Book Review: On Holy Ground
If you are a traditional Mainstream or Prince
Hall Mason, hereafter referred to as a Malecraft Mason, then you probably have
the perception that a woman in Masonry is a member of the Eastern Star or
Heroines of Jericho. You would be wrong.
Holy Ground by Karen Kidd
Co-Masonry, as Kidd tells us, started with the
making a Mason of Maria Deraismes, a well known advocate of women’s rights, in
France by a Malecraft Lodge in 1882.
Deraismes, along with Georges Martin, founded
Le Droit Humain later called International Co-Freemasonry.
From this modest beginning by 1900 sprang the
Supreme Council of Universal Co-Freemasonry, incorporating the 33 degrees of
the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. This body claimed for itself worldwide
jurisdiction of Co-Masonry and chartered new Lodges in many different areas.
One of those areas was Britain where Annie Besant organized Co-Masonry.
And if you thought that a woman in Masonry
would be an isolated case you would be wrong again. And if you thought that a
woman in Masonry was a recent development and a passing fad, you would still
be wrong one more time.
Karen Kidd, in her first book
catalogs the lives and occurrences of the first women who were admitted to
Malecraft Masonry or who sneaked in. Now in her second book,
On Holy Ground
she publishes a detailed history of Co- Masonry, the institution that is the
Obedience that admits men and women of all religions and national origins.Co-Masonry
started in the 1880s. The belief that Co-Masonry sprung up on its own,
independently from Malecraft Masonry and developed its own theory on Masonry
all by itself is another perception to be shattered. Kidd quotes Annie Besant,
founder of Co-Masonry in Great Britain and India.“ Co-Masonry has arisen from
the bosom of Masculine Masonry in order to bring women into that ancient
fraternity on exactly the same terms as men, and thus to restore the whole
Brotherhood to the position from which it fell; when it broke its link with
the Ancient Mysteries by excluding women from its ranks, by recognizing
distinction of sexes within the pure sanctuary of the Temple.” Maria Deraismes
In 1903 Antoine Muzzarrelli a French born Mason
of Italian descent and an educator, lecturer, author and private tutor
convinced Georges Martin in France into letting him found North American
Co-Masonry on behalf of LDH. Muzzarrelli had become a protector of French
Masons in the United States working with the Grand Orient of France. But
issues with the GOdF led him to seek another avenue for his Masonic expression
and one where he could be the big cheese. Muzzarrelli tapped the anarchist
turned Socialist Louis Goaziou, a newspaper publisher in Charleroi,
Pennsylvania as his chief deputy and Master of the first North American
Co-Masonic Lodge in America, Alpha Lodge #301 formed by The American
Federation of Human Rights the name Muzzarrelli chose for this new American
Obedience. Alpha Lodge #301 was formerly consecrated with 21 Brethren, of
which three were women, on October 18 and 19, 1903 in Charleroi.
In the next five years The American Federation
of Human Rights would grow to over 40 Lodges. But Muzzarrelli’s tenure was
short lived and towards the end he was beset with financial difficulties and
irregularities, litigation and clamor for a National Convention. In 1908
Muzzarrelli was dead by his own hand and the Order was in chaos.
Goaziou reluctantly took over and served as
head of the Order from 1908-1937, almost 30 years. His first duty was to get
the finances in order. Then he permitted that National Convention in 1908 and
presided over it. On May 26, 1909 he reincorporated The American Federation of
Human Rights with some needed updates to the original. On January 20, 1910 the
Supreme Council of the International Order issued a Charter to The American
Federation of Human Rights.
Goaziou presided over the second National
Convention in 1913. His most noted
achievement was probably the purchase of land in Larkspur, Colorado and
establishing the National Headquarters there.
But all was not roses for Goaziou.
Like Muzzarrelli, he had a skirmish with
traditional Male-craft Masonry, and the Great Depression hurt the Order badly.
Bank closings and the freezing of Federation money made for a very lean bare
bones version of Masonry. Not only was their little expansion but some Lodges
had to close because of financial difficulties.
National Convention of the The American Federation of Human Rights, Chicago,
But the one difficulty that sent this writer to
the research books was the beginning of a long altercation between Theosophist
and non-Theosophist Brothers for control of the Order. French Co-Masonry was
decidedly secular while English Co-Masonry was decidedly Theosophist in
nature. American Co-Masonry started out impartial and very much in the French
mode but later developed to resemble more English Co-Masonry.
This factional dispute bled over into
Goaaziou’s successor, Edith Armour who was the Order’s first female leader and
first Theosophist leader. Although Goasiou had brought many fellow Socialists
into Co-Masonry he prided himself on guiding the American Federation of Human
rights along a middle path not dominated by any single philosophical,
religious or political group. Armour tried vainly to do the same but her
Theosophical commitment had the Order leaning to favoritism even if it
wasn’t deliberate. This led to a challenge to her leadership by Helen Sturgis
who Goaziou had to deal with earlier. Armour survived victorious but her reign
saw a marked decline in membership. Yet, to be fair, one must factor in the
effect that WWII had on the Order.
Kidd sums up the Theosophist battle thusly:
“To be sure, the Theosphical society is
still active and supportive of Co-Freemasonry even today. It simply does not
have now, nor had it ever, the ability to fully populate what is intended to
be an inclusive, diverse, independent and free thinking body. No single
religion, philosophy, creed, or political persuasion can possibly do that for
Freemasonry. By necessity, Freemasonry must be mixed.”
“As Armour herself observed in 1936,
differences in interpretation ‘are stimulating and refreshing.’ The lack of
these differences caused the Order to become sluggish and stagnant. This is
not what Armour ever intended but by the time she realized what was happening,
she was too worn and tired to struggle against it, let alone undo it.”
Armour served as the leader of the American
Federation for over twenty years from 1937-1959 and she was the first Most
Puissant Grand commander to step down rather than die in office.
The docile Bertha Williams followed in 1959 and
her weakness finally resulted in her quitting in 1967.
Helen Wycherley followed and she immediately
put some backbone back into the office, Kidd tells us:
“She soon made it very clear the Federation
would be beholden to no single religious, political or philosophical body.
Herself a Theosophist, Wycherley ended American Federation’s time in the
Wycherley selected Calla Hack as her successor
in 1983. The move proved to be a disaster, so much so that Wycherley would
come back to campaign against her in a bold attempt to remove her. Hack lost
$70,000 of the Federation’s money investing in the stock market totally on her
own. She embarked on a campaign to remove a most popular Grand Orator. She was
not a Theosophist and had close ties with Paris, so much so that The
Federation became divided between the “Loyalists” whose first allegiance was
to The International Order and the “Secessionists” whose first loyalty was to
the American Federation.
Hack resigned in 1992 and what followed would
change The American Federation of Human Rights forever. This time Hack’s
successor was chosen by a true election. There were three candidates,
Magdalena Cumsille, Rosario Menocal and Vera Bressler. Cumsille got 70% of the
vote and Bressler got 6%. Clearly the American Federation had chosen Cumsille.
Now in past years all newly selected Most Puissant Grand Commanders were
ratified by LDH in Paris. This always had been a rubber stamp of whatever
American Co-Masonry had decided.
This time was different. Paris demanded that
Bressler be appointed MPGC and so she was. It also remanded American by-law
changes, and changes giving the MPGC more autocratic power. By Colorado law,
by-law changes to a nonprofit corporation must be ratified by its membership.
By a vote of 70-30 it was not and the battle was on. It took a number of years
but in due time the American Federation of Human Rights divorced itself from
the International Order of Co-Freemasonry, Le Droit Humain. Le Droit Humain
founded a new organization in the United States, incorporating in Delaware,
and calling itself the “Order of International Co-Freemasonry Le Droit Humain
– American Federation.” The old American Federation renamed itself “ the
Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry, the American Federation of Human
Rights.” Some Lodges stayed with Le Droit Humain in their new American Order
but a larger number remained with the newly separated American Federation
which elected Magdalena Cumsille MPGC by an overwhelming majority and she
continues in that office today.
Karen Kidd has penned a monumental work of
On Holy Ground.
It’s a powerful work, written with great gusto. And it is interesting reading.
It’s interesting because Kidd doesn’t forget to include the human factor.
People are human beings to Kidd not just robots in a jig saw puzzle to be
fitted together by proper accounting.
In a number of instances Kidd has been able to
correct misinformation. Because she is a member Of the American Federation of
Human Rights she is privy to files and records off limits to outsiders. Thus
she has been able to set the record straight on controversies and assertions
that have been made in error.
Her research is meticulous and thorough. She
maintains her objectivity. She has no agenda. She doesn’t fill in the blanks
with a guess. This book is well documented with a ton of footnotes. At the end
are a number of full length manuscripts which is a really nice addition to
this work and accentuates the ideas and the struggles of this Order. There are
many good pictures. Some of the images and documents have never been published
On Holy Ground
will be a major research source carried by every library. And Karen Kidd has
truly earned the title – Historian.