Bothwell’s name is one that I run into every so often, such as when I was looking into the co-Masonic connections of Waite and Yarker. For some odd reason, I can’t find much information about her. She made it into a French Masonic encyclopedia which found its way online (1), but I haven’t found a single biography in English online. Time to fill the gap.
I have found three photo’s of Bothwell. The left half of the photo on the right comes from the French encyclopedia (1). The other half comes from a photo that was shared on the Facebook page of the Museum of Freemasonry (2), stating: “[H]ere’s Grand Master Aimée Bothwell-Gosse and members of the Ancient Order of Freemasonry for Men and Women, taken in Plymouth in 1935.”
Bothwell is also in the photo of the 1920 international convent.
I am unsure of Aimée’s last name. Often it is written “Bothwell-Gosse” which implies that she was born “Gosse” and married a man named “Bothwell”. I also see “Bothwell Gosse” which could mean that it’s two word last name. Aimée was born in Liverpool in 1866. She was brilliant on piano and violin, but also studied science and philosophy. At the age of 20 she moved to Cape Town in South Africa, but she returned to England and began studies in the physical sciences, medicine and Egyptology, which were soon interrupted by health problems.
In 1893 (age 27) she joined the Theosophical Society. She was a very active member until 1924. During these years she must have heard of Annie Besant being initiated into the newly founded Le Droit Humain in France. Besant founded the first co-Masonic lodge in the UK in 1902 and Bothwell was initiated in 1904. Within 10 years Bothwell received the 33º in Paris.
The Dutch magazine Swastika translated quite some texts from The Co-Mason and republished them. This suggests that the two main editors were in good contact. One Swastika names Bothwell as
Bothwell an interest in many things esoteric, but also in things Masonic. She was in contact with Clement Edwin Stretton (1850-1915) which makes an amusing story. Stretton and Bothwell actively corresponded. Stretton asked if she was interested to be initiated in his Worshipful Society of Free Masons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers and Bricklayers; Operatives for short.
The story of the Operatives is a bit fuzzy. Apparently the long-named organisation was an old umbrella for a range of different types of guilds. Stretton was schooled in a quarry in 1866 and rose in the ranks of the organisation. After a pause in activity, he found the organisation in dismay. New techniques and social regulations had made the organisation obsolete. Together with John Yarker, Stretton took up the plan to revive the order and turn it into an initiatic organisation to preserve the link between “operative” and “speculative” Freemasonry. In 1908 he became Grand Master of the York division.
In 1871 Stretton also joined a lodge of Freemasonry in Leicester and he also became active in higher degrees. This story can be found on two websites of the Operatives (3)(4). An amusing remark there when Stretton’s objections to modern Freemasonry is:
A ceremony he particularly disliked was the third (Master Mason’s) degree, which he claimed had been invented and simply added on by Dr Anderson and his friends but which, in reality, was based upon Anderson’s inadequate knowledge of the Operatives’ Annual Festival commemorating the slaying of Hiram Abif.
Stretton and Bothwell shared a Masonic ´correspondence circle´. Stretton and Bothwell started to correspond in private in August 1909. Apparently Bothwell had already started editing a periodical. Dat writes (5): “In 1909 she founded the magazine The Co-mason, the official organ of the British Federation of “Le Droit Humain”.” This is quite annoying, because later he says that the magazine was first called The Speculative Mason and only later The Co-Mason. I dug a little deeper and the result of that can be found here.
Because Stretton thought a Masonic magazine could only be published by a man, he asked Bothwell to join his men-only guild. Before this happened, Stretton learned the truth, but this didn’t keep him from allowing her to join the organisation (later at least two more “Dames” would follow (5)). I must add that Yarker and Waite, but also people such as Thomas Carr were also members. Bothwell must have build some handy contacts there.
In 1910 Bothwell was affiliated to Stretton´s order (6) in Mount Bardon Lodge no. 110 and later became a member of Leicester Lodge no. 91, where she was awarded the 6th degree of Past Master. She later attained the highest degree in the hierarchy of operatives, becoming 3rd Grand Master Mason of the 6th Order. Bothwell seems to have read the initiation ritual and objected to an element of it. Stretton wrote that there was no problem. Since she already had her Masonic degrees, she could just be affiliated. Dat seems to say that Bothwell wasn’t the first “Dame” to join.
Bothwell supposedly published quite a few of Strettons texts in The Co-Mason (from 1909) and The Speculative Freemason (from 1925). Since Stetton was not a fan of co-Masonry, he never used his real name. In the magazine also Yarker published. As we saw, The Speculative Mason either later became The Co-Mason (year unknown), or the names are simply used interchangeably. There is a riddle yet to solve.
Regarding the Operatives, Bothwell remained a VIIº member until her death in 1854. Stretton had passed away long before. The Operatives -by the way- still exist. It is open to Master Masons. The website doesn’t state that these Masons have to be “regular”, so perhaps co-Masons still can join.
Back to Le Droit Humain. In spite of having been involved in the Theosophical Society for 30 years, Bothwell thought that Le Droit Humain was too Theosophical (or was it just Besant whom she disliked?). This eventually let her away from Le Droit Humain. Bothwell founded her own co-Masonic order “Order of Ancient Free and Accepted Masonry for Men and Women” in 1925 (a year after having left the Theosophical Society). If this is a factual story, it is contrary to the developments in -for example- the Netherlands, where it were the lodges who wanted to remain Theosophical split off from Le Droit Humain, because Le Droit Humain itself tried to cleanse itself from Theosophy. Also, Bothwell’s order was the third split off of Le Droit Humain UK. 1908 Had seen the birth of “Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry”, later “Order of Women’s Free-Masons”. In 1913 “The Honourable Fraternity of Antient Free-Masons” was founded. It seems that Bothwell’s order is no longer in existence. I haven’t found out when it stopped. Perhaps after her death in 1954?
It appears that The Speculative Freemason was still published when Bothwell passed away. A biography of hers is said to be published after her death. That would probably have been a better source of information than the bits and pieces that found, but I would need to find these issues (7). For now, especially the Operatives story is extensively described by Dat and what I collected from other sources, you have read by now.
Bothwell Gosse was another interesting character in the early days of co-Masonry.
(1) 01 type_Document_Title_here (vrijmetselaarsgilde.eu) (accessed 5/7/2023)
(2) Facebook (accessed 5/7/2023).
(3) The Operatives (accessed 5/7/2023)
(4) History of the Society – NMCO (operatives-nmco.co.uk) (accessed 5/7/2023)
(5) “Stretton’s ‘Operative’ Masonry” by Bernard Dat in Women’s Agency and Rituals In Female Masonic Orders edited by Snoek and Heidl (2008) p. 276
(6) ibid. p. 284/5
(7) ibid. 285/6
(8) ibid. note 23 p. 276