National Masonic Research Society

Right: George Schoonover was the man who started The National Masonic Research Society, which published the Masonic periodical The Builder from 1915 – 1930.

Organized in Iowa, 1914, the Society commenced the publication of the Builder, January, 1915, with Reverend Joseph Fort Newton as Editor-in-Chief. A managing Board of Stewards, all of the Grand Lodge of Iowa, were George E. Frazier, President; Newton R. Parvin, Vice-President; George L. Sehoonover, Secretary, with Louis Block, C. C. Hunt, John W. Barry. Ernest A. Reed of New Jersey became President in 1922, with R. I. Clegg, Ohio, VicePresident; C. C. Hunt, Iowa, Secretary, and F. H. Littlefield, Missouri, Executive Secretary and Treasurer. Later, Brothers R. I. Clegg, H. L. Haywood, Robert Tipton, Dudley Wright, Louis Block, A. B. Skinner, J. H. Tatsch, became associate editors, Brother Haywood becomung editor in 1921, and R. J. Meekren in 1926.

In 1913 Bro. George L. Schoonover of Anamosa, Ia., who was to become Grand Master, Grand Lodge of Iowa, some five years later, became deeply impressed by the fact that among the three million Masons in America were a rapidly-increasing number of Masonic students; and that newly-made Masons, imbued with the spirit of the time, were more and more demanding to know “what it is all about.” He was familiar with the world-wide influence of the Iowa Grand Lodge Library, and with the work of Research Lodges in England, but believed that the American Craft needed a facility of a different kind, not localized but national, and one not an official arm of any Grand Lodge yet one that could be approved by each Grand Lodge and could cooperate with them. He worked out a plan for a national society, to be devoted to Masonic studies and to be a way-shower in Masonic education, and to be composed not of Lodges or of Grand Lodges but of individual Masons who would join it voluntarily, each paying a small annual sum for dues; he also believed that such a society would require a monthly journal; not a Masonic newspaper but a competently edited, well-printed, illustrated magazine, carrying no advertisements, which could compare favorably with the best non-Masonic journals. He believed also that while the society ought to stand on its own feet and pay its own way it should be examined, approved, and officially endorsed by a Grand Lodge beforehand.

In 1914 he laid his plan before the Grand Lodge of Iowa, and received whole-hearted endorsement. Though not a man of great wealth Bro. Schoonover was a man of means, and at his own expense he erected a three-story, beautifully designed headquarters building in his home town of Anamosa, Ia., some twenty-three miles outside of Cedar Rapids. The newly-formed organization chose the name “National Masonic Research Society”; secured Joseph Fort Newton as Editor-in-Chief; employed Wildey E. Atchison of Colorado to be Assistant Secretary in charge of staff and on January 1st, 1915, issued the first number of The Builder, its official monthly journal, sent to members only.

Each member paid an annual membership fee ($2.50 at first, and then $3.00); for this he received The Builder, special brochures and booklets as they were published, could have answers to any question, could secure expert advice on Lodge educational methods, assistance in private Masonic researches, etc. The membership increased slowly, but in due time passed 20,000, among which were hundreds in foreign countries-at one time more than 40 countries, with 200 to 300 in England alone. The only new activity added after the Society’s formation was a department for the sale of Masonic books as a convenience to its members, and not for profit. Bro. F. H. Littlefield became Executive Secretary in 1921 and removed headquarters to St. Louis, Mo.

When in 1916 Bro. J. F. Newton was called to London to become pastor of the City Temple his place was filled for a time by a group of associates, among the latter being Bro. H. L. Haywood, who wrote three books for the Society. He served as Editor without pay for about two years, and then in 1921 became Editor-in-Chief; Bro. Jacob Hugo Tatch was his Assistant Editor for about one year then transferred to the Masonic Service Association (it had no connection with the N. M. R. S.); he was succeeded by Bro. R. J. Meekren, who in turn became Editor-in-Chief in 1925, after Bro. Haywood had left for New York to become architect and director of the Board of General Activities of the Grand Lodge of New York, including editorship of The New York Masonic Outlook.

Midway in the year 1931 the Society was so depleted in membership by the depression when some thirteen million men were out of employment that it was forced to discontinue. During the sixteen years the Society had published The Builder in the form of a bound volume with index each year. In a certain sense that set of books continues the work of the society, because it is in almost every Masonic library in America, in many public libraries, and in thousands of homes. It is a work of great reference value, because in it are carefully wrought, factual articles on the history, symbolism ritual, and jurisprudence of the Fraternity, the larger number (unlike Ars Quatuor Corona natoram, a reference work for another purpose) being on Freemasonry in America.

– Source: Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry