Scope and Contents
This is a collection of materials relating to Freemasonry, a fraternal organization that traces its origins to the stonemason's guilds of Europe. While lodges existed in Scotland and England in the 1600s, the founding of the first Grand Lodge in London in 1717 is considered the origin of organized Freemasonry.
The order quickly spread to the American colonies and by 1730 was established in New England. Benjamin Franklin became a Mason in 1731 and during the 18th century a great many prominent colonial citizens, including George Washington and Paul Revere joined as well. Nine of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Masons as well as numerous officers of the Continental Army. The construction of many public buildings, including the U.S. Capitol, began with a laying of the cornerstone in a Masonic ritual.
In the first quarter of the 19th century Freemasonry prospered. By 1830, however, suspicions regarding its secret rituals (including the unfounded charges that the rituals included non-Christian worship); as well as a belief that its members were hatching anti-democratic plots, engendered virulent attacks on the order. An Anti-Masonic political party was formed and the number of lodges fell dramatically.
Freemasonry regained its prominence during the next few decades by promoting its dedication to the ideals of self-improvement, personal morality, and the public good. A proliferation of new rituals requiring dramatic theatricality and elaborate costuming attracted new members. Social and business contacts were made at meetings and events that contributed to one's success and the opportunity to perform charitable works appealed to many.
In 1870 the order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine was founded as an adjunct to the Freemasons and dedicated to the pursuit of fun, recreation and general hilarity. The Shriners are well-known today for the numerous children's hospitals they have founded and supported.
Freemasonry continued to thrive well into the 20th century, building many impressive edifices and attracting the most influential citizens in most communities. As social attitudes changed in the 1960s, membership declined. Yet, grand Masonic lodges and temples still grace many American cities and towns to bear witness to the order's former glories and Freemasons continue to practice the rituals and enjoy the fellowship of their order.
For the researcher, this material provides information about the location of many lodges, particularly in the northeast United States. Many are represented by a single item; others by numerous cards, fliers, letters and the like. Some have lists of their officers which may be of interest to genealogical researchers. Correspondence may give insight into lodge activities—or other activities of the writer. The great variety of ritual and costuming is seen in the catalogues of manufacturers and a number of publications give insight into the practices and aims of the order. A number of mutual benefit associations are represented as well as material about Masonic homes for elderly brethren and orphans. A small number of medals, coins, and ribbons as well as numerous images of symbolic devices is indicative of the rich visual content of Freemasonry. The order's enthusiasm for parties and other social occasions is represented by invitations to and announcements of these events.
Lodges, Commanderies, and Temples material is organized alphabetically by state and city and consists of miscellaneous printed materials and correspondence. Freemasonry in the U.S. consists of York Rite and Scottish Rite Lodges. Members of a York Rite lodge may ascend through the ranks of the Royal Arch and Royal and Select Councils to the highest rank of Knights Templar. Templar lodges are called "commanderies." The member of a Scottish Rite lodge may ascend through many degrees, culminating in the 33rd degree. Freemasons of either rite may join the Shriners; their lodges are known as "temples." Grand Lodges have jurisdiction over all the lodges in their state. Examples of material from many of these ranks and lodges are present as well as a few items relating to the women's auxiliary, Eastern Star.
Manufacturers of Masonic regalia and supplies provide the variety of costumes and implements required for the elaborate rituals of Freemasonry. The day-to-day functioning of lodges also required a variety of forms specially printed for their use.
Publications include examples of Masonic periodicals, booklets, and articles. Two of these are in support of the Anti-Masonic viewpoint and date from around 1830. Also included are cipher books used in Masonic rituals and an English catalogue of books on Freemasonry.
General subjects covers Masonic associations, homes, images, stock certificates, applications, social gatherings, badges, coins, and ribbons.