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Albert Through the Looking Glass
Freemasonry's Nonsensical No Women! 'Landmark'

© Bro. Philip Carter
Women Masons & Quarry Masonic Forum

[this paper also appears on The Australian Centre for Fraternal Studies' website]


'Give your evidence,’ said the King; ‘and don’t be nervous,
or I’ll have you executed on the spot.’
(Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)

Dr. Albert Mackey (above left, 1807-1881) proudly declared himself (Encyclopedia, p.500) to be the first Freemasonic writer to ‘distinctly enumerate’ the institution’s essential and unchangeable characteristics, which Freemasons call their ‘Ancient Landmarks’. Whether or not Mackey’s claim to be the first distinct enumerator of the landmarks is correct, he stands as an exemplar of the prevailing opinion at the time. His enumeration has since become widely acknowledged throughout the fraternity and has been officially adopted in many jurisdictions.

Among what Mackey claimed were the ‘landmarks’ was the rule, first published by Rev. Dr. James Anderson in 1723, excluding women from Freemasonry. Mackey’s inclusion of the rule among his so-called ‘landmarks’ gave the impression that it was not just another rule, arising from the prevailing circumstances at the time and as subject to amendment or revocation as any other rule, but was, as it were, one chiseled in stone.

Mackey’s cavalier enumeration of the ‘No Women!’ rule among his presumed ‘Ancient Landmarks’ has misled generations of Freemasons and has contributed to the reversal of Freemasonry’s formerly moral, progressive and egalitarian tendencies; making much of it instead a sexist,* obstructive and divisive force in modern society. Freemasonry’s timeless principles still have much to offer to modern society. Sadly, its current practice of excluding women serves only as bad example and is contrary to pure and ancient Freemasonry’s peculiar system of morality.

This paper considers Mackey’s wrongful enumeration of the ‘No Women!’ rule among his self-styled ‘landmarks’ and, in an attempt to elucidate his reasons for that inclusion, examines his stated opinions on the subject of women and Freemasonry.

Ancient Landmarks

'If any one of them can explain it,’ said Alice,
… ‘I’ll give him sixpence.’
(Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)

Paradoxically, the term ‘Ancient Landmarks’ is, among Freemasons, relatively modern. Their particular usage of the term has not been traced any earlier than the eighteenth century and, even then, it seems to have been coined by ‘Speculative’ Freemasons rather than by ‘Operative’ stonemasons, from whose imperatives the landmarks were said to have derived. Even so, it is an apt term for the ancient, essential and unchangeable conditions of Freemasonry. However, those Freemasons who first referred to their ‘Ancient Landmarks’, neglected to specify what they were. Therefore, we find the baffling situation whereby Freemasons are said to have been entrusted with the guardianship of their Ancient Landmarks and charged to preserve them ‘sacred and inviolate’ (3°, Final Charge), but those who look carefully into the subject, find more and more uncertainties about exactly what they are meant to be guarding. Nevertheless, a few broad definitions are generally agreed upon.

Bernard Jones gave a 'Definition of a Masonic Landmark' in his Compendium (pp.333/4); an extract from which reads: ‘It is held that a landmark can be discovered, but not created; it cannot be changed or altered; it cannot be improved; it cannot be obliterated.’ Hence, according to Jones, modern Freemasons can neither create nor obliterate any genuine landmark that either mandates the exclusion of women or which permits their admission. Jones also wrote (p.335):

Just as there is no authoritative definition, so no landmarks are named by the English Grand Lodge, which, in its wisdom, has neither defined nor specified them. It has been well said that ‘inferentially if the landmarks were approved by the Constitutions the same authority could disapprove, whereas landmarks are unchangeable.’ It should be impossible, therefore, for anybody to dogmatize in a matter in which Grand Lodge makes no pronouncement, and in which experienced masons cannot agree.

Mackey’s ‘Landmarks’

'When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, …
‘it means just what I choose it to mean’ …
(Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass)

Despite England’s cautious example regarding the Ancient Landmarks, some Freemasons have been guilty of, ‘... imprudently having had them numbered...’ (allusion, 1°, Tracing Board). Of such lists, the first, best known and most widely adopted is by Albert Mackey.

In his Encyclopedia, Mackey declares (p.503, alluding to Matt. 5:18), ‘Not one jot or tittle of these unwritten laws can be repealed’ (jots and tittles are elements of writing not of ‘unwritten laws’). When the Ancient Landmarks were indeed unwritten, they had to be discerned, both individually and collectively. Such discernment and oral transmission would have presented many difficulties requiring study, good faith and precision. This need for discernment appears to be an essential characteristic of the Ancient Landmarks.

In which case, by committing his opinions to writing and especially in presenting them as dogmatic facts, Mackey himself violated the Ancient Landmarks. Significant in this respect and of even greater significance when we consider the history of women and Freemasonry, we note that, in his Encyclopedia (p.500), Mackey admits that:

The first requisite ... of a custom or rule of action to constitute it a landmark, is, that it must have existed from ‘time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.’ Its antiquity is its essential element.

Mackey also admits (ibid.) that, contrary to the conspicuous omission by Freemasonry’s ‘Ancient Brethren’ and the founders of its premier Grand Lodge, he was the first Freemason to publish ‘a distinct enumeration of the landmarks’. Indeed, it was his innovation which came to be widely adopted throughout the fraternity. More precisely (ibid.), he wrote:

Until the year 1858, no attempt had been made by any Masonic writer to distinctly enumerate the landmarks of Freemasonry, and to give to them a comprehensible form. In October of that year, the author of this work published in the American Quarterly Review of Freemasonry (vol.ii, p.230,) an article on ‘The Foundations of Masonic Law.’ which contained a distinct enumeration of the landmarks, which was the first time that such a list had been presented to the Fraternity. This enumeration was subsequently incorporated by the author in his Text Book of Masonic Jurisprudence. It has since been very generally adopted by the Fraternity, and republished by many writers on Masonic law; sometimes without any acknowledgement of the source whence they derived their information. According to this recapitulation, the result of much labor and research, the landmarks are twenty-five in number …

Mackey’s ‘No Women!’ Landmark

That’s not a regular rule: you invented it just now.
(Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)

While the controversy about the ‘No Women!’ rule did not begin with Mackey, by enumerating it among his supposed ‘landmarks’, Mackey effectively stymied free debate about the rule among Freemasons. Item 18 of Mackey’s enumeration reads (1917, p.502):

Certain qualifications of candidates for initiation are derived from a landmark of the Order. These qualifications are that he shall be a man – unmutilated, free-born, and of mature age. That is to say, a woman, a cripple, or a slave or one born in slavery, is disqualified for initiation into the rites of Masonry. Statutes, it is true, have from time to time been enacted, enforcing or explaining these principles; but the qualifications really arise from the very nature of the Masonic institution, and from its symbolic teachings, and have always existed as landmarks.

Thus, the formerly changeable rule excluding women from Freemasonry, (which arguably had more to do with their general legal and social conditions at the time, rather than with their gender, as such), was ostensibly raised to the status of an unchangeable Ancient Landmark. According to the definition given by Jones (op. cit.), the adoption by some Grand Lodges of lists such as Mackey’s does not, by itself, raise the specified items to the status of Ancient Landmarks. Even so, Mackey is usually held in high regard among students of Freemasonry and we ought not dismiss his opinion lightly. Therefore, let us examine Mackey’s reasoning on the subject of women and Freemasonry by turning to the entries under ‘Woman’ in his Lexicon and, more especially, in his Encyclopedia¹.

Mackey’s Lexicon

‘As to poetry, you know,’ said Humpty Dumpty, …
‘I can repeat poetry as well as other folk, if it comes to that -’
‘Oh, it needn’t come to that! Alice hastily said,
hoping to keep him from beginning.
(Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass)

Mackey’s first book, his Lexicon, was published in 1845, some thirteen years before he published what he declared be the ‘Ancient Landmarks,’ in 1858. His renowned Encyclopedia was published in 1874, some sixteen years after his alleged ‘landmarks’. We might reasonably expect to find a fuller elucidation on the subject of women and Freemasonry in his latter work, after he had contrived his landmarks and included the ‘No Women!’ among them. Even so, we should briefly consider his earlier thoughts on the subject, before turning to his Encyclopedia. The entry in his Lexicon (pp.373/4), reads:

Woman. — The objection so often made by the fair sex, that they are most ungallantly refused an entrance into our order, and a knowledge of our secrets, is best answered by a reference to the originally operative character of our institution. That woman is not admitted to a participation in our rites and ceremonies, is most true. But it is not, because we deem her unworthy or unfaithful, or deny her the mind to understand, or the heart to appreciate our principles; but simply because, in the very organization of masonry, man alone can fulfil the duties it inculcates, or perform the labours it enjoins. Free and speculative masonry is but an application of the art of operative masonry to moral and intellectual purposes. Our ancestors worked at the construction of the Temple of Jerusalem; while we are engaged in the erection of a more immortal edifice – the temple of the mind. They employed their implements for merely mechanical purposes; we use them symbolically, with more exalted designs.

Thus, in all our emblems, our language, and our rites, there is a beautiful exemplification and application of the rules of operative masonry, as was exercised at the building of the Temple. And as King Solomon employed in the construction of that edifice only hale and hearty men, and cunning workmen, so our lodges, in imitation of that great exemplar, demand as the indispensable requisite to admission, that the candidate shall be free-born, of lawful age, and in the possession of all his limbs and members, that he may be capable of performing such work as the Master shall assign to him.

Hence, it must be apparent that the admission of women into our order would be attended with a singular anomaly. As they worked not at the Temple, neither can they work with us. But we love and cherish them not the less. One of the holiest of our mystic rites inculcates a reverence for the widow, and pity for the widow’s son. The wife, the mother, the sister, and the daughter of the Mason, exercise a peculiar claim upon each Mason’s heart and affections. And while we know that woman’s smile, like the mild beams of an April sun, reflects a brighter splendour on the light of prosperity, and warms with grateful glow the chilliness of adversity, we regret, not the less deeply because unavailingly, that no ray of that sun can illume the recesses of our lodge, and call our weary workmen from their labours to refreshment.

Here, at the outset, Mackey concedes that women often object to their exclusion from Freemasonry, a point that is, in his Encyclopedia, conspicuous by its absence and which brings to mind Eugen Lennhoff’s observation (p.335), that, ‘When in the past the enemies of Freemasonry were discussed, women, strange as it may seem, were often included amongst them.’ Sadly, this enmity is neither strange nor past.

Mackey then briefly touches upon the Operative Theory of Freemasonry’s origins and how he considers only men capable of performing such work. This is a class-laden opinion. The condescending presumption of female delicacy was reserved for the gentry. Working class women have always had to work. Often they laboured in the most arduous jobs, such as stonemasonry. Consider for instance, the following quote (pp.213/4) from an inspiring speech made in 1851, by a former slave, (her name, ‘Sojourner Truth,’ has Freemasonic connotations):

‘Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles, or gibs me any best place!’ And raising herself to her full height, and her voice to a pitch like rolling thunder, she asked. ‘And a’n’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my right arm! (and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power). I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And a’n’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear de lash as well! And a’n’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen ‘em mos’ all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And a’n’t I a woman?’

Consider too how Mackey’s opinion is culturally specific. One can find very different opinions to Mackey’s in other places and at other times. For instance, we find Robert Briffault’s account, quoted by Evelyn Reed, in her book Woman’s Evolution, under a section entitled ‘Architects and Engineers’ (pp.120/2), Briffault is reported as having written:

When Mr. Bogoras was studying the language of the Chukchi, he enquired from some men the names of the various parts of the framework of the house. But they were quite unable to inform him on that point; ‘I don’t know,’ they would answer, ‘that is woman’s business.’ - The earth-lodges of the Omahas were built entirely by the women. The ‘pueblos’ of New Mexico and Arizona—curious round public buildings serving as clubs and temples, form part of those towns—Those edifices are built exclusively by the women …

The Spanish priests who settled among the Pueblo Indians were astonished not only at the beauty of the churches and convents built for them but by the fact that women built them. One priest observed in a report to his European countrymen that ‘no man had ever set his hand to the erection of a house’ ... When first a man was set by the good padres to building a wall, the poor embarrassed wretch was surrounded by a jeering crowd of women and children, who mocked and laughed, and thought it the most ludicrous thing that they had seen that a man should be engaged in building a house.’

As Mackey’s opinion that women are unsuited to strenuous work, especially that of stonemasons, is elaborated further in his Encyclopedia, we will defer further comment upon that point until assessing his points therein.

We may now turn to his fanciful argument based on the precedence he reads into the biblical example of King Solomon’s Temple and to its traditional and allegorical relevance to Freemasonry. This argument too is conspicuous by its absence in his Encyclopedia. Indeed, in his History, Mackey’s last book, he devotes a chapter (pp. 73/ 82) to debunking the possibility of any genuine relevance of King Solomon’s Temple (if it even existed) to Freemasonry’s origins.

In this chapter entitled, ‘The Legend of the Temple’ (pp.73/82), Mackey writes:

The assumption that Freemasonry, as it now exists, was organized at the Temple of Solomon, although almost universally accepted by Masons who have not made Masonry a historical study, but who derive their ideas of the Institution from the mythical teachings of the ritual, has been utterly rejected by the greater part of the recent iconoclasts, who investigate the history of Freemasonry by the same methods which they would pursue in the examination of any other historical subject.

Finally, Mackey concluded with sickly-sweet sentiments that bring to mind Carl Jung’s cautionary observation (p.36), whereby, ‘The fact that mothers bear children is not holy but merely natural. If people say it is holy, then one strongly suspects that something very unholy has to be covered up by it.’ That something, of which Sojourner Truth was a vivid exemplar (op. cit.) was, in the words of Cornelia Otis Skinner, (Brown & O’Connor, p.22), that, ‘Woman’s virtue is man’s greatest invention.’

Mackey’s Encyclopedia

If it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be;
But as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.
(Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass)

We will now turn to Mackey’s most celebrated work, his Encyclopedia. He wrote this after his self-created enumeration of the ‘landmarks’ and in the same work in which he boasted about doing so (p.500). I first present his entry on ‘Woman’ (p.1013) in its entirety and will then consider each of Mackey’s points in turn, omitting ‘not one jot or tittle’ of his statement.

WOMAN. The law which excludes women from initiation into Masonry is not contained in the precise words in any of the Old Constitutions, although it is continually implied, as when it is said in the Lansdowne M.S., (year 1560,) that the Apprentice must be ‘of limbs whole, as a man ought to be,’ and that he must be ‘no bondman.’ All the regulations also refer to men only, and many of them would be wholly inapplicable to women. But in the Charges compiled by Anderson and Desaguliers, and published in 1723, the word ‘woman’ is for the first time introduced, and the law is made explicit. Thus it is said that the ‘persons admitted members of a Lodge must be good and true men, .... no bondmen, no women,’ etc.

Perhaps the best reason that can be assigned for the exclusion of women from our Lodges will be found in the character of our organization as a mystic society. Speculative Freemasonry is only an application of the art of Operative Masonry to purposes of morality and science. The Operative branch of our Institution was the forerunner and origin of the Speculative. Now, as we admit of no innovations or changes in our customs, Speculative Masonry retains, and is governed by, all the rules and regulations that existed in and controlled its Operative prototype. Hence, as in this latter art only hale and hearty men, in possession of their limbs and members, so that they might endure the fatigues of labor, were employed, so in the former the rule still holds, of excluding all who are not in the possession of these prerequisite qualifications. Woman is not permitted to participate in our rites and ceremonies, not because we deem her unworthy or unfaithful, or incapable, as has been foolishly supposed, of keeping a secret, but because on our entrance into the Order, we found certain regulations which prescribed that only men capable of enduring the labor, or of fulfilling the duties of Operative Masons could be admitted. These regulations we have solemnly promised never to alter; nor could they be changed, without an entire disorganization of the whole system of Speculative Masonry.

Mackey's Encyclopedia, Continued

… The jury eagerly wrote down all three dates on their slates,
And then added them up, and reduced the answer to shillings and pence.
(Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)

WOMAN. The law which excludes women from initiation into Masonry is not contained in the precise words in any of the Old Constitutions,

From Mackey's acknowledgment, not only is that silence made explicit but we are also led to infer that, if the Old Constitutions had contained any regulations explicitly excluding women, that would have settled the matter. By the same logic, if they had contained any regulations explicitly including women, (see Craftswomen link) then that too should have settled the matter.

although it is continually implied, as when it is said in the Lansdowne M.S., (year 1560,) that the Apprentice must be 'of limbs whole, as a man ought to be,' and that he must be 'no bondman.'

Mackey supposes that the examples he gives are exclusively masculine. However, the inclusive use of 'masculine' terms to refer to both genders has been a general rule in our language (Urdang, p.136)². Indeed, we may refer to the over one hundred examples of ordinances in English Guilds, by Toulmin Smith (passim). These examples were selected and compiled from over five hundred documents produced by various guilds, 'brotherhoods', mysteries and crafts, in response to parliamentary writs of 1388. Therein we find similar 'masculine' terms were routinely used by other organisations that were also known to have had women members.

All the regulations also refer to men only,

The regulations refer to 'brothers and sisters', 'masters and dames' and to 'he or she who is to be made a mason' (see Craftswomen link).

and many of them would be wholly inapplicable to women.

Mackey fails to give any examples of regulations within the Old Constitutions 'wholly inapplicable to women'. We may surmise what he had in mind were those which charge masons to respect the chastity of their fellow masons' female relatives. Referring again to Toulmin Smith's English Gilds, we find that such respect is commonly required of male members even in other organisations that also explicitly refer to female members. For instance, the regulations of the Guild of the Holy Trinity and St. Leonard at Lancaster, refers to 'the brethren and sisteren of the gild', yet in them we read: 'No one of the gild shall wrong the wife or daughter or sister of another, nor shall allow her to be wronged so far as he can hinder it' (T. Smith, p.163).

But in the Charges compiled by Anderson and Desaguliers, and published in 1723, the word 'woman' is for the first time introduced, and the law is made explicit.

Anderson introduced the rule for the first time and made it explicit. Defending his innovation, we find few women at the time were 'free' as required for membership of Freemasonry. Most were legally and socially subject to their husbands or fathers. Even so, Anderson's rule was changeable and if the condition of women changed, so, too, could the rule. Mackey however purported to transform the rule into an unchangeable landmark.

Moreover, Andersons's Constitutions are of too recent a date for any new things therein to be regarded as Ancient Landmarks. In his Compendium, after setting forth the premier grand lodge's decisions regarding Anderson's Constitutions, Bernard Jones wrote (p.184): 'From which we conclude that whatever was new in the Regulations was of no effect.'

Thus it is said that the 'persons admitted members of a Lodge must be good and true men, ... no bondmen, no women,' etc.

Here Mackey added a few jots or tittles of his own, (more precisely, ellipsis points '…' and 'etc.'), so as to omit the context in which Anderson wrote his rule. Restoring Mackey's omissions, we read: 'The persons "made masons or admitted members of a lodge must be good and true men, free-born, and of mature and discreet age and sound judgement, no bond-men, no women, no immoral or scandalous men, but of good report".' (Jones, p.158). This context suggests that Anderson's concern was indeed with the legal and social condition of women at the time.

Perhaps the best reason that can be assigned for the exclusion of women from our Lodges will be found in the character of our organization as a mystic society.

The quintessential mystic experience is the recognition of the essential unity of all that is. This mystic tie is perhaps the best reason that can be assigned for the admission of women to Freemasonry, on equal terms with men. To argue that because an organisation has a mystic character it may exclude any category of worthy people is utterly perverse.

Speculative Freemasonry is only an application of the art of Operative Masonry to purposes of morality and science.

Just as women have been Operative Stonemasons (see Craftswomen link) so too have they been moralists and scientists. For instance, in AD 415 Hypatia, whose name means 'The Most High' and who was both a moralist and a scientist, was torn apart and burnt to ashes by a mob of bigots (Alic, pp.41/7). Her name and manner of death have Freemasonic connotations. She was the last head of the school of which Mackey, in his Encyclopedia (p.61), had said 'To no ancient sect, indeed, except perhaps the Pythagoreans [who also admitted women], have the Masonic teachers been so much indebted for the substance of their doctrines, as well as the esoteric method of communicating them as that of the School of Alexandria.' Among more recent examples, we find, in 1405, in her book The City of Ladies, Christine de Pizan used symbols of stonemasonry as vehicles of moral instruction, and, in 1945, Dame Kathleen Lonsdale was made a Fellow of, and later a Council Member of The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, better known as The Royal Society (Times, p.178). In his History Mackey devoted a chapter to critiquing the theory that Freemasonry derived from The Royal Society.

The Operative branch of our Institution was the forerunner and origin of the Speculative.

While the theory of 'Speculative' Freemasonry arising from 'Operative' origins is widely accepted, there is little evidence connecting the two in England (the connection is Scotland is fairly certain). There are other theories and, despite his unqualified statement to the contrary, Mackey even deals with some elsewhere in his Encyclopedia (p.629) and in his History (passim). In any case, we should bear in mind that Freemasonry's founders identified themselves as descendants of the 'Operative' Stonemasons, calling them their 'Ancient Brethren' and they bound themselves to observe the time-immemorial imperatives of 'Operative' Stonemasonry, calling them their 'Ancient Landmarks'. Thus, whatever Freemasonry's origins are, 'Operative' customs and usages, including the admission of women as members, remain fundamental to its system of jurisprudence.

Now, as we admit of no innovations or changes in our customs,

As Speculative Freemasons purport to perpetuate the time-immemorial customs of the medieval, Operative Stonemasons and as those stonemasons admitted women (see Craftswomen link), the readmission of women to mainstream Freemasonry would not entail innovation in a Freemasonic sense. Rather, it would be the restoration of a neglected, ancient custom that arguably may, either in its self or in relation to Freemasonry's 'universality', rank as an Ancient Landmark that has been suppressed. Therefore, there is no need to pursue the issue of innovation further in this case. Those interested in the subject of how, despite their institutional rhetoric, innovation has long been practiced by Freemasons, would do well to consider how and why 'innovations' are made in some cases but not in others. 'No innovation', as an absolute rule, is itself an innovation. This subject, is admirably discussed by K.H. Perdriau, in an article entitled, "Innovation: A Long-standing Masonic Attribute," published in The NSW Freemason, (V.33, No.2, 2001, pp.13/4):

As 'Bro. Gould wisely observed in his history, "the laws for the guidance of the Craft ... were not intended to be final, but alterable according to the necessities of the Craft, provided always that the spirit of the society was preserved'." (Macbride, p.209)

Speculative Masonry retains, and is governed by, all the rules and regulations that existed in and controlled its Operative prototype.

Not so! Arthur Waite in his New Encyclopædia, severely criticized Anderson's work in compiling, interpreting and reformulating those rules and regulations. Waite referred (p.25) to Anderson's, '… errors, omissions [and] inventions.' For instance, we find, 'The celebrated Charge 'Concerning God and Religion,' included in Anderson's Constitutions, substituted for the direct injunction of loyalty to God and Holy Church, as given in the original Charges, the phrase: 'tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves.' (Jones, p.183).

Hence, as in this latter art only hale and hearty men, in possession of their limbs and members, so that they might endure the fatigues of labor, were employed,

As Ivy Compton-Burnett observed, 'There is more difference within the sexes than between them' (Pepper, p.308, q.2). There are many women, in possession of all the limbs and members required for such work, who are more hale and hearty than many men, admitted to Freemasonry. The admission of women among the Free Carpenters is well established (Crowe, pp.5/19), despite, as Gould remarked (v.1, p.91), 'The trade of a carpenter was not more favourable to the employment of women than that of a mason.' Gould maintained (ibid.) that while women could do the work they would not have been able to travel (a peculiar notion which, if true, would have precluded wives and daughters from accompanying their husbands and fathers from town to town and which would have precluded women from pilgrimages and from being among the camp followers of armies).

so in the former the rule still holds, of excluding all who are not in the possession of these prerequisite qualifications.

From the Old Charges, we deduce a well-established Doctrine of Physical Perfection, also known to Freemasons as the Doctrine of Perfect Youth, which mandated the exclusion of anyone having a physical defect. In an official history of the United Grand Lodge of England this doctrine is acknowledged (Stubbs, p.162) to be, '…an inheritance from Operative Masonry…’. In contravention of the supposed terms of this inheritance, this, the world’s Premier Grand Lodge, following the First World War and faced with many disabled ex-servicemen seeking admission, sensibly decided to abandon the doctrine, provided the candidate was capable of understanding and exemplifying or explaining the ‘secrets and mysteries of the Craft’ (ibid). Despite the compassion, flexibility and commonsense demonstrated by this decision, we find, soon after and recorded in the next couple of pages, the same Grand Lodge further entrenching its opposition to admitting women.

Woman is not permitted to participate in our rites and ceremonies, not because we deem her unworthy or unfaithful, or incapable, as has been foolishly supposed, of keeping a secret,

Mackey does not actually deny that women are unworthy, etc. Rather he asserts that there is a more compelling reason why they are excluded. On the other hand, his remark serves to remind some readers of more blatantly sexist diatribes. One instance of such misogyny, an offensive song described as 'quaint', entitled 'Advice to the Ladies' by 'Brother Riley',' and originally published in 1765, has even been added by Clegg (v.2, p.1115) to Mackey's original entry in Mackey's Revised Encyclopedia.

but because on our entrance into the Order, we found certain regulations which prescribed that only men capable of enduring the labor, or of fulfilling the duties of Operative Masons could be admitted.

The modern requirement for admission is little more than that candidates be men of good repute. Their physical robustness and their capacity '…of enduring the labour, or of fulfilling the duties of Operative Masons…' are no longer required. If they were, many women would be found to be as equally capable as many men. Indeed, under Stonemason, in a contemporary job guide (DEET, p.39), we find the explicit statement that, 'This field is open to both females and males.'

These regulations we have solemnly promised never to alter;

Here Mackey resorts to a circular argument. Before him one would have found changeable regulations, after him one is stuck with unchangeable 'landmarks'. The difference is - Mackey. He altered them and here he is relying on having done so to defend his position.

nor could they be changed, without an entire disorganization of the whole system of Speculative Masonry.

If this were the case, Freemasons would still be expected to be 'steadfast in the pursuit of truth' (allusion 2°). However, such dedication is not required in this case. Effectively refuting such concerns are the examples of so-called, 'irregular' or 'spurious' exceptions to the 'No Women!' rule, from which the Craft has not only survived but has been enriched. For instance, individuals such as Elizabeth St. Ledger and organisations such as Co-masonry (Wright, passim).


Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said:
‘One can’t believe impossible things.’
(Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass)

We have read Albert Mackey’s admission that it was he who first distinctly enumerated what he presented as being the ‘Ancient Landmarks’ of Freemasonry (and, in so doing, violated them). His enumeration has since been widely accepted throughout modern, mainstream, Freemasonic jurisdictions. We have also closely examined what Mackey has to say on the subject of women and Freemasonry and have found absolutely no merit therein. Rather, we have found that the chief, tangible criteria he nominated to justify the exclusion of women, namely, the wording of the Old Constitutions; the practices of Operative stonemasons and the mystic character of the society, rather mandates their admission. We are thus led to conclude that there is no ‘Ancient Landmark’ that excludes women from Freemasonry. Therefore, Freemasonry can change its rules to admit women.

The constrained legal and social position of most western women has greatly improved from the circumstances prevalent in the eighteenth century when James Anderson first wrote the rule excluding them from Freemasonry. At the time, women could not be held to be responsible for many of their own actions. Thus, at the time, one might reasonably doubt that an application by a woman to made a Freemason had been made of her ‘own free will and accord’; women could not be said to have the ‘perfect freedom of inclination and action’ Freemasonry requires of it candidates; nor could they legally withhold secrets from their male guardians³. Where those obstacles have been overcome, there remains no Freemasonically sound justification for a general rule excluding women. We find instead that Freemasonry’s example now acts as a symbol opposing further emancipation. Now, more than ever, the exclusion of women diminishes the character and honour of Freemasonry. Inappropriate discrimination against any group, including women, is contrary to modern sensibilities and conventions. It is especially contrary to Freemasonry’s tolerant and egalitarian principles. Therefore, Freemasonry should change its rules to admit women.

Not all old, Freemasonic customs are ‘Ancient Landmarks.’ Where it is necessary to distinguish between landmarks and those customs that are simply casual relics, the status of a custom may be indicated by the degree to which it is consistent with the underlying and universal principles and traditions of Freemasonry. The ideals of universality and equality, to be unfolded as far as practicable (allowing for the practical constraints at any particular time and place) are arguably among the most certain foundations of Freemasonry’s landmarks. In part they refer to the universal application of Freemasonic ideals, which apply equally to men and women. They also refer to Freemasonry’s affirmation of the unity and equality of all humanity (2°, Working Tools: ‘Level’). Following on from these ideals and where not constrained by other ‘Ancient Landmarks,’ Freemasonry ought to admit all worthy applicants. However, while it avoids discrimination regarding race, creed, politics and nationality, it persists in excluding women. In doing so, it discriminates against half of humanity and makes a hollow parody of its lofty, self-proclaimed principles. Therefore, Freemasonry must change its rules to admit women.

Put cats in the coffee, and mice in the tea –
And welcome Queen Alice with thirty-times-three!
(Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass)

This ‘Alice in Wonderland’ illustration has been reproduced with the kind permission of the artist, Heather Dennis, a.k.a. Tavis Harts, Tavis Harts Gallery


‘A cat may look at a King,’ said Alice.
(Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)

Alic, Margaret, 1986, Hypatia’s Heritage: A History of Women in Science from Antiquity to the Late Nineteenth Century, The Women’s Press, London

AQC = Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Transactions of Quatuor Coranati Lodge, No. 2076 (EC), (the premier lodge of masonic research, founded 1884 in London)

Brown, Michèle, & O’Connor, Ann (Editors), 1985, Woman Talk: A Woman’s Book of Quotes, Futura, London

Carroll, Lewis (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 1832-1898), 1996, Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, The Hunting of the Snark: and a Wonderful Miscellany of Poems, Letters, Games and Puzzles, The Book Company, Sydney

Carter, P.A., 1991, Why We Should Now Admit Worthy Women, self-published paper, Charlestown, NSW

Clegg, Robert Ingham, 1921 (org. 1898), Mackey’s History of Freemasonry, (new, revised & enlarged edition), The Masonic History Company, Chicago

Crowe, Fred J.W., 1914, ‘The Free Carpenters’, in Rylands & Songhurst (Editors), AQC Vol. XXVII, Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 (E.C.), London

DEET (Department of Employment, Education and Training), 1990, New South Wales Job Guide 1990, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra

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Dodgson, Charles Lutwidge, see Lewis Carroll

Gould, Robert Freke, 1882, The History of Freemasonry: Its Antiquities, Symbols, Constitutions, Customs, Etc. – Embracing an Investigation of the Records of the Organisations of the Fraternity in England, Scotland, Ireland, British Colonies, France, Germany, and the United States - Derived from Official Sources, Thomas C. Jack, London

Hamill, John, 1992, Masonic Perspectives: The Collected Papers of John Hamill, Australian Masonic Research Councill, Williamstown, Vic.

Jones, Bernard, 1956, Freemason’s Guide and Compendium (new & revised edition), A. Lewis, London

Jung, Carl G., 1984, The Spirit in Man, Art and Literature, (trans. R.F.C. Hull), Ark Paperbacks, London

Kennedy, Helena, 1992, Eve was Framed: Women and British Justice, Vintage, London

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Macbride, A.S., 1924, Speculative Masonry, Southern Publishers, Kingsport, Tennessee

Mackey, Albert Gallatin, 1883 (org. 1845), A Lexicon of Freemasonry: Containing a Definition of all its Communicable Terms, Notices of its History, Traditions, and Antiquities and an Account of the Rites and Mysteries of the Ancient World (11th edition), Charles Griffin & Co., London

Mackey, Albert Gallatin, 1917 (org. 1874), Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and its Kindred Sciences Comprising the Whole Range of Arts, Sciences and Literature as Connected with the Institution, McClure Publishing, Philadelphia

Mackey, Albert Gallatin, 1946, Mackey’s Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, (revised & enlarged by Robert I. Clegg), The Masonic History Company, Chicago

Mackey, Albert Gallatin, 1996, The History of Freemasonry, Gramercy Books, Avenel, New Jersey

Macquarie Dictionary, The, Australia’s National Dictionary (third edition), 1997, (Delbridge et al., Editors), The Macquarie Library, Sydney

Pepper, Frank S. (Editor), 1984, Handbook of 20th Century Quotations, Sphere Books, London

Perdriau, Kelvin H., April, 2001, ‘Innovation: A Long-standing Masonic Attribute’, in The NSW Freemason, v.33, n.2, UGL of NSW & ACT, Sydney

Reed, Evelyn, 1975, Woman’s Evolution: From Matriarchal Clan to Patriarchal Family, Pathfinder Press, N.Y.

Smith, Toulmin (Editor), 1963 (org. 1870), English Gilds: The Original Ordinances of More than One Hundred Early English Gilds Together with Ye olde Usages of ye Cite of Wynchestre The Ordinances of Worcester The Office of the Mayor of Bristol and The Costomary of the Manor of Tettenhal=Regis from Manuscripts of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, with intro. & glossary, etc. by L.T. Smith and an essay by L. Brentano, Oxford University Press, London (for The Early English Text Society)

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Truth, Sojourner, 1987 (org. 1851), ‘And A’n’t I a Woman?’, in Kerber & De Hart-Mathews (Editors), Women’s America: Refocusing the Past, (2nd edition), Oxford University Press, New York & Oxford

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Wright, Dudley, 1922, Woman and Freemasonry, William Rider & Son, London

‘That’s all,’ said Humpty Dumpty. ‘Good-bye.’
(Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass)


1. Mackey’s Revised Encyclopedia also has an entry on the subject of 'Woman' (pp.1112 / 1116), however, however this work was revised and enlarged by Robert I. Clegg and it is Mackey’s opinions, as the self-proclaimed, original enumer­ator of the so-called ‘land­marks’ we are presently trying to elucidate. Clegg’s contri­bution on the subject greatly enlarged Mackey’s original entry from half a page to three and a half pages. His additions add little, if anything, to the case for the ‘No Women!’ rule and mostly referred to exceptions to it, (similarly, Clegg enlarged Mackey’s final work, his History, from one to seven volumes).
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2. A similar situation also arose in thirteenth century French documents, despite that language being more gender specific than English. In a footnote to an article entitled, ‘Craftswomen in the Livre des Métiers’ (‘Book of the Crafts’; a compilation of Parisian ordinances, etc.), E. Dixon observes, "The grammar of the Livre des Métiers is very loose, and masculine words are frequently used where the sense is quite obviously feminine, and, on the other hand, I have noticed ‘ouvriere’ where there is not the shadow of a doubt that the reference is to a man."
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3. ‘The basic position of a wife in a marriage, so far as the common law is concerned, was well expressed by the quip, “husband and wife are but one, and the husband is that one”.’ (Encyclopedia Americana, 1975, v.29, pp.108; see also Kennedy, pp.25/6).
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