Masonic Mathematics: The 47th Problem of Euclid

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Past Master's Jewel, 1823. Thomas Harper (ca. 1735-1832). London. 2017.018.2. Photograph by David Bohl.

Do you remember the Pythagorean Theorem? This geometric figure, also known as the 47th Problem of Euclid, represents the idea that the area of the two smaller squares created by using the lines of a right-angle triangle as bases is equal to the area of the largest square created in the same way. It is stated mathematically as c2 = a2 + b2 in which “c” is the hypotenuse (longest side) and “a” and “b” are the other two sides. Like many geometric expressions, it’s difficult to describe with words, but its meaning is fairly comprehensible visually.

Luckily, then, this symbol appears on Masonic aprons, jewels, pitchers, quilts, lantern slides, mark medals, tracing boards, and other decorative and ritual material in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. Freemasonry draws symbols from a variety of sources, including geometry, to teach instructive lessons to its members.

This geometric figure has two names associated with some of mathematics’ historic giants: Pythagoras (ca. 570 B.C.E. – ca. 495 B.C.E.) and Euclid (ca. 300 B.C.E.). However, its roots reach back further. Babylonians (ca. 1900 - 1600 B.C.E) used it to solve geometric problems that involved right triangles. In Freemasonry, it is often called the 47th Problem of Euclid. This symbol is introduced in the 3rd or Master Mason degree.

The object shown here, an engraved Past Master’s jewel, bears a particularly compelling visual representation of this noteworthy geometric figure. English silversmith Thomas Harper (ca. 1735-1832) crafted this jewel, marking it with his initials and British silver hallmarks. The “leopard’s head” mark indicates that the silver was hallmarked in London after 1822. The lowercase “h” indicates Harper made the item in 1823, according to the “date letters” that were used in British silver.

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Past Master's Jewel, 1823. Thomas Harper (ca. 1735-1832). London. 2017.018.2. Photograph by David Bohl.

This form of a Past Master’s jewel featuring a right-angle square with a rectangle engraved with a depiction of the 47th Problem of Euclid, was popular in English lodges in the early decades of the 1800s. This style of jewel inspired Past Master’s jewels in Pennsylvania, which often have a right-angle square bearing a suspended rectangle with the geometric figure engraved on it.

This fascinating Past Master’s jewel is currently on view at the museum in "What's in a Portrait?" and in our online exhibition. You can see other items in the museum’s collection that bear the 47th Problem of Euclid on our searchable online collections database.


Clepsammia: Thief of Sand

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Hourglass, ca. 1700. Italy. Gift of Mrs. Willis R. Michael, 85.108.20. Photograph by David Bohl.

As the remaining hours of 2022 run down, let’s investigate this unusual hourglass in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. Called clepsammia, meaning thief of sand, sand hourglasses are an early method of keeping time. Devices using a fixed amount of sand to measure time were likely first developed in the 1300s, but the need for contained, reliable, and stable timekeeping on ships to aid with navigation helped popularize clepsammia during the Age of Sail (roughly 1650-1850).

Before the invention of the modern clock, hourglasses were used in churches to time sermons, in government offices to time speeches, and in factories to time work shifts. These useful items came in many types, materials, and sizes. A common form of hourglass was intended to measure one hour and was constructed of two glass bulbs, often set in a frame, that were joined with wax and cord.

Another kind of hourglass, used to mark the quarter hour, featured four horizontally-oriented glass bulbs. Each bulb contained either 15-, 30-, 45-, or 60-minutes’ worth of sand. As each ran out, the user could track quarter hours. The vertically-oriented hourglass held by the museum is an unusual form. The sand flows through two glass bulbs - one shaped into four equal chambers and another larger bulb. There seem to be only a few existing examples of this type of hourglass. One is in the collection at the Louvre.

The museum’s clepsammia was crafted in Italy, around 1700. The “sand” is actually powdered stone contained within the glass bulbs, fixed within a wooden frame covered with decorated paper. Compared to beach sand, which has angular edges, powdered stone flows smoothly through the apertures between bulbs. In one direction, the material moves from the largest bulb down, filling first one bulb, then the next in fifteen-minute intervals. When flipped over, the sand empties from each bulb, again in fifteen-minute intervals. This hourglass stands ten inches tall and, at over three hundred years old, is in good condition for its age.

This clepsammia is part of a collection of clocks, watches, tools, and books donated by Ruth Michael of York, Pennsylvania. Her gift of more than 140 items from the collection that she and her husband, Willis R. Michael, assembled over many years forms the core of the museum’s horological holdings. If you’d like to learn more about timepieces in the museum’s collection, you can see more examples in this Flickr album. You can also see this hourglass in action in the video below.


Digital Collections Highlight: 1768 Lodge Summons Printed & Signed by Paul Revere

Revere summons for webPerhaps best remembered today as the messenger who brought word to his fellow colonists that the British Army had left Boston and were headed west toward Lexington and Concord, Paul Revere (1734-1818) was much more than that. He was a talented silversmith and engraver, a political organizer, a forward-thinking entrepreneur, and a Freemason. This document from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's Van Gorden-Williams Digital Collections website helps illustrate many of these roles. It is a lodge summons, a notice which was sent from the Lodge of St. Andrew to its members to inform them of an upcoming meeting.

Raised a Master Mason in 1761 in the Lodge of St. Andrew, Revere held a number of offices between 1762 and 1765 - first as Junior Deacon, then Junior Warden, and Senior Warden. From 1767 to 1769, Revere served as Secretary of the lodge. His duties would have included sending out notices summoning members to the lodge's next meeting. This particular summons has many interesting connections to Revere.

The bottom right hand corner of the lodge summons makes it clear that it was "Engrav'd, Printed, & Sold by Paul Revere. Boston." Yet what makes this particular copy of the summons special is that it is also signed by Revere in his capacity as Secretary of the lodge. This summons is dated February 10, 1768, during the time that Revere held that office. The summons directs the member to a meeting at "Freemason's Hall," which is the how the lodge referred to their meeting place - the famous Green Dragon Tavern - beginning in 1764.

This summons was produced quite early in Revere's time as a Mason. In 1794, over twenty-five years after this summons was issued, Revere was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. During Revere's three years in office as Grand Master, he chartered 23 new lodges, almost doubling the number of lodges in the state, which left a lasting mark on Freemasonry in Massachusetts.

If you’d like to take a closer look at this summons, visit the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections site.

Caption:
Paul Revere. Masonic Summons issued by the Lodge of St. Andrew, 1768. Museum Purchase with the assistance of the Lodge of St. Andrew and the Kane Lodge Foundation, MA 001.243.


The Rainbow Apron, “. . . a sacred symbol that binds”

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Miniature Rainbow Apron. 1925-1931. Gift of Audrey E. Martin, 2008.026.1.

Freemasons wear aprons – some simple in design, some very ornate – as a symbol of connection to the practical origins of the order and a visual emblem of membership. The collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library contains more than four hundred aprons, one of the largest collections of aprons in the United States.

The International Order of the Rainbow for Girls was founded in Macalester, Oklahoma one hundred years ago, in 1922. As an auxiliary body of Freemasonry, the organization draws much of its symbolism and ritual from Masonic sources. A perfect example of this is the miniature apron that a Rainbow girl is given at her initiation and wears on her wrist for certain organizational events. The connection is made explicit in the initiation ceremony, where the new Rainbow Girl is told, “It is a sacred symbol that binds. To your father, if he were a Mason, the lambskin apron was sacred, and though you may never fully know its meaning, it will be dear to you because he loved it, and to him it was priceless.”

These scaled-down versions of Masonic aprons retain the same shape, flap, and ties as their inspiration. They are made of white lambskin, as with Masonic aprons. Like many Master Mason aprons produced in the twentieth century, these miniature aprons featured blank lines under the flap where the owner could, as on this example, write her name, address, and the assembly to which she belonged.

The apron shown here once belonged to Ruby Vandergrift Duncan Kramer (1911-2007). Ruby was born in Belmont, Massachusetts on April 28, 1911. Her parents, Oscar and Gertrude, were from Nova Scotia. Ruby was named after a Canadian aunt who died of illness at age 22. Her parents also had another daughter, named Pearl.

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Miniature Rainbow Apron. 1925-1931.  Gift of Audrey E. Martin, 2008.026.1.

Ruby was a member of Waltham Assembly No. 2 when she owned this miniature apron. Other examples of Rainbow aprons in the collection are from Massachusetts and Ohio and date from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1980s. Ruby’s apron dates from the early days of the Rainbow Girls in the 1920s.

Ruby lived at 34 Davis Road in Belmont for most of her life. She attended Boston University and graduated with a teaching degree in 1932. After teaching for one year, Ruby moved to a role as a clerk for the Belmont Electric Light Department, where she worked for forty-one years. She later married Howard Kramer, a Mason in Belmont Lodge from 1940 through 1970.

Ruby died in Belmont on October 11, 2007 at age 96. Her miniature apron survives as a tangible connection to her time in the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls in Massachusetts and to the Masonic fraternity.

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Further Reading:

 


In the Spirit of Unity: The Meaning of Prince Hall Americanism Day

The exact date of the first Prince Hall Day celebration referred to in this program from the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is difficult to pinpoint. An uncorroborated article in the Los Angeles Sentinel provides the date 1808, while a gap in the primary source material until 1927 suggests the origin of this African American celebration may have taken place well after the death of Hall in 1808. The journey to discover the true meaning of this document and day underscores Prince Hall Freemasonry's commitment to being a unifying force in American society.

A2022_001_002DS001Prince Hall Americanism Day proclamation and program, 1964

"As the Christian has a revival, the Moslem [sic] has a pilgrimage to Mecca, so do Prince Hall Masons have revivals, and they are called Prince Hall Americanism Day, celebrated on or as close to September 12th each year. It is a time for the Prince Hall Mason to take stock of his life, renew his faith in God, Country and Fraternity, which will include his neighbor. It is a time to renew his faith in God, his patriotism to his country and his duty to   mankind. It is in the truest sense a Masonic Revival."The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Arkansas, 2021.

During the 1950s, the theme of “Americanism” was expanded upon by the Grand Masters Conference of Prince Hall Masons in response to the Red Scare of the '50s. The Grand Masters, who also served as leaders within the African American Community, understood the disenfranchisement of African Americans within American society, and saw this moment in history as an opportunity to bring people together in a common cause. "Masonry and Americanism," they stated, "will embrace, substantially, those spiritual drives of our Reverend Brother Prince Hall, who along with his contemporaries [Washington and the Founding Fathers]. served as a founding father of our American Idealism."

It was in this spirit, in the spirit of Prince Hall Freemasonry and of unity, that on Wednesday, September 7, 2022, the two Sovereign Grand Commanders of the Supreme Councils (white) and the two Sovereign Grand Commanders of the United Supreme Councils (black) of the United States met at Washington, D.C., in the House of the Temple to sign a statement of unity. This document recognized the other bodies as the “sole and legitimate conservators” of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the United States and pledged to “support one another in the cause of Scottish Rite Freemasonry” and to serve as example of unity to the world-at-large.  

Scan_2022-10-04_18-39-54Statement of Unity
proclamation, September 7,2022
 

Do you have any information regarding the origins or history of Prince Hall Day? Please free to contact us or to comment about this topic in the comments section below.


Captions

Prince Hall Americanism Day proclamation and program, 1964. Peter B. C. Brown, Jr., Prince Hall Masonic collection, 1964-1989. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 210.001.

Statement of Unity proclamation, September 7, 2022. Records and Correspondence of the Supreme Council, NMJ. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 300.002.


References

Arizona Sun. “Masons to Observe Prince Hall Day.” September 16, 1955: 7. Accessed: 9 September 2022. <Chronicling America>

Boston Globe. “Auxiliary is Formed : Colored Women Organize to Assist Prince Hall Grand Lodge Centennial Committee.” September 26, 1907: 10. Accessed: 9 September 2022. <ProQuest>

Bridgeport Post. “Prince Hall Lodges of Masons to Hail Founder with State Celebration by 1,000 Members here Sept. 10.” August 23, 1961: 20. Accessed: 9 September 2022. <Newspapers.com>

Evening Review. “Prince Hall Day Program.” September 11, 1929: 14. Accessed: 9 September 2022. <Chronicling America>

Freemasons. Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Arkansas. “Why Masons Celebrate Prince Hall Day,” 2021, Accessed: 9 September 2022. https://www.mwphglar.com/list-item-title

Freemasons. Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia. n.d. Protocol Manual. Accessed: 9 September 2022. https://cdn.website-editor.net/13c5a24262424017aa80012c701f5962/files/uploaded/ProtocolManual%2520%25281%2529.pdf

Hartford Courant. “1,000 Masons to Note Prince Hall Day Sunday.” September 4, 1962; 33. Accessed: 9 September 2022. <Newspapers.com>

Herbert, Archille W. “Prince Hall Day Address.” Prince Hall Masonic Digest 7, no. 1 (1958) : 3-6. Accessed: 9 September 2022. https://oakland.access.preservica.com/?s=Prince+Hall+Masonic+Digest

Jackson Advocate. “Prince Hall Masons of Louisiana Hold 94th Annual Session.” June 29, 1957: 6. Accessed: 9 September 2022. <Chronicling America>

Jackson Advocate. “Prince Hall Message Made Part of Congressional Record.” September 19, 1959: 4. Accessed: 9 September 2022. <Chronicling America>

Los Angeles Sentinel. “City Proclaims Prince Hall Day.” September 22, 1966, C2.

News-Herald. “A.M.E. Zion.” September 29, 1928. Accessed: 9 September 2022. <Chronicling America>

Parmer, Burrell D. “In Remembrance of Prince Hall on the Eve of Prince Hall Americanism Day.” The Texas Prince Hall Freemason II, no. 5 (Winter 2011): 54. Accessed: 9 September 2022. https://www.mwphglotx.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/TPHFM-Volume-2-Issue-5-Winter-2011.pdf

Pittsburgh Courier. “Attention Fraters.” March 12, 1927: 9. Accessed: 9 September 2022. <Newspapers.com>

“Prince Hall Americanism Day Across Illinois: In Salute of the Father of African American Freemasonry in America and Beyond.” Prince Hall Masonic Journal. Fall 2013-Winter 2014. 9. Accessed: 9 September 2022. https://mwphglil.com/2013-14Winter.pdf

Shreveport Journal. “Negro Masons Will Observe Prince Hall Day.” September 14, 1951: 24. Accessed: 9 September 2022. <Chronicling America>

Weekly Town Talk. “Prince Hall Day Set.” September 13, 1952: 5. Accessed: 9 September 2022. <Chronicling America>

Wesley, Charles H. History of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the State of Ohio, 1849-1960: An Epoch in American Fraternalism. Wilberforce, Ohio: Central State College Press, 1961.

Wesley, Charles H. Prince Hall: Life and Legacy. Washington, D.C.: United Supreme Council Southern Jurisdiction, Prince Hall Affiliation, 1977.

 


New to the Collection: Blood Donor Recognition Pin

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Blood Donation Lapel Pin. ca. 1983. Gift of Kamel Oussayef, 2022.049a-b.

New to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's collection this month is a small gold-colored lapel pin bearing a square and compasses and a “G” in blue enamel. Masonic lapel pins are abundant in both members’ homes and the Museum’s collection. This, however, is the first pin in the collection in the shape of a drop of blood.

Throughout the United States, more than ten state Grand Lodges sponsor a Masonic blood donation program of some kind. The model for many programs involves a coordinator at each local lodge who schedules blood drives on location and encourages brethren to donate. Each unit of blood donated by individual lodge members is counted towards the total for the whole lodge.

Lapel pins are given to individual members who achieve certain blood donation milestones. Some, like this one, are awarded for an initial donation of one unit. Others are given when the Mason reaches a certain volume of blood donated. For example, the Virginia Grand Lodge Blood Program specifies that new donors and donations under two gallons receive the pin type shown here, with a “G” in the center of the Masonic square and compasses. When an individual donates more than two gallons, each subsequent pin bears the number of gallons, increasing by increments of two.

Some Masons donate impressive volumes of blood throughout their lives, such as Scottish Rite Mason Steven Fishman of Georgia, who has donated over thirty-seven gallons since the 1970s. Given that one gallon is equal to eight one-pint donations and that donors can only give once every eight weeks, achieving that volume would take a minimum of forty-five years.

As mentioned above, individual donations by members are counted towards the one lodge’s contribution to the blood program. In Rhode Island, for example, lodges who seek to earn the Grand Master’s Award are advised to participate in local blood drives and ensure at least ten percent of their eligible members give blood.

This new addition to the collection helps us tell the story of how Masons, as the Virginia Blood Program Manual says, “. . . facilitate donations in an organized and craftsman-like fashion . . .”

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Reference and Further Reading:


Hurricane Gavel

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Gavel, ca. 1939. Massachusetts. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.2657.

High in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey, there is a grove of Cedars of Lebanon (Cedrus libani). In the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts collection cared for at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, there is a gavel made from the wood of one of these trees. The story of this gavel – from seeds to storage – brings together natural science and Masonic ingenuity.

In the early 1900s, Charles Sargent (1841-1927), the first Director of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, wanted to add examples of Cedrus libani to the collection of trees and shrubs at the site. However, these trees – which are mentioned in the Bible – grew primarily in the warmer climate of Lebanon and did not seem suited for New England weather. With the help of German naturalist Walter Siehe (1859-1928), Sargent was able to locate a forest of Cedars of Lebanon in the Taurus Mountains in Turkey. These trees grew further north and at higher altitudes and the two men thought they might also grow in Massachusetts.

In early 1902, Siehe shipped a number of cedar cones to Sargent and the trees were propagated in the greenhouses at the Arboretum. They started well and were planted on the grounds. By 1930, the Turkish Cedars of Lebanon were growing well and producing their own seed cones. The experiment was a success.

Then came the Hurricane of 1938, one of the most severe storms in New England history. The storm devastated the forests of the Northeast, destroying an estimated two billion trees in New York and New England. In the Arboretum, at least five of the Turkish cedars fell victim to the storm. (Happily, in 2022, eight of the original trees still survive on site.) As for the hurricane-damaged ones, a group of local Masons “grasped the opportunity to perpetuate these trees Masonically,” as one of them later said.

William Judd (1888-1946) was a member of Eliot Lodge in Dorchester and a gardener at Arnold Arboretum. During the clean-up after the hurricane, he and Welby McCollum (1887-1952) of West Roxbury Lodge decided to use some of the cedar wood to make a gavel. Given that McCollum worked as a builder, he may have crafted the piece.

After the gavel was completed, it was given to West Roxbury Lodge’s Past Master, Alexander McKechnie (1887-1965). He wrote out the story of the gavel on two typewritten pages – kept with the item – as a draft of his planned speech for a January 1940 presentation to West Roxbury Lodge. McKechnie mentioned in a handwritten addendum that he intended to present the gavel to the lodge and thence to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts if desired. His note is addressed to Joseph Earl Perry (1884-1983), then-Grand Master of the Grand Lodge, and ends, “If you decide to put this gavel in the Museum you can pick out the important points in the above for a small card.” This small piece of material culture made of wood more than one-hundred-twenty years old still has a big story to tell.

Reference and Further Reading:

Anthony S. Aiello and Michael S. Dosmann. “The Quest for the Hardy Cedar-of-Lebanon,” Arnoldia, Volume 65, Issue 1 (2007). https://arboretum.harvard.edu/stories/the-quest-for-the-hardy-cedar-of-lebanon/


New to the Collection: Elisha J. Cleveland’s Past Master’s Jewel

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Past Master’s Jewel, 1860. Massachusetts. Gift of Virginia B. Squair, 2021.008.5a-b. Photograph by Frank E. Graham.

In December of 1859, twelve men applied to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts for permission to form a new Masonic Lodge, called Hammett Lodge, in East Boston. Members of this group selected Elisha James Cleveland (1821-1866) to be the presiding officer—or Master—of their inchoate lodge. After the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts granted Hammett Lodge a charter in 1860, Elisha Cleveland served as Master. Members and guests attended Hammett Lodge’s dedication and officer installation ceremony early in 1861. Attendees and officers marked the event with speeches and refreshments.

In choosing Elisha Cleveland as their leader, members of the new lodge looked to someone with immediate experience as Master of a lodge. Cleveland had first become a Freemason at Mount Tabor Lodge, in East Boston, in 1851 and served as Master in 1858 and 1859. Around this time, he earned his living as a blacksmith or as a shipsmith in Boston. The brethren of Mount Tabor Lodge thanked Cleveland for his service as Master with a handsome Past Master’s jewel. Cleveland soon received another gold Past Master’s jewel (at left) with an inscription noting that it was given “by his friends, E. Boston, Apr. 6, 1860.” Cleveland was elected Master of Hammett Lodge before it received its charter and held the office through at least part of 1861. Though the inscription is not specific, this jewel likely commemorated Cleveland’s leadership of Hammett Lodge from its start.

After he received this jewel, Cleveland visited a photographer’s studio a few blocks from his home in East Boston. There he had his portrait (at left) taken by a self-described “photographist,” William R. Hawkes. In dressing for his appointment at the studio, Cleveland wore his street clothes—a jacket, vest, neckcloth, and shirt—with the Past Master’s jewel he received in 1860 pinned at the center. This photograph, in a small carte-de-visite format, is an intriguing document of how Cleveland used the jewel and suggests the pride he may have felt in wearing it.

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Elisha James Cleveland, 1860-1866. William R. Hawkes, East Boston, Massachusetts. Gift of Virginia B. Squair, 2021.008.2.

Cleveland died suddenly, of a stroke, in 1866. His obituary noted that he was “much beloved by the masonic fraternity.” Many years later, his widow Mary Ann Cleveland (1824-1883) bequeathed “the Past Master jewels belonging to my late beloved husband” to her son-in-law, Charles Leeds. Both of Cleveland’s Past Master’s jewels, and other Masonic items that descended in his family, are part of a recent generous gift to Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

Reference:

“Funeral of the Late Elisha J. Cleveland,” October 5, 1866, Boston Herald, page 2.


Digital Collections Highlight: Killian H. Van Rensselaer’s 1845 Petition

KVR Petition A2019_178_0002DS1The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's Van Gorden-Williams Digital Collections website features nearly a thousand documents in twelve different collections. This week we’re highlighting a 177-year-old document from the Scottish Rite Documents collection.

"I most humbly beg leave to offer myself as a candidate for admission into your Illustrious and Puissant Council..." reads this petition addressed to the Supreme Council, 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, and signed by Killian Henry Van Rensselaer (1800-1881), a 44-year-old Mason from New York, in 1845. This petition was the first step toward Van Rensselaer becoming an Active Member of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s Supreme Council. In less than twenty years, Van Rensselaer would become its sixth Sovereign Grand Commander, serving from 1861-67. The process by which Van Rensselaer received the 33rd degree is very different from how it works today.

Portrait of Killian Van Rensselaer for webVan Rensselaer’s petition documents the activities of the Supreme Council at the time. Viewed in a broader context, this slip of paper shows the work of John James Joseph Gourgas (1777-1865), the NMJ’s Sovereign Grand Commander from 1832 through 1851, and helps tell the story of the rebirth of the NMJ in the 1840s.

Gourgas, living in New York City, along with Schenectady-based Giles Fonda Yates (1798-1859), had essentially kept the Scottish Rite’s NMJ alive from 1826 through the early 1840s. During this time, a social and political movement, now known as the Anti-Masonic Movement, curtailed much Masonic activity in the Northeast of the United States and brought the Supreme Council’s official activities to a standstill. During these years, Gourgas and Yates were effectively a Supreme Council of two people, preserving the organization’s records and corresponding with one another about the plight of American Freemasonry from the late 1820s through the early 1840s. When the social climate changed and members began to rebuild Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the early 1840s, Gourgas and Yates sought to find brothers, like Van Rensselaer, who could help revive the Council, starting in 1844. Van Rensselaer’s petition is part of that story. With the exception of Van Rensselaer’s signature, the petition is entirely in the handwriting of John James Joseph Gourgas (1777-1865). Gourgas wrote out this petition—Van Rensselaer needed only to sign it.

Becoming a 33° Member

Today, no one petitions to become a 33° Member or to join the Supreme Council. Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret (i.e., 32° Members) are nominated, elected, and then created Sovereign Grand Inspectors General of the 33rd degree. Most 33° Scottish Rite Members are non-voting Honorary Members, a rank of 33° that the Supreme Council created in 1865. The Supreme Council itself is comprised of Active Members who serve on various committees and have voting privileges within the Council. When a seat opens on the Supreme Council, an Honorary Member is elevated to the rank of Active Member to fill it.

In 1845, the category of 33° Honorary Member did not exist, so any Sublime Prince who was crowned a 33° was automatically an Active Member of the Supreme Council. Van Rensselaer was among the seven new members who Gourgas and Yates selected to expand the Supreme Council in 1844 and 1845. These additions turned the Supreme Council into a nine-member group, as prescribed by the Constitutions. If not for Gourgas and Yates, it is unlikely that the NMJ’s Supreme Council would have survived. Not only did they keep safe the documents of the Supreme Council, NMJ, during the Council’s inactivity, but, when Freemasonry came back to life in the 1840s, they recruited enthusiastic Masons like Van Rensselaer to help rebuild the Scottish Rite fraternity in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction.

If you’d like to take a closer look at Van Rensselaer’s petition, visit the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections site.

Captions:

Handwritten petition for Killian H. Van Rensselaer, 1845. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite, SC 300.002.

Killian H. Van Rensselaer in Proceedings of the Supreme Council, 1883. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 17.9735 Un58 1882. Photograph by David Bohl.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2022 issue of The Northern Light.


New to the Collection: Pyramid Court Daughters

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Members of Pyramid Court No. 17, 1960s. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 2022.008.4.

In this photograph, new to the collection in 2022, a group of women wearing white dresses and either white fezzes or a crown poses for a photo with a man in a suit wearing a darker fez. This image features members of a women’s auxiliary group of Prince Hall Shriners, the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles Mystic Shrine of North and South America and Its Jurisdictions, Inc. in Philadelphia in the 1960s. Historically Black fraternal groups in the United States have a fascinating history and objects like this photograph help us better understand it.

Based on organization proceedings and area newspapers, this photo appears to show members of Pyramid Court No. 17, Imperial Court Auxiliary, A.E.A.O.N.M.S., Philadelphia along with one member of Pyramid Temple No. 1, A.E.A.O.N.M.S., also of Philadelphia. The A.E.A.O.N.M.S. was founded in 1893 in Chicago as a charitable, benevolent, fraternal, and social organization, dedicated to the welfare and extension of Prince Hall Freemasonry. Its women’s auxiliary was founded in 1910 in Detroit. The latter group was established at the behest of a committee headed by Hannah Brown, Esther Wilson, and Lucy Blackburn, wives of Prince Hall Shriners from Maryland, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. These women and others had already created eight “courts” (similar to Shrine Temples or Masonic lodges) for female relatives of A.E.A.O.N.M.S. members. In 1909, they requested an official “Grand Court” to oversee the activities of the local groups.

This international organization, then known as the Imperial Grand Court of the Daughters of Isis, is now called the Imperial Court. The organization boasts more than nine thousand members that meet in more than two hundred courts throughout the United States, as well as Canada, Bahamas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Korea and Western Europe. Members are known as Daughters.

Their regalia includes ceremonial collars worn with white dresses, shoes, and gloves, along with white fezzes or crowns. Decorated with embroidery and/or rhinestones, these fezzes bear the name of the owner’s court and a profile of the Egyptian goddess Isis. When a Daughter serves as Imperial Commandress, the presiding officer of a court, she wears a crown in place of a fez. In this photograph, since a woman in the center of the group wears a crown, she was likely the Imperial Commandress of Pyramid Court No. 17 when the photo was taken.

In their analysis of African American fraternal groups over a period of around one hundred fifty years, social scientists Theda Skocpol and Jennifer Lynn Oser found that “black women played an unusually strong role in African American fraternal federations.” The Imperial Court is an excellent example of Black women leading fraternal groups. It exists because women who were already organizing local courts applied for official recognition from A.E.A.O.N.M.S. The auxiliary’s schedule of meetings, fundraising events, and annual sessions is very similar to that of the brother organization.

In the past and today, the women’s and men’s groups under the umbrella of the A.E.A.O.N.M.S. gather together at an annual joint session. Daughters of the Imperial Court Auxiliary and Nobles of A.E.A.O.N.M.S. work together at all levels to accomplish the charitable, social, and Masonic goals of Prince Hall Shriners.

If you know of or have any materials related to the A.E.A.O.N.M.S. or its women’s auxiliary, please let us know by writing in the comments section below.

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References and Further Reading: