Freemasonry and Women’s Rights – Part 2

The second part of the series exploring mixed, Co- and female Freemasonry, and how the fraternity and its members helped progress the emancipation and rights of women.

Both male, female and co-Masonry played their part in the fight for the rights of women during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Members of all organisations were instrumental in furthering the cause for women’s suffrage.

In her seminal thesis ‘Women Freemasons and Feminist causes 1908 – 1935: The Case of the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry’, Ann Pilcher-Dayton cites the following quote from E. Severs (1911); [i]

‘… surely it was fitting that an Order pledged “to ceaseless endeavour to promote the welfare of humanity” should play a part in aiding women, who view the exercise of the franchise as an opportunity for greater service to their country, to secure political justice for their sex’.

Richard Pankhurst

– Freemason, activist, and father of suffragettes

 

Richard Pankhurst By Arthur Reston – http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUpankhurst.htm; Also printed in The Pankhursts by Martin Pugh. London: Penguin Books, 2001. ISBN 0-140-29038-9 and The Suffragette Movement by E. Sylvia Pankhurst. 1931. New York: Kraus Reprint Co., 1971. OCLC 82655317., Public Domain
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One notable member of a UGLE lodge was Richard Marsden Pankhurst, a barrister, and ardent socialist. Pankhurst was born in Stoke 1835/6, the son of Henry Francis Pankhurst and Margaret Marsden.

He was educated at Manchester Grammar School and Owens College of Manchester. In 1858 he graduated B.A. from the University of London and in 1859 was awarded LL.B. with Honours.

In 1863 he graduated LL.D. with gold medal. He was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1867.

Pankhurst was a founding member of Manchester’s St George Lodge No. 1170 in 1867.

He was a fearless activist for women’s rights, free speech, secular education, republicanism, the disestablishment of the Church of England, and the abolition of the House of Lords.

He established a National Society for Women’s Suffrage, drafted the Women’s Disabilities Removal Bill (the first women’s suffrage bill in England) and was author of the bill which became the Married Women’s Property Act 1882 which gave wives absolute control over their property and earnings.

In 1878 he married Emmeline Goulden (1858-1928), a young activist some 24 years his junior.

Along with Emmeline, he was instrumental in the establishment of the Independent Labour Partyand in 1889, they formed the Women’s Franchise League. Their political circle included Keir HardieWilliam Morris, George Bernard Shaw, and Freemason and activist Annie Besant.

Richard Pankhurst died in 1898 but his legacy lived on in his wife and daughters, who all went on to achieve emancipation for women.

Maharaja Duleep Singh

– another Freemason and father of suffragettes

 

Maharaja Sir Duleep Singh also known as the ‘Black Prince of Pershire’
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Another ‘Freemason and Father of a suffragette’ was the exiled Maharaja Sir Duleep Singh also known as the ‘Black Prince of Perthshire’.

Duleep Singh became interested in Freemasonry during his exile in England, however it was only in 1861, when he returned to India to bring his mother out of political exile, that he was admitted into Freemasonry in Lodge Star in the East, Calcutta, No. 67.

 

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh selling subscriptions for the Suffragette newspaper outside Hampton Court in London, April 1913. The British Library dates this image to 1910.
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The Maharajah’s daughter Sophia was one of several Indian women who were prominent suffragettes in Britain.

She is best known for her leading role in the Women’s Tax Resistance League and also as part of the Women’s Social and Political Union alongside the Pankhurst women.

Her sole aim in life was the advancement of women, something she bravely achieved by the time of her death in 1948.

Rev. William Cobb

Rev. William Frederick Geikie-Cobb (1857-1941) was a controversial clergyman, known for supporting women’s suffrage, the admission of women to the clergy, and to Freemasonry.

Cobb was a key figure in the establishment of the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry HFAM (later known as the Order of Women’s Freemasonry) which initially was a lodge for both men and women.

It was founded on 20 June 1908, and Cobb took the role of Grand Master, and Worshipful Master of Lodge Golden Rule No. 1, the first lodge to be consecrated on the same day.

The Draft Declaration of Principles stated that:

The aims of the new Fraternity then are briefly:
(1) To spiritualise Masonry;
(2) To give women their proper place in the Brotherhood of Masonry. [ii]

This was certainly Cobb’s view, his belief that women’s place in Freemasonry was ‘a restitution of their rights’ [iii] and that an Organisation that prohibits women from participating in the Mysteries, is contradictory in its profession of Universal Brotherhood – a Brotherhood that excludes an entire genda.

However, in 1912, Cobb resigned, thus giving women a ‘proper place in the Brotherhood of Masonry’ – Marion Halsey was appointed as Grand Master, a position she held until her death in 1927.

Since 1912, all Grand Masters of the HFAM have been women; the Order becoming exclusively female in 1935, with the addition of ‘Order of Women’s Freemasonry’ in 1958.

Eustace Miles

Euston Hamilton Miles (1868-1948) was an Olympian tennis player, diet guru, Co-Mason and founder member of HFAM.

His famous vegetarian restaurant on Chandon Street, Charing Cross in London and as Pilcher-Dayton states, was ‘a meeting place for suffragist sympathisers and hosting celebratory breakfasts for suffragettes on release from Holloway and meetings of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage – as well as a venue for HFAM’. [iv]

The Spiritual Factor

Many of the players in the cause for women’s rights were Masons from Co-Masonic Orders and the aforementioned HFAM; but an additional factor was an involvement in Theosophy and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and offshoots such as Stella Matutina.

All these groups promoted equality for women members and as such this was reflected in the memberships of both Freemasonry and the Suffragette movement.

Women such as Annie Besant, Charlotte Despard, Mabel St Clair Stobart, and Lady Emily Lutyens, were all prominent feminist activists and Freemasons, and active in Theosophical or other spiritually-centric groups or Orders (see list of Women Freemasons below).

Women Freemasons who were activists or advocates for Women’s Rights

Charlotte Despard née French (1844-1939) 
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Charlotte Despard née French (1844-1939) was an Anglo-Irish suffragist, socialist, pacifist, Sinn Féin activist, and novelist.

A Co-Mason and Theosophist, she was a founding member of the Women’s Freedom LeagueWomen’s Peace Crusade, and the Irish Women’s Franchise League

Aslo an activist in a wide range of political organizations over the course of her life, including among others the Women’s Social and Political UnionHumanitarian LeagueLabour PartyCumann na mBan, and the Communist Party of Great Britain; a Poor Law Guardian and social worker amongst the poor of Battersea; she fought two General Elections as a Labour candidate and later joined the Communist party.

Despard was imprisoned four times for her suffragette activism, and she continued actively campaigning for women’s rights, poverty relief and world peace right into her 90s.

Annie Besant (1847-1933)
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Annie Besant (1847-1933was a prominent women’s rights activist and Suffrage leader.

She was initiated into Freemasonry in Paris with five other Theosophists from England in 1902.

She was responsible for the establishment of the Co-Masonic movement in England, thus opening up the way for women’s Masonry. Besant was the leader of the Co-Masons and President of the Theosophical Society

Annie Cobden-Sanderson(1853-1926)
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Annie Cobden-Sanderson(1853-1926) was born in London and in later life moved in the same Socialist circle as textile designer, artist and poet William Morris and his wife, the muse of the Pre-Raphaelites, Jane Burden.

Cobden-Sanderson worked for the Independent Labour Party, she was a militant suffragette and went to prison in October 1906. She was a founding member of the Women’s Freedom League, and helped  form the Women’s Tax Resistance League in 1909.

Annie was a member of Lodge Maria Desraimes No. 1 in Paris, and the Co-Masonic Lodge Human Duty No. 6 in London; she then joined Lodge Golden Rule No. 1 of HFAM.

Mabel St Clair Stobart (1862-1954) (left). Library of Congress
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Mabel St Clair Stobart (1862-1954) née Boulton (1862-1954) was an ardent feminist, suffragist and aid-worker.

She created and commanded all-women medical units to serve in the Balkan Wars and the First World War.

She became the first woman to achieve the rank of Major in any national army. She was also the author of several books and articles.

Mabel was a leading Spiritualist and member of Lodge Golden Rule No. 1 of HFAM 

Lady Agnes Geraldine Grove (1863-1926) 
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Lady Agnes Geraldine Grove (1863-1926) was born into great wealth. She used her social standing, and her skills as a writer and public speaker to further the cause of the Suffragette Movement.

In 1908, she published The Human Woman, which dealt with women’s citizenship, and it included her speech in Paris in 1900.

Lady Grove was a member of Lodge Golden Rule No. 1, HFAM.

Evelina Haverfield (1867-1920)
IMAGE LINKED: wellcome collection Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Honourable Evelina Haverfield (1867-1920) was a prominent suffragette, a member of the WSPU alongside Emmeline Pankhurst.

She attended numerous demonstrations and after one particularly violent occasion when she was arrested for hitting a policeman in the mouth, she was asked to comment – her reply was; ‘It was not hard enough. Next time I will bring a revolver. [v]

In WW1 she founded the Woman’s Emergency Corps, the Woman’s Volunteer Reserve and the Green Cross Corps (the women’s ambulance reserve).

Haverfield was a Co-Mason, a member of Lodge Golden Rule No. 21.

Muriel Agnes, Countess De La Warr née Brassey (1872-1930) 
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Muriel Agnes, Countess De La Warr née Brassey (1872-1930) was the granddaughter of the railway magnate Thomas Brassey.

Her father, also called Thomas, was a prominent Freemason. Muriel was a wealthy Liberal (later Socialist) philanthropist, her donations helped keep the Daily Herald in circulation, and were of great use for the many campaigns for women’s suffrage she was involved with.

Muriel was originally a supporter of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) however, she broke away from them during their arson campaign.

She became President of the Federated Council of Suffrage Societies, which tried to unify the many disparate suffrage groups and determine a united policy.

She was a member of the Theosophical Society and Lodge Golden Rule No. 1, HFAM. 

Lady Emily Lutyens and Mr C. Jinarajadasa from the Theosophical Society, New South Wales, ca. 1928.
IMAGE LINKED: nla.gov Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Lady Emily Lutyens née Bulwer-Lytton (1874-1964) was the wife of architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.

A supporter of women’s suffrage, she was a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union(WSPU) but resigned in 1909, as she was opposed to their militancy.

Emily was a Co-Mason and took part as an Entered Apprentice in the Coronation March of women in 1911, and a close friend of Annie Besant, who appointed her as English representative of the Order of the Star in the East.

She was a member of the Theosophical Society and a follower of the young Krishnamurti, the ‘new Messiah’, whom she became a de-facto surrogate parent to when he was brought back to England from India by Besant.

As these articles, see – Freemasonry and Women’s Rights – Part 1 – only skim the surface of the complex subject of Freemasonry, feminism, and women’s rights, I strongly recommend reading Ann Pilcher-Dayton’s superb PhD thesis ‘Women Freemasons and Feminist causes 1908 – 1935: the Case of the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry’ (link opens as a PDF), and for a list of Famous Women Freemasons check out https://www.owf.org.uk/news-blog/famous-women-freemasons/

Footnotes
Resources

Notes:

[i] E. Severs on ‘The Order of Universal CO-Masonry’, The Common Cause, 28/9/1911, p. 425. Cited in Pilcher-Dayton, Ann Jessica (2012) ‘Women Freemasons and Feminist causes 1908 – 1935: the Case of the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry’, PhD thesis, University of Sheffield, 2011.

[ii] Draft Declaration of Principles, attached to minutes of Grand Lodge of HFAM, 20/6/1908, cited in Pilcher-Dayton, Ann Jessica (2012) ‘Women Freemasons and feminist causes 1908-1935: the case of the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

[iii] Pilcher-Dayton, Ann, p142.

[iv] Pilcher-Dayton, Ann, p110.

[v] Crawford, Elizabeth (2001). The women’s suffrage movement: a reference guide, 1866–1928. Routledge. p. 279. 

 

Other sources:

The Order of Women Freemasons (OWF) https://www.owf.org.uk/about-us/our-history/

‘Women Freemasons and Feminist causes 1908 – 1935: the Case of the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry’, Pilcher-Dayton, Ann Jessica (2012) PhD thesis, University of Sheffield, 2011. https://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/15012/1/575742.pdf

Women's Orders

The Order of Women Freemasons https://www.owf.org.uk/

The Honourable Fraternity of ancient Freemasons https://hfaf.org/

Continental and Co-Masonic Orders

Map of Co-Masonic Orders worldwide https://comasonry.3-5-7.nl/map/

Australia https://comasonry.3-5-7.nl/oceania/australia/

UK https://comasonry.3-5-7.nl/europe/uk/

Universal Co-Masonry https://www.universalfreemasonry.org/

International Order of Freemasonry for Men and Women

Le Droit Humain – British Federation https://www.freemasonryformenandwomen.co.uk/

US https://comasonry.3-5-7.nl/north-america/usa/

CLIPSAS Centre De Liaison Et D’information Des Puissances Maçonniques Signataires De L’appel De Strasbourg https://clipsas.org/

Article by: Philippa Lee. Editor

Philippa Lee (writes as Philippa Faulks) is the author of eight books, an editor and researcher.

Philippa was initiated into the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF) in 2014.

Her specialism is ancient Egypt, Freemasonry, comparative religions and social history. She has several books in progress on the subject of ancient and modern Egypt.  Selection of Books Online at Amazon

The Open Door:
The History of the Order of Women Freemasons, 1908 – 2008

By: Ann Pilcher-Dayton

 

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