The history of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons in particular cannot be described without reference to the history of the Women’s movement in Masonry in general. We cannot do better than to quote from a pamphlet published in 1988 by Enid Scott, a former Assistant Grand Master of our Order, entitled “Women in Freemasonry”.
“It was in 1902 that the first lodge of Co-Masons was formed in London and that importation from France soon snowballed. But within a few years some of its members became uneasy regarding the course being taken by the governing body in Paris. They felt that their ancient forms were in jeopardy and a departure from their traditional style was taking place; history was being repeated, for it was a similar state that had arisen in regular Freemasonry in the mid-18th century. Various members resigned from the Order and formed themselves into a Society from which was to emerge the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry, but still as an association for men and women. On 5 June 1908 a Grand Lodge was formed with a Reverend Brother as Grand Master. He was the first and only male Grand Master and held that office for four years before retiring through ill health. His successor commenced the continuing line of female Grand Masters. Approximately ten years later it was decided to restrict admission to women only but to allow existing male members to remain. Within a very short period the title was changed to the Order of Women Freemasons but the form of address as ‘Brother’ remained, the term ‘Sister’ having been discontinued soon after the formation in 1908 as it was deemed unfitting for members of a universal Brotherhood of Freemasons. It is also of some interest to note that history was repeated again , in that the Royal Arch became the subject of a division in their ranks, rather on the lines of the Antients and Moderns years before the Union in 1813. A group of its members wished to include the Royal Arch in the system but failed to obtain authority from their Grand Lodge , which caused them to secede and form the first Lodge of yet another Order – The Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons, two Grand Lodges running in parallel was almost a carbon copy performance, but in this case the time for a Union, similar to that which took place in 1813, is yet to come.”
It should be noted that Women’s Freemasonry pre-dates both the Women’s Institute founded in 1915 and also the Townswomen’s Guild which started in 1929.
The Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons was founded in 1913 and the first Grand Master was Mrs Elizabeth Boswell-Reid who held that Office from 1913 to 1933 ; she was succeeded by her daughter Mrs Lily Seton Challen.
The first three Lodges to be consecrated were ;
The progress of the Order was severely restricted by the outbreak of the Great War as many of its members had dedicated themselves to voluntary service for the war effort. Nevertheless in 1916 the dream of establishing the Higher Degrees was realised with the consecration of the Chapter of Hidden Splendour no 1 of the Holy Royal Arch.
In 1932 the Mark Degree was established when the Keystone Mark Lodge no 1 was consecrated, followed by the Rose Croix 18th Degree Rose of Sharon Chapter no 1 in 1935. Ark Mariners in 1996 and Knights Templar in 2001.
Our very first masonic home was Dr Williams’s Library, swiftly followed by Caxton Hall,Westminster and then St Ermins, Westminster. In 1947 the Fraternity moved to Clive Court, Kensington, in 1955 to 68 Great Cumberland Place, Marble Arch and in 2005 we moved to 402 Finchley Road, London NW2.
The women’s movement in France continued along the lines of Adoptive Masonry until 1959 when the Grand Loge Féminine de France decided to work the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. This led to the consecration of further national Grand Lodges in Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Denmark, Turkey, Germany, Canada and the Americas.
Operative Masons – it wasn’t just men in those early days
If you would like to find out more about Freemasonry for Women, please write to us at: HFAF, 402 Finchley Road, Childs Hill, London, NW2 2HR
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