WOMEN IN THE MASONIC WORLD

As Grand Historian, there are all sorts of interesting items crop up. Recently when reviewing some files I came across a newspaper clipping from the Sussex Record of 03 April 1947.

There have frequently been articles about women hiding and finding out the rituals and ceremonies of the Masonic Order.

Possibly one of the most famous was the Honourable Mrs Aldworth who was known as “the Lady Freemason”, who was the Honourable Elizabeth St. Leger, daughter of Lord Doneraile of Doneraile Court, County Cork, Ireland. She was born in 1693 and married in 1713 to Richard Aldworth, Esq., of Newmarket Court, County Cork. Apparently there is little doubt that Mrs Alward did receive both the First and Second Degree of Freemasonry in Ireland. The circumstance, have been given in several different ways.

The stories, however varied, have one consistent thread; she did hide and did observe the ritual, was discovered and after much argument was formally initiated. Generally it is considered she was initiated into the craft before she was married.

The eight volume (1895) of the Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge of London, fully discussed the matter.

There have been other such instances; however what prompted this article is the item mentioned in the introductory paragraph, which is quoted below:

KINGS COUNTY CLAIMS ONLY WOMAN MASON

One of the few women Masons in the world will long be remembered In Norton, where a picture of her still is preserved, and relatives still Reside. Mrs James Sproul, the only woman it is said ever to be initiated Into the Masonic Order, was the great-great grandmother of the late J W Campbell of Norton, whose three daughters, Misses Lucy, Katherine and Minnie now keep a tourist home there.

It is in the tourist home the pen and ink picture of Mrs. Sproul now hangs in a wooden frame carved by a jackknife. In the picture Mrs. Sproul is leaning on the gravestone of her husband who dies in 1824 at the age of 41. The stone is in the Sussex Corner churchyard and when Mrs. Sproul died a few years later she was given a similar stone bearing the Masonic crest. The two headstones stood side by side in the cemetery until a little over a year ago when Mrs. Sproul’s was broken.

Mrs. Sproul was the daughter of the Honourable Jasper Belding, who is believed to come to America on the Mayflower. Against the wishes of her parents she married James Sproul who was either a butler or footman in the Belding household. They moved into a log house about three mile above Norton on the road toward Sussex. This house had only two rooms which were separated by a curtain.

Her husband being a Mason, the Order decided one night to hold their meeting in her home. A new man was to be initiated and Mrs. Sproul took her candle and daring and went into the bedroom. After the service she was asked by the Masonic officers if she had heard anything. Mrs. Sproul replied that although she had not meant to listen, she had heard the service. She was questioned and the officers discovered she had heard the entire proceedings. This left only two things to be done according to the legend, either kill the woman or make her a Mason. Mrs Sproul was initiated into the Order that same night and thereafter was regarded as a regular Mason. It is not known however whether or no she attended meetings regularly.

The only lodge which fits the time frame, to the best of my knowledge, would have been Sion Lodge No 21. which it is reported worked in that general area up to 1823, possibly a bit longer. With the records reported as having been destroyed maybe the whole story will never be known outside the Sussex record report of 03 April 1947.

There is a report of a Mrs Catherine Babington of Kentucky and North Carolina being obligated as a regular Mason, as were a Mrs Beaton of Norfolk, England. As well a tradition is said to exist of a Mrs Havard being proposed as an Honourary member and initiated into Palladian Lodge No 120 at Hereford Hereforshire on the English Constitution rolls in 1770, though there is no other record other than the tradition to substantiate the fact.

Enough said on the subject, it is regretted that actual lodge records are no longer in existence to prove or disprove the story, but what a story it is.

As Grand Historian, there are all sorts of interesting items crop up. Recently when reviewing some files I came across a newspaper clipping from the Sussex Record of 03 April 1947. There have frequently been articles about women hiding and finding out the rituals and ceremonies of the Masonic Order. Possibly one of the most…