The early days of Le Droit Humain
I realised that when I’m looking for details of the start of mixed gender Freemasonry, I often find myself trying to read non-English websites. What is available in English, is much less detailed than what I find in -for example- French. This of course isn’t strange, as Le Droit Humain is French, but why isn’t the French Wikipedia information not just translated to English rather than just given in a summery of a few lines?
I have a few histories of Le Droit Humain in books. The most detailed history is actually in English, in Karen Kidd’s book On Holy Ground. A few publications of the Dutch federation of Le Droit Humain have some details too. I ran into additional information as well. Let’s see if we can make that in a bit of an article.
Maria Deraismes and Georges Martin
What is mostly known, is that Maria Adélaïde Deraismes (1828-1894) was a fervent fighter for women’s rights. These rights still needed to be fought on all kinds of levels. Also within French Freemasonry a call for the right for women to be initiated started to grow. In 1877 the Grand Orient de France turned itself into a ‘secular’ (and soon “irregular”) grand lodge (the Grand Orient de Belgique had done the same five years earlier) and thought it was the time to talk about the women’s question. This would not lead to anything substantial within the Grand Orient de France for any time soon though.
The Grand Orient de France was only founded in 1873 when new regulations were formed within the Grande Loge de France which led to a split. Georges Martin (1844-1916) was initiated in a Grande Loge de France lodge, Union et Bienfaisance, on 21 March 1871.
Martin rebelled within his Grande Loge and in 1880 caused another split of the Grande Loge de France when he helped to create La Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise, the Scottish Symbolic Grand Lodge.
But even though this symbolic grand lodge was again more liberal than where Martin came from, the question of women remained a hot potato. A couple of brothers of the lodge Les Libres Penseurs (‘the free thinkers’) in Pecq near Paris, asked permission to initiate Maria Deraismes, but the permission was denied. The lodge retreated from their grand lodge and initiated Deraismes on 14 January 1882 on which occasion Georges Martin was a visitor from another lodge of the same grand lodge. After that the lodge wanted to join the grand lodge again, but they weren’t allowed to. This caused heavy friction within the lodge. Some members wanted to continue on their own, some wanted to switch to another grand lodge, some wanted Deraismes out and get back. When members started to leave the lodge and the lodge was in danger of going dormant, Martin, Deraismes and a few others thought it better to leave the lodge.
There is the still open question of Deraismes’ second and third degree. Third degree regalia that she apparently used still exist, but there is no information when and in what lodge she received these degrees.
Le Droit Humain
Between 1890 and 1892 Deraismes and Martin initiated a group of women:
- Irma Marie Eugenie Laïné aka Marie Georges Martin (future wife of Georges Martin) (1)
- Anna Féresse-Deraisme (sister of Maria Deraisme)
- Maria Arundale / Martin (she appears to have been born Arundale, but changed her name to Martin)
- Maria Pognon;
- Myrtille Rengnet (sister of Maria Pognon)
- Eliska Vincent
- Florestine Mauriceau (sister of Eliska Vincent)
- Louise David;
- Charlotte Duval
- Marie Béquet de Vienne
- Élisa Lévy-Maurice
- Julie Pasquier
- Dr Marie Pierre
- Clémence Royer
- Louisa Wiggishoff
- Marguérite Cremnitz
Some sources say that all ladies were initiated together on 14 March 1893, passed on 24 March and raised on 1 April of the same year.
On 4 April 1893 Martin, Desraismes and the ladies listed founded a new lodge called Grande Loge Symbolique Écossaise, Le Droit Humain (Symbolic Scottish grand lodge, the human right). It is not entirely clear to me if this was a lodge or already a Grand Lodge. Several sources speak of Grand Lodge. Maria Deraismes was elected chairwoman, Martin Orator.
Late 1894 the new lodge already had 50 members, 38 women and 12 men. Seven of the men came from other grand lodges. Deraismes did not life to see this, as she had died on 6 February of that year.
In 1895 the first lodge outside France, in Zürich, Switzerland, was founded. It was consecrated on 16 August 1896. More foreign lodges led to a change in the constitution and indirectly a change of the name of the organisation (or so it seems).
In 1897 Georges Martin bought a building, but only in 1912 LDH would move to the current headquarters.
In 1901 the name was changed to “l’Ordre maçonnique mixte international «le Droit Humain»” (‘international mixed Masonic order -the human right’). In the same year a supreme council was formed for ‘high degrees’ with the name “Le Suprême Conseil universel mixte «le Droit Humain»” (‘universal supreme mixed council – the human right’). Karen Kidd suggests that the “universal” was also shortly part of the name of the main organisation between 1899 and 1901. More about the Supreme Council later.
A sister of Deraismes, Anne-Feresse Deraisme, became Worshipful Master of the first LDH lodge when Deraisme passed away on 6 February 1894. The future wife of Georges Martin, Irma Marie Eugenie Laine, better known as Marie Georges Martin, was secretary and the next Worshipful Master. Also she was to be the first head of the Supreme Council.
The wish to work with ‘high degrees’ rose. Martin himself initially had no intention to work in other than the “blue” degrees, he even seems to have had no high degrees himself, but he did find a willing ’33er’ in his old grand lodge, the Grande Loge Symbolique de France (other information says that he was a member of the Grand Orient de France). This was Joseph Décembre (1836-1906), sometimes Décembre-Allonier. Décembre granted the degrees up to the 33rd of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite to Georges Martin, the brethern Tridon, Corneille Kahn, Desmoulins and the sisters Marie Georges Martin, Henriette Moreaux, Maria Martin, Louise Barberousse, Emilie Drecq and Marie Bonnevial. So here we have the first women with the 33rd degree. This happened on 11 May 1899 and 5 July 1900.
(Sidenote, Annie Besant was the first non-French member to receive the 33º, which happened on 5 May 1904.)
As mentioned, in 1901 the Supreme Council was formed, led by Marie Georges Martin.
Another name from the list above deserves mention: Maria Martin who was born Maria Arundale in Westminster UK in 1839. Her sister was Francesca Arundale (1847-1924), the relatively famous Theosophist. It was along these lines that Annie Besant (1847-1933) came in contact with the young organisation. As we have seen, Le Droit Humain grew, but not too rapidly. Not as rapidly as Georges Martin had hoped at least. Besant requested some changes (most notably another ritual) and then started an explosive growth of Le Droit Humain.
The first country that Besant took LDH to was the UK. In 1902 she founded the first lodge. The federation seems to have been formed in 1915 when there were four lodges.
In the Netherlands the first lodge was founded in 1904, in 1919 it became a federation.
In August 1920 the first international convent took place in Paris. Anybody with the 33º could attend. The second was in 1927, the third in 1934 and then World War II plagued the world, so for some time there were no new convents. The convents are usually held every five years. Of the first three convents photos are available. More about these international convents here.
And there we have the early days of mixed gender Freemasonry. Even before the first international convent, some federations had schisms and mixed gender Freemasonry started to splinter, often due to opposition against Theosophical influences, or rather, opposition against the opposition. Some federations tried to impose a non-Theosophical ritual which caused lodges who wanted to keep using them to form their own grand lodges.
The history of Le Droit Humain went over a bumpy road, but after a few meagre years after the war, the organisation and its schisms started to grow. In more recent decades, both ‘regular’ and other forms of Freemasonry find themselves in difficulties attracting and keeping members.
Still a history in a nutshell, but here’s a start.
(1) On odd thing by the way, the French Wikipedia on Georges Martin (accessed 1/9/2022) claims that on 14 January 1882 not Marie Deraismes, but Martin’s future wife Laine was initiated, an occasion that he visited. I suppose they mixed up Marie with Maria. The mentioned date of the marriage in 1889 is more likely to be true.