Freemasonry Q & A: Is the Order of the Eastern Star the oldest American Masonic organization for women?

The American tradition of organizations for female relatives of Master Masons goes back to at least 1826, 24 years before the Eastern Star was founded.

Order of the Eastern Star. Around 1850 Rob Morris of Kentucky created the Order of the Eastern Star for Freemasons and their female relatives. It quickly spread throughout the United States, even though some Grand Lodges were initially concerned about recognizing a “women’s Masonic organization.”

Master Mason’s Daughter. Robert Benjamin Folger became a Masons in 1824 in New York City and in 1873–74 published his 41-part “Recollections of a Masonic Veteran” in the Sunday New York Dispatch. He mentions “several ‘side degrees,’ conferred around 1826 as a pastime by the lodges meeting at the City Hotel, when there was no other business to occupy their attention.” Among his list is the “Masons’ Daughter” for Mason’s wives and daughters; its ritual probably consisted of little more than passwords and signs.

True Kindred. Folger also lists True Kindred as one of the side degrees, and it still exists today, apparently primarily in the Midwest (Missouri lists six conclave on its web site). It has three degrees, True Kindred, conferred in local conclaves, Heroine of Jericho, conferred in grand conclaves, and Good Samaritan, conferred by the supreme conclave. Some sources include a fourth degree, Daughter of Bethany. Its origins are obscure.

Heroines of Jericho. Avery Allyn’s 1831 A Ritual of Freemasonry (an anti-Masonic exposé ) gives the rituals for the Heroines of Jericho, an organization for Royal Arch Masons, their wives, and widows. The degree was almost destroyed during the anti-Masonic period, but it is still worked by Prince Hall Royal Arch Masons and their relatives, and is also one of the three degrees of the Order of True Kindred.