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WOMEN IN FREEMASONRY
ARS QUATUOR CORONATORUM
.
INITIATION OF WOMEN.
By Mr. Alec Mello.
Faithful to its principles, English Masonry has always resolutely said “No”. In the eighteenth century, Ramsay's Oration (1737) helped to maintain this position on the Continent, but French gallantry could not let it rest there, and a great deal of gossip and adverse comment was aroused against the Order because of the exclusion of women. The social importance of the French woman in the eighteenth century demanded their initiation. There came into being a very special Masonry called "Maçonnerie d'Adoption" with proper rituals and signs distinctly different from the masculine rituals. The "Mistress" of the Lodge and her "Officers" were gallantly assisted by Brothers, and these Lodges were virtually the Androgynous offspring of normal masculine Lodges. This sort of Masonry lasted until the Revolution, and many fêtes and balls were held, and there were also manifestations of charity. The last Grand Mistress was the Princesse de Lamballe, a favourite of Marie-Antoinette. This was revived in the nineteenth century, but with little enthusiasm, and it gradually disappeared. In the twentieth century, certain members of the Grand Lodge of France revived it until recently, when the Grand Lodge decided that in future it would be absolutely independent, which was also a useful means of freeing itself from an ancillary body of dubious regularity. Left alone, the "Sisters" organized themselves into the "Women's Grand Lodge of France", which appellation was brought under the censure of the Grand Lodge. The "Sisters" ignored this, and even abandoned the old rituals of the Maçonnerie d'Adoption and replaced them by the masculine rituals of the Scottish Rite. Since then the Constitution has been somewhat extended, and it has had the honour to receive Josephine Baker among its members.
Another feminine Constitution is the Droit Humain, founded in 1894. Whilst the feminine Grand Lodge is composed entirely of women, the Droit Humain is mixed. The Grand Lodge of France and the National Grand Lodge (G.L.N.F.) consider them irregular. Brothers of the Droit Humain are permitted to attend Grand Orient Lodges as visitors, but not the "Sisters". The feminine Grand Lodge admits the "Sisters" of the Droit Humain as visitors, but the Droit Humain does not reciprocate.
The history of the foundation of the Droit Humain is curious. It seems to resemble the feminist movement which was the rage in France at the same time as the first English suffragettes appeared, although the latter did not aspire to enter the Grand Lodge of England.
Certain Lodges of the Scottish Rite had formed a schism and set up an organization known as the "Symbolic Scottish Grand Lodge". One of the Lodges of this new Constitution, "Les Libres Penseurs", of Pecq, tried in vain to bring about a revolutionary reform, i.e., the initiation of women. In order not to disintegrate, they decided to withdraw from the Constitution, and once they were independent they initiated the well-known lecturer, Mme. Maria Deraismes, to the Apprentice rank. Soon after this the Lodge re-introduced the symbolic Grand Lodge, which it had abandoned, but without Maria Deraismes. About twelve years later, she, still only an apprentice, called together a dozen ladies at her house and conferred upon them the three symbolic grades, on her own initiative. A Brother, Dr. G. Martin, adhered to the new Constitution which had thus been formed, and several years later conferred, with analogous conditions, the High Degrees of the Scottish Rite on a number of Brothers and Sisters. The Droit Humain has had a certain amount of success with the theosophical sects ; Leadbeater, Mme. Blavatsky, Mrs. Annie Besant and Col. Olcott were members. The headquarters are at 5, rue Jules Breton, Paris.

Excerpted, with permission from "A Sketch of Contemporary French Freemasonry", by non-mason Alec Mellor, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. vol. lxxvi (1963) p. 212-13.

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