Elizabeth St. Leger (right) was one of the first women initiated into Freemasonry.
The Rite of Adoption as practiced on the continent of Europe, and especially in France, has never been introduced into America. The system does not accord, with the manners or habits of the people, and undoubtedly never would become popular. But Rob Morris attempted, in 1855, to introduce an imitation of it, which he had invented under the name of the American Adoptive Rite. This consisted of a ceremony of initiation, which was intended as a preliminary trial of the candidate, and of five degrees, named as follows:
- Jephthah`s Daughter, or the Daughter’s Degree.
- Ruth, or the Widow’s Degree.
- Esther, or the Wife’s Degree.
- Martha or the Sister’s Degree.
- Electa, or the Christian Martyr’s Degree.
- The whole assemblage of the five degrees was called the Eastern Star.
The objects of this Rite, as expressed by the framer, were “to associate in one common bond the worthy wives, widows, daughters, and sisters of Freemasons, so as to make their adoptive privileges available for all the purposes contemplated in Freemasonry; to secure to them the advantages of their claim in a moral, social, and charitable point of view, and from them the performance of corresponding duties.” Hence, no females but those holding the above recited relations to Freemasons were eligible for admission.
The male members were called Protectors; the female, Stellae; the reunions of these members were styled Constellations; and the Rite was presided over and governed by a Supreme Constellation. There is some ingenuity and even beauty in many of the ceremonies, although it is by no means equal in this respect to the French Adoptive system.
Much dissatisfaction was, however, expressed by the leading Freemasons of the country at the time of its attempted organization; and therefore, notwithstanding very strenuous efforts were made by its founder and his friends to establish it in some of the Western States, it was slow in winning popularity.
It has, however, gained much growth under the name of The Eastern Star. Brother Albert Pike has also printed, for the use of Scottish Rite Freemasons, The Masonry of Adoption.
It is in seven degrees, and is a translation from the French system, but greatly enlarged, and is far superior to the original.
The last phrase of this Female Freemasonry to which our attention is directed is the system of androgynous degrees which are practiced to some extent in the United States.
This term androgynous is derived from two Greek words, a man, and a woman, and it is equivalent to the English compound, masculo-feminine. It is applied to those side degrees which are conferred on both males and females.
The essential regulation prevailing in these degrees, is that they can be conferred only on Master Masons, and in some instances only on Royal Arch Masons, and on their female relatives, the peculiar relationship differing in the various degrees.
Thus there is a degree generally called the Mason’s Wife, which can be conferred only on Master Masons, their wives, unmarried daughters and sisters, and their widowed mothers. Another degree, called the Heroine of Jericho, is conferred only on the wives and daughters of Royal Arch Masons; and the third, the only one that has much pretension of ceremony or ritual, is the Good Samaritan, whose privileges are confined to Royal Arch Masons and their wives.
In some parts of the United States these degrees are very popular, while in other places they are never practiced, and are strongly condemned as modern innovations.
The fact is, that by their friends as well as their enemies these so-called degrees have been greatly misrepresented. When females are told that in receiving these degrees they are admitted into the Masonic Order, and are obtaining Masonic information, under the name of Ladies’ Freemasonry, they are simply deceived. When a woman is informed that, by passing through the brief and unimpressive ceremony of any one of these degrees, she has become a Freemason, the deception is still more gross and inexcusable. But it is true that every woman who is related by ties of consanguinity to a Master Mason is at all times and under all circumstances peculiarly entitled to Masonic protection and assistance.
Now, if the recipient of an androgynous degree is candidly instructed that, by the use of these degrees, the female relatives of Freemasons are put in possession of the means of making their claims known by what may be called a sort of oral testimony, which, unlike a written certificate, can be neither lost nor destroyed; but that, by her initiation as a Mason’s Wife or as a Heroine of Jericho, she is brought no nearer to the inner portal of Freemasonry than she was before—if she is honestly told all this, then there can hardly be any harm, and there may be some good in these forms if prudently bestowed. But all attempts to make Freemasonry of them, and especially that anomalous thing called Female Freemasonry, are reprehensible, and are well calculated to produce opposition among the well-informed and cautious members of the Fraternity.
– Source: Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry