The subject of women and Freemasonry is complex and without an easy explanation. Traditionally, only men can be made Freemasons in Regular Freemasonry. Many Grand Lodges do not admit women because they believe it would break the ancient Masonic Landmarks. However, there are many non-mainstream Masonic bodies that do admit both men and women or exclusively women. Furthermore, there are many female orders associated with regular Freemasonry, such as the Order of the Eastern Star, the Order of the Amaranth, the White Shrine of Jerusalem, the Social Order of Beauceant and the Daughters of the Nile.
The United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), and others concordant in that regular tradition (including the Provincial Grand Lodge of Nottinghamshire), do not formally recognize any Masonic body that accepts women. The UGLE has stated since 1998 that two English women's jurisdictions are regular in practice (The Order of Women Freemasons and The Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons), except for their inclusion of women, and has indicated that, while not formally recognized, these bodies may be regarded as part of Freemasonry, when describing Freemasonry in general. In North America, neither "mainstream" Freemasonry nor Prince Hall Freemasonry accept women, but rather have associated separate bodies, which are "Masonic" in character, but not Masonic in their content.
Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons
The history of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons in particular cannot be described without reference to the history of the Women's movement in Masonry in general. We cannot do better than to quote from a pamphlet published in 1988 by Enid Scott, a former Assistant Grand Master of our Order, entitled "Women in Freemasonry".
"It was in 1902 that the first lodge of Co-Masons was formed in London and that importation from France soon snowballed. But within a few years some of its members became uneasy regarding the course being taken by the governing body in Paris. They felt that their ancient forms were in jeopardy and a departure from their traditional style was taking place; history was being repeated, for it was a similar state that had arisen in regular Freemasonry in the mid-18th century. Various members resigned from the Order and formed themselves into a Society from which was to emerge the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry, but still as an association for men and women.
On 5 June 1908 a Grand Lodge was formed with a Reverend Brother as Grand Master. He was the first and only male Grand Master and held that office for four years before retiring through ill health. His successor commenced the continuing line of female Grand Masters. Approximately ten years later it was decided to restrict admission to women only but to allow existing male members to remain. Within a very short period the title was changed to the Order of Women Freemasons but the form of address as 'Brother' remained, the term 'Sister' having been discontinued soon after the formation in 1908 as it was deemed unfitting for members of a universal Brotherhood of Freemasons.
It is also of some interest to note that history was repeated again, in that the Royal Arch became the subject of a division in their ranks, rather on the lines of the Antients and Moderns years before the Union in 1813. A group of its members wished to include the Royal Arch in the system but failed to obtain authority from their Grand Lodge, which caused them to secede and form the first Lodge of yet another Order - The Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons, two Grand Lodges running in parallel was almost a carbon copy performance, but in this case the time for a Union, similar to that which took place in 1813, is yet to come."
The Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons was founded in 1913 and the first Grand Master was Mrs Elizabeth Boswell-Reid who held that Office from 1913 to 1933; she was succeeded by her daughter Mrs Seton Challen.