Women who are all “Brothers”
Queen of Masonry
(By Air Mail.) .
LONDON, December 20, 1934
Mrs. Seton Challen has been solemnly enthroned as head of the only all-women’s Order of Free masons. The ceremony took place in the beautiful temple of the Honorable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons at Westminster.
Mrs. Challen is a direct descendant of Boswell, Dr. Johnson’s biographer. She looked, and was, a radiant queen of Masonry in her superb regalia. She wore a white satin dress, on which the emblems of her Masonic rank glistened, and an ermine-tipped cloak and train of gold embossed with roses and acacia.
Women came from all parts of the country for this ceremony. Some drove up in luxurious cars, some in taxicabs, while others walked through the rain drenched streets. They are all “brothers” – “Brother Ada,” “Brother Elsie,” and for each the “Grand Master” had the same warm welcome.
The Grand Master of Ceremonies, with the Grand Swordbearer, led the now Grand Master to the temple, with her escort-of eighteen of the tallest members of the Order. Heralds pro claimed her “Most Puissant Grand Commander of the Rose Croix, Most Excellent Supreme Grand of the Holy Royal Arch, Most Worshipful Grand Master of Mark Masons and to be the Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Honorable Fraternity of Ancient Free masons.
None looked on this impressive ritual but those who had the right to be there.
The above is from The Advocate (Burnie, Tas.), Tuesday 15 January 1935, page 1, column e
Mrs Jane Elizabeth Boswell Reid – first Grand Master (1913-1933) of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons
IMAGE LINKED: wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Mrs Seton Challen (Emily Anne or Lily Seton Reid) was born in Victoria, as was her mother, Jane Elizabeth Boswell Reid (eldest daughter of Monckton Synnot, wool-broker of Geelong), the second wife of Dr David Boswell-Reid.
David Boswell Reid was a medical practitioner who lived in Geelong for about 30 years until the 1890’s, when he, his wife and at least one daughter moved to London where he applied for a post as medical examiner with the Agent-General for Victoria.
In the 1901 census Emily Anne Seton Reid was recorded as a singer, living in the Covent Garden area, at 34 King Street, Strand, London. In 1907 Emily Anne married Howard Challen and began using Seton as her preferred forename.
Mrs Lily Seton Challen – second Grand Master (1934-1967) of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons
IMAGE LINKED: wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
In 1902 the first lodge of Co-Masons was formed in London (imported from France).
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 of this Grand Lodge was changed to the Order of Women Freemasons (OWF).
It is noteworthy that history was repeated again, in that the Royal Arch became the subject of a division in OWF, rather on the lines of the Antients and Moderns years before the Union in 1813.
A group of OWF members, led by Mrs Jane Elizabeth Boswell Reid and her daughter Mrs Seton Challen, broke away from the Order of Women Freemasons in 1913, as they wished to work the Royal Arch but had failed to obtain authority from their Grand Lodge.
As a result, they seceded and formed the first Lodge of yet another Order which became the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF).
Mrs J E Boswell-Reid became the first Grand Master of the HFAF (1913-1933), dying in office (at age 78 years) on 22 November 1933.
Her daughter, Mrs Seton Challen, served as second Grand Master of HFAF from 1934-1967, dying in office (at age 90 years) in May 1967. An interesting British Pathé film from 1939 shows Mrs Seton Challen receiving greetings from her brethren in her capacity of Grand Master of HFAF.
(Mrs Seton Challen is seen at 4:43 and onwards of the film).
Mrs Seton Challen is also seen and heard in a British Pathé News report from 1933, describing the HFAF:
It would be interesting to know whether Dr David Boswell Reid (husband of Mrs J E Boswell Reid) was a Freemason in Geelong, or afterwards in London.
His father, also a Dr David Boswell Reid and also a medical practitioner, was noted for pioneer work on ventilation in the UK and USA, including designing the ventilation system for the new Houses of Parliament in London, after the old buildings were destroyed by fire in the mid 1800’s.
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