Women's agency

Some scholars think that women first got involved in freemasonry at the end of the 19th century, as a result of the emancipation movement. This is incorrect: women have been structurally part of the masonic enterprise from at least the middle of the 18th century. Yet, little is known about the ways in which they themselves obtained and exercised power to influence the systems they were involved in, in order to adapt them to be more appropriate to their needs.
A new study, which will shed new light on the role of women in freemasonry is co-edited by OVN board member Jan Snoek. The publication concentrates on two aspects: Women’s agency (i.e. the power women gained and exercised in this context) and rituals (i.e. the role of men and women in changing and shaping the rituals women work with). These two aspects are closely related, since it requires some agency to realise changes in existing rituals. The number of Dutch contributions is relatively large, as the table of contents shows:

- 'Introduction', Jan A.M. Snoek,
- 'The Relationships of Androgynous Secret Orders with Freemasonry; Documents on the Ordre des Hermites de bonne humeur in Sachsen-Gotha (1739-1758)', Bärbel Raschke,
- 'The Grand Lodge of Adoption, La Loge de Juste, The Hague, 1751: A Short-lived Experiment in Mixed Freemasonry or a Victim of Elegant Exploitation?', Malcolm Davies,
- 'Maçonnerie des Dames: The Plans of the Strict Observance to Establish a Female Branch', Andreas Önnerfors,
- 'Freemason Feminists: Masonic Reform and the Women’s Movement in France, 1840-1914', James Smith Allen,
- 'The ‘Women’s Question’. The Discussion, Especially in the Nineteenth Century, About Opening Membership of the Dutch Grand Lodge to Women', Anton van de Sande,
- 'Women and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn: Nineteenth Century Occultist Initiation from a Gender Perspective', Henrik Bogdan,
- 'Stretton’s "Operative" Masonry: Legacy or Forgery?', Bernard Dat,
- 'Freemasonry and Suffrage: The Manifestation of Social Conscience', Ann Pilcher Dayton,
- '"Builders of the Temple of the New Civilisation": Annie Besant and Freemasonry', Andrew Prescott,
- 'Diversity In Unity? Background and History of the Different Masonic Traditions Within the Craft Lodges of the Dutch Federation of the International Order of Mixed Freemasonry "Le Droit Humain"', Anne van Marion-Weijer.

This book provides new insights into the development of freemasonry, the historiography of which has until concentrated on masculine orders. As such it is well worth the investment.

Alexandra Heidle/Jan A.M. Snoek (red.), Women’s Agency and Rituals in Mixed and Female Masonic Orders, (Aries book series 8) Brill, Leiden 2008. ISBN 978-90-04-17239-5, 450 pp., prijs: € 139,-.

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