Tag Archives: Karen Kidd

On Holy Ground: A History of The Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry * Karen Kidd (2011)

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I like reading about esoteric pioneers. When I was reading Kidd’s book about women initiated into regular Freemasonry, I ran into the present title. On Holy Ground, as the title says, gives a history of the mixed gender Masonic order “The Honorable Order of American co-Masonry”. Actually, the book is more about Le Droit Humain in America, since “The Honorable Order of American co-Masonry” only exists since 1994 when the American Federation split off from the worldwide Le Droit Humain. Technically, perhaps, the Honorable Order is the same organisation and what is nowadays Le Droit Humain is the split-off. (Or alternally, both organisations sprang from the same source.)

Le Droit Humain is a mixed gender Masonic organisation that was founded in France in the last years of the 19th century. A lodge of the male-only organisation Grande Loge de France wanted to initiate women. This was (and is) a step too far for the Grande Loge, so the lodge broke off and started a new lodge which would later become the organisation Le Droit Humain.

Of course the book focusses on the USA, the homeland of the Honorable Order. After a general chapter, the book starts with Antoine Muzarelli, a French immigrant (with Italian roots) in America who was initiated in a lodge of the Grand Orient de France. This Grand Orient is liberal (and another organisation than the Grande Loge de France by the way), but at the time not so liberal that they could allow women to be initiated. Muzarelli founded a lodge in the USA under the Grand Orient de France, but when he heard of Le Droit Humain, he made contact with the founders in France and started to work to found LDH lodges in the USA instead. LDH was already growing to be a worldwide organisation (with a main seat in Paris), but Muzarelli negotiated a certain level of autonomy for his American branch. This branch grew steadily, but not without problems. Muzarelli also ran into counteractions of “malecraft” Masonry. Still the “American Federation of Human Rights” grew with ups and downs. Muzarelli proved not to be the best manager, but he certainly made a flying start.

Muzarelli’s successor was Louis Goaziou. Under the many years with Goaziou as head, the Federation grew further. Towards the end of Goaziou’s leadership, future problems started to arise. However all over the world, “co-Masonry” (a term of Muzarelli) was virtually taken over by Theosophy. Muzarelli himself had contact with Annie Besant who brought growth for Le Droit Humain in the rest of the world. In America things were quite the opposite. When in the rest of the world, the Theosophical influence started to wane with Theosophy itself, in America the influence grew. Goaziou tried to keep ‘the middle’, his followers would do less so. The growing influence of Theosophy brought friction, but the successive leaders navigated the order through all that. The Great Depression and two World Wars brought a massive drop in the numbers of members. As Theosophy had its own free fall in members, so did co-Masonry. Even though relatively autonomous, the American Federation had to go through ‘Paris’ for certain things. The leaders alternally were on good and on lesser terms with ‘Paris’. Things were not easy, but neither bad, until the 1990’ies, when ‘Paris’ decided to tighten the strings and made a decision contrary the proposal of the American Federation on the appointment of the new leader of the American Federation. This eventually lead to the American Federation breaking contacts with ‘Paris’ and go on on their own. A fraction split-off and continued as the American Federation of Le Droit Humain.

Kidd, a member of the Honorable Order, digged deep into the archives. The book has many photos, quotes from personal letters, circulars and magazines and anecdotes. Especially the first two leaders of the order are painted in detail which gives a very personal insight into these pioneering co-Masons. Later leaders are treated more shortly. There are not a whole lot, but still enough, references to Le Droit Humain in other parts of the world. Especially the WWII period gives an interesting peek into the troubles of Freemasonry on the European continent (such as the disappearance of the main seat in Paris). Shorter written about are the Federations in the Far East and Australia.
Even when your interest does not lay in the history of Le Droit Humain in the USA, this book could be a nice; even (or: also) when you have an interest in the history of mixed gender Freemasonry in general, this book is a good purchuse. Especially the first half with with lengthy descriptions of the pioneer days makes a good read.

2011 The Masonic Publishing Company, isbn 1613640056

Haunted Chambers * Karen Kidd (2009)

“These women aren’t supposed to have existed. But they did.”

In online communities with Freemasons present (especially British and American), the subject of women frequently pops up and the reactions are always the same. There were no women Freemasons, there are no women Freemasons and women who are member of a mixed or “femalecraft” lodges are not Freemasons either. Karen Kidd, one such female Freemason herself, decided to sift through archives, media and whatnot to discover stories about women Freemasons; not members of the Order of the Eastern Star, mixed or “femalecraft” lodges, but women that were initiated into (mostly) regular lodges in the 18th and 19th century, long before there were other kinds of Freemasonry, many even before there were ‘lodges of adoption’. These are the women that are not supposed to have existed, but who did.

The author found a few well documented cases, quite a few reasonably documented cases and she ends her book with a few rumoured cases. The stories are often quite alike. A (young) woman is so curious about the secrets of Freemasonry that she decides to spy on a lodge; or a woman accidentally overhears the proceedings of a lodge; in either case, she is discovered and the lodge decides that the best way to prevent her from spreading the secrets, is to initiate her so she has to swear an oath of secrecy. In most cases, that is as far as the woman comes. She does not regularly attend lodges, receive additional degrees or anything. In some cases there is more to say about the women though.

An interesting case in the book is Hannah Mather Crocker (1752-1829) who supposedly led an all-women lodge in 1778 (St. Ann’s Lodge in Boston, USA).
The most interesting story to me, was that of Lavinia Ellen “Vinnie” Ream Hoxie (1847–1914) who was the muse of the famous Freemason Albert Pike (1809-1891). Pike supposedly wanted to create a women’s Freemasonry based on the French lodges of adoption, but rewritten to be more Masonic. Pike’s Rite did not make it. Rob Morris (1818-1888) wrote a Rite for women himself (not based on the lodges of adoption) which became more popular and would eventually lead to the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic-like organisation that women related to Freemasons can join.

“Haunted Chambers: The Lives of Early Women Freemasons” makes an alright read. Sometimes the author seems to try to fill her pages by giving a lot of biographical information that is not really interesting regarding the subject; biographical information about (grand)parents even. More amusing are cases in which the author rattled up old newspaper clippings, reports from Masonic journals, etc.

This book is not about the preamble of mixed Freemasonry. Marie Deraismes (1828-1894) is only mentioned in passing. Most of the women in this book did not ask to join and were granted to do so either; they were mostly ‘accidental Freemasons’ who were not really recognised as equal members. Is the fact that they knew (some of) the secrets of Freemasonry enough to call them “female Freemasons”? Some certainly were and those are the most interesting cases from this book. Kidd found only a handfull though.

Reading this book you will learn a thing or two about the early years of Freemasonry and the place of women in the society of that time.

2009 Cornerstone Book Publishers, isbn 1934935557