CRAFTSWOMEN - AN ABSTRACT
by Philip A. Carter
Edited by John G. Priede
"Most modern, mainstream freemasons believe 'men only' is an essential and
unchangeable characteristics of freemasonry, i.e., an Ancient Landmark (A.L.)
They are told that women were excluded from medieval building trades. And as it
is commonly supposed freemasonry is derived from these trades (especially
stonemasonry) and is bound by their practices, many freemasons believe they are
therefore incapable of admitting women as members, (disregarding the selective
introduction of other, arguably more significant, 'innovations'). I acknowledge
there are other arguments against such membership. However, I have not
encountered one which presents a sound and compelling case. Due to limitations
of space, this paper simply refutes the alleged absence of women from the
Medieval illustrations depict women involved in the building trades.
- At Wurzburg building sites, women formed a consistent majority of the low
skilled workers between 1428 and 1524, (the over all ratio exceeded three to
- Other records show women joining masons' guilds at Basel and Strasbough,
- In England, around 1389, over 99 % of more than 500 surviving returns from
'brotherhoods', show both women and men as members (the guilds of priests and
those of scholars presumably accounting for the remaining 1%).
- Every clause in the 1389 Certificate of the Guild of Masons at Lincoln
referred to both brothers and sisters. Carpenters admitted women, and
stonemasons often combined with them the other artisans. The 'Old Charges'
referred to 'brothers and sisters', 'Masters and Dames' and to "...he or she
that is to bee made a mason..."
Throughout the paper, arguments against the relevance or authenticity of the
evidence will be addressed. Certain 'masculine' terms used in the Old Charges
will be shown to have been use by guilds to encompass both men and women.
Further, certain regulations inapplicable to women, were also used in guilds
which also admitted women as members. Only in late medieval times, with the
establishment of journeymen's lodges, did agitation result in the general
exclusion of women from many trades. However, the exclusion of women was not a
policy favoured by the masters' lodges; it would not satisfy the time-immemorial
criterion of being an A.L.; nor was it an absolute exclusion, e.g.:-
- With the Reformation and its Disendowment of the Religion of the
Mysteries, the 'brethren and sisters' of St. Mary,s Guild at Lincoln consented
to giving the guild property to the city;
- As late as 1683, a woman presided over the Lodge of St. Mary's Chapel at
- Even in 1713, the London Company of Masons recorded the apprenticeship of
Mary Banister and the membership of widows.
Thus, the exclusion of women from freemasonry cannot be justified by ancient
trade practices. Freemasons will therefore have to look elsewhere to legitimise
this infringement of the truth, equality and universalism they espouse.
Otherwise, they will need to address homosocial misogyny within their ranks and
admit women to membership, in accordance with the international Convention on
the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
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