Women as Operative Masons
It is not generally known, but
researchers have shown that records do exist which confirm that women were in
fact operative masons, and even presided over Lodges of Operative Masons.
The Regius Manuscript, dating from
about 1390 is the oldest manuscript yet discovered relating to Masonry. Two
extracts are of particular interest:
Yn that onest craft to be parfytte;
And so uchon schulle techyn othur, And love togeder as syster and brothur
In that honest craft to be perfect;
And so each one shall teach the other, And love together as sister and brother.
Articulus decimus. The thenthe
artycul ys for to knowe, Amonge the craft, to hye and lowe, There schal no
mayster supplante other, But be togeder as systur and brother, Yn that curyus
craft, alle and som, That longuth to a maystur mason.
Tenth article. The tenth article is
for to know, Among the craft, to high and low, There shall no master supplant
another, But be together as sister and brother, In this curious craft, all and
some, that belongeth to a master mason.
If you need proof, see the printed
version of the Regius Manuscript, article 10, on the Web page of the Grand Lodge
of New York
However we do have to point out
that not everyone agrees with these interpretations of the Regius Manuscript
The following examples were
recorded by Enid Scott in her pamphlet, "Women and Freemasonry"
· It is on record that a woman
mason was responsible for the carving of the porch on the tower of Strasbourg
Cathedral. It was begun in 1277 by the Architect, Erwin of Steinbach, and his
daughter Sabina, who was a skilful mason, executed this part of the work herself
· In the records of Corpus Christi
Guild at York, it is noted in 1408 that an apprentice had to swear to obey
"the Master, or Dame, or any other Freemason."
· Women members were recorded in
the Masons’ Company in the 17th century as being non-operative. Of course at
this time ‘non-operative’ meant not being engaged in the physical work, but
acting in the capacity of accepting orders for assignments, and not what we
would now refer to as ‘speculative masonry’. Such women were called ‘Dames’
to distinguish them from Master Masons. Margaret Wild, a mason’s widow, was
such a one and was made a member of the Masons’ Company in 1663
· A minute dated 16th April 1683,
from the Lodge of Edinburgh refers to agreement that a widow may, with the
assistance of a competent freeman, receive the benefit of any orders which may
be offered her by customers of her late husband, such freeman being prohibited
from taking any share of the profits from such assignments.
· One day later on 17th April, the
records of St Mary's Chapel Lodge give an instance of the legality of a female
occupying the position of 'Dame' or 'Mistress in a masonic sense. But it was
only to a very limited extent that widows of master masons could benefit by the
· From the manuscripts which make
up the Old Charges, the York MS no 4(Grand Lodge of York) dated 1693 refers to
the "Apprentice charge" and instructs that, "One of the elders
taking the Booke and hee or shee that is to be made mason, shall lay their hands
thereon, and the charge shall be given". Of course this has been disputed
by some masonic historians who claim that the "shee" is a
mistranslation of "they", but others including the Rev. A. F. A.
Woodford, accept it as evidence of the admission of females into masonic
fellowship, especially as many of the other guilds at this time were comprised
of women as well as men.
The Masons’ Court Book records
the names of two widows in 1696.
In 1713-14 we find the unusual
instance of Mary Bannister, the daughter of a Barking barber, being appointed to
a mason for a term of seven years, the fee of five shillings having been paid to
· Several instances of male
apprentices being assigned to work under female masters during the period
1713-1715 appear in the records of the "Worshipful Company of Masons"
in MS 5984 of the Guildhall Library in London.
It should be remembered that all
these instances occurred before the formation of the first Grand Lodge in London
in 1717. In 1723 the Rev. James Anderson was given the task of issuing a set of
Constitutions, which were revised in 1738, when he introduced the idea that
women were prohibited from becoming masons
For a more balanced view of women
and freemasonry, take a look at Ed