. MW Bro Chapman remarked that there was a certain inevitability to her entry to Freemasonry in 1976 as her “father, mother and husband were all Freemasons”.
The long and varied history of female Masonic movements dispel the myth that Freemasonry is only for men; whilst masculine Freemasons vastly outnumber their female equivalents, their long history and enormous similarities make the opportunities for females in Freemasonry as numerous as those available to men.