The different histories of mixed gender and women only Freemasonry

It was in 1902 that the first lodge of Co-Masons was formed in London and that importation from France soon snowballed. […] Various members resigned from the Order [Le Droit Humain] 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. […] Approximately ten years later it was decided to restrict admission to women only but to allow existing male members to remain.

Thus says the website of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons. The Order of Women Freemasons has the same history worded like this:

The Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry was founded on 20 June 1908 and its first Grand Master and driving force was a man – the Rev Dr William Frederick Cobb. However, since 1912, the Grand Masters have all been women. The new Order at first included both men and women, but eventually the decision was taken in the early 1920s to restrict entrance to women only and no longer admit men as visitors.

So women Freemasonry grew out of mixed gender Freemasonry? Actually, the UK is an exception.

In the country were mixed gender Freemasonry started, France, there was another interesting development.

Since the early days of Freemasonry there have been lodges known as “lodges of adoption”. This is somewhat comparable to the Order of the Eastern Star in the USA. The lodges were of the women of Freemasons, just for the women, but led by the men, also ritually. Only in the early 19th century, the Grand Orient de France stopped supporting the lodges and they (almost?) disappeared from the Masonic scene for about a century. In the early 20th century new lodges of adoption were formed. From these lodges, the Women’s Grand Lodge of France (Grande Loge féminine de France) would rise. These French lodges -thus- have no origin in mixed gender Freemasonry, but in rearisen adoption lodges. Most of the Women’s Grand Lodge of France lodges would develop rituals closer to those of male Freemasonry, but some lodges preferred their adoption rituals. These lodges are still active today.

Women’s Freemasonry grew quickly in France and in Belgium. To take Belgium as another example, Le Droit Humain got foot in that country because of openminded men from male only lodges, but women only Freemasonry because the Women’s Grand Lodge of France founded a lodge in Belgium in 1974.

The French women’s Grand Lodge is said to have about 400 lodges and 14.000 members. The Belgian women’s Grand Lodge has about 34 lodges and 1.600 members. The women’s Grand Lodges in the UK have some 57 lodges (domestic and abroad). The French Grand Lodge has brought women’s Freemasonry to many different countries, so I think it is safe to say that by and far the largest part of women’s Freemasonry has a different history from mixed gender Freemasonry.

le Rite d’Adoption


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