An Emblem of Scottish Identity

Fraternal Ribbon Badge for Clan McLean No. 105, Order of Scottish Clans, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Museum Purchase, 2003.022.7.

Fraternal ribbon badges were worn on a member’s lapel for meetings, conventions, and other gatherings. They served to identify members of a fraternal group both to fellow members and to the general public. Some ribbon badges were colored or designed differently for the different occasions that a member might attend. This ribbon badge provided its owner with two options—one side for somber occasions and one side for festive occasions.

One side of this badge is plaid with silver printed text: “CLAN / MCLEAN / NO. 105, O. S. C. / HALIFAX, N. S.” The badge has a pin bar at the top bearing a pair of clasped hands and another bar hanging below bearing the word “Member.” Below hangs a pendant with gold filigree around a circular button with the seal of the organization: a lion on a shield on top of crossed lines (referencing Scotland’s St. Andrew’s cross flag) in the center, flanked by Scottish thistles, and the letters “B” at the top, “O. S. C.” at the bottom.

These initials stand for the Benevolent Order of Scottish Clans, a fraternal group with both American and Canadian members. The organization, which was often called the Order of Scottish Clans, was founded in St. Louis, Missouri in 1878. Later headquarters were in Boston, Massachusetts. Its goals were kinship for persons of Scottish descent, financial benefits to members in case of illness or death, preservation of the cultural traditions of Scotland, freedom from political and theological sectarianism, and loyalty to the laws and governments of their countries.

Membership was initially open only to men of Scottish descent, although women’s auxiliary groups existed, such as the Daughters of Scotia, founded in Connecticut in 1895. During the latter years of the O.S.C.’s existence, in response to declining enrollment, women of Scottish descent became eligible for full membership in the order. Despite this recruitment effort, on July 22, 1972, the Order of Scottish Clans merged into the Independent Order of Foresters and became the Order of Scottish Clans High Court, I.O.F.

Fraternal Ribbon Badge for Clan McLean No. 105, Order of Scottish Clans, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Museum Purchase, 2003.022.7.

Clan McLean No. 105, the group noted on this object, was founded in 1892 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. W. G. Waddell, Deputy Royal Chief of the Nova Scotia O.S.C., called a meeting “with the view of organizing a clan in this city.” The group celebrated its 37th anniversary in 1929. According to the Halifax newspaper The Evening Mail, “This Clan has always actively assisted in cultivating fond recollections of Scotland, its history and traditions, its literature and ideals, its minstrelsy and song, and its customs and amusements. In past years the Scottish concerts under the auspices of the Clan, especially on Burns' Anniversary, were musical treats of a high order which were always well patronized and enjoyed by citizens of the city.”

The reverse side of this ribbon badge is solid black and bears the same inscription as the front. The badge’s owner would have chosen this more sober side on the occasion of a fraternal funeral. In November 1892, less than a year after the group formed, the Halifax Herald printed a notice that “the Officers and Members of Clan McLean are requested to attend the funeral of their late Clansman HUGH MURRAY.” Its owner may have worn the plaid side for a joyous occasion, such as annual conventions of the Order of Scottish Clans. One of these gatherings was held in Halifax in 1903. However the owner wore it, this ribbon badge was a versatile emblem of Scottish identity for its owner.

New to the Collection: Apron Made by Harriet Van Rensselaer

2024_10_1DI1 Harriet Van Rensselaer apronHere at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, we are always excited to add a new and interesting Masonic apron to the museum's holdings. This apron, a recent gift to the collection, sheds light on who made Masonic aprons in the early 1800s and the different designs that inspired their work.

One of the compelling aspects of this apron is a multi-part inscription--assumed to have been made by the person who crafted it--inked 2024_10_1DI2 on the back of the object.  This inscription (at right) reads: "Harriet Van Rensselaer/Maker/Chittenango/June 13 1826."

This intriguing inscription tells us that this apron was the work of a female apron maker. Even though women were excluded from Freemasonry because of their gender, many women worked to support the Masons in their families. Sometimes this work took the shape of creating the aprons that Masons wore to meetings or for special events. In crafting this apron, Harriet delineated Masonic symbols in colored paint on velvet, a popular painting technique in the early 1800s. This apron displayed her skill in the trendy painting style. 

As noted on the apron, Harriet resided in Chittenango, a community in Madison County, New York. The Harriet Van Rensselaer who signed this apron was likely the woman (born Harriet Merritt Morehouse, 1801-1847) married to Philip Sanders Van Rensselaer (1801-1882).  For a few years in the mid-1820s, the couple lived in Chittenango. Later they moved t0 Ohio. Harriet's children were young in the 1820s, she may have made this apron for her husband. What lodge Philip Sanders Van Rensselaer belonged to is not known--research into this object is ongoing--but Masons in and near Chittenango had established a lodge in the area called Sullivan Lodge No. 109 in 1804. If he was an active Freemason during the time he and his wife lived in Chittenango, he might have attended meetings at this lodge.

For inspiration in making this apron, Harriet Van Rensselaer drew on a printed apron designed by Giles Fonda Yates (ca. 1798–1859) (see an example below)​​. The engraving firm Balch, Rowdon and Co. of Albany, New York, cut the plate for Yates' design and, according to a date printed on the apron, produced it in 1821. Van Rensselaer modified Yates’s richly detailed design. She changed the location of some elements and omitted others to suit her composition and the materials she used to make this apron. For example, she moved symbols that represented Masonic constitutions and a lodge charter.  Yates shows these emblems on the black and white pavement at the center of the apron. Harriet placed them on either side of the pavement, the light background of this area of the apron making the symbols more easily visible.

Together these two signed Masonic aprons offer insight into how ideas about how different artists expressed the visual culture of Freemasonry in the 1820s.

Photo credits:

Apron Made by Harriet Van Rensselaer, 1826. Chittenango, New York. Gift of Francis. I. Karwowski, 2024.10.1. Special thanks to Paul Deluca for photographing this apron.

Apron Designed by Giles Fonda Yates, 1821. . Engraved by Balch, Rowdon and Co., Albany, New York. Special Acquisitions Fund, 78.77. Photograph by David Bohl.

78_77DP1DB Yates


Recent Acquisition Highlight: Companions of the Forest Membership Certificate



The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library recently purchased a striking membership certificate issued by Pride of Flushing Circle, No. 437, to Amanda Karlson on June 19, 1901. The Pride of Flushing Circle was a part of the Companions of the Forest, an auxiliary organization to the Foresters of America. Companions of the Forest met in chapters called “circles” and the Foresters of America met in chapters called “courts.” The Foresters of America traces its roots to a British fraternal organization called the Ancient Order of Foresters. The organization drew on imagery of Robin Hood and the Bible, particularly the Garden of Eden. This can be seen in the forest scenes and the garland of red roses and blue flowers, potentially blue bells, on the membership certificate.

The Companions of the Forest was established on June 7, 1883, with the motto “Sociability, Sincerity, and Constancy.” The organization was open to white men and women between the ages of eighteen and fifty who were Foresters or the wives or “lady acquaintances” of the Foresters of America. The Companions of the Forest sought “to improve members morally, socially, and mentally” and provided sick and death benefits. Within the first ten years of the organization’s founding, there were 20,000 members in the United States.

The organization was patriotic. This can be seen in the eagle and American flag imagery in the certificate, as well as in the way that they opened their meetings by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. During initiation, the new members pledged to “honor the flag…and to glorify it.” This patriotic fervor was common in many American fraternal organizations at the time, and reflected the nationalism, assimilationist, and anti-immigrant sentiment that could be found in American society in the early twentieth century. The Companions of the Forest funneled this patriotism into the aim of world peace with the United States leading the way. A prayer included in a 1929 ritual book stated, in part, “as men in their expression enlist for war, so must woman in their natural spirit of protection enlist for peace.”

Although we have not yet discovered much about Amanda Karlson, who received this certificate, there are some traces of the Pride of Flushing Circle, No. 437, found in newspapers. The Pride of Flushing Circle, No. 437, was established in 1898 with a founding membership of twenty-three in Flushing, New York. The Time Union newspaper noted the successful and popular events hosted by the Circle. The paper stated that "the circle lays great stress upon its beneficial features. In the case of sickness of members they receive $5 a week during their illness. A death benefit is also given at the death of either a member of her husband.” The last mention of the organization in the newspaper was a notice for euchre night, a trick taking card game, on February 2, 1910.

These organizations acted as a social outlet and safety net for women in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For the Companions of the Forest, this sentiment is emphasized in an 1896 ritual book, which states “our circle represents the home circle, where mutual aid and interest in the welfare of each member hold supreme sway…with the parties and sects of the world we have nothing to do, its disputes and factions we leave behind us. We meet as a family, made so by sociability, sincerity, and constancy.” You can learn more about the Companions of the Forest at the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives.


Photo caption

Membership certificate issued by Pride of Flushing Circle, No. 437, to Amanda Karlson, 1901 June 19, Museum purchase, A2024-029-001.



Constitution and General Laws of the Supreme Circle of the Companions of the Forest (Detroit, MI: John R. Burton, 1883).

Supreme Chief and Supreme Secretary, Companions of the Forest; ritual containing the opening, closing and initiatory ceremonies, also the installation, institution and funeral ceremonies. Together with diagrams of the floor work, (Detroit, MI: A. W. Brookes, Detroit, 1896).

Annie E. Poth, Ritual: Companions of the Forest, (Supreme Circle, 1929).

Flushing Secret Societies: A Fruitful Ground for Fraternal Organizations, Time Union, September 1, 1900

The Memorable Engagement

The Memorable Engagement of Capt. Pearson of the Serapis, December 12, 1780. Daniel Lepinière & James Fittler; John Boydell; Richard Paton, London, England. Special Acquisitions Fund, 78.74.12.

In this 1780 print in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, engravers Daniel Lepinière (ca. 1740–1785) and James Fittler (1758–1835) portrayed an American victory during the Revolutionary War, based on a work by painter Richard Paton (1717–1791). The print presents a moonlit ocean scene off the coast of England, with multiple warships entangled in fiery conflict. Published just over a year after the depicted conflict occurred, this engraving illustrates the Battle of Flamborough Head in vivid detail. The inscription on the bottom edge of the print conveys the English perspective on this historic event.

The two ships at the left of the engraving are the American Bonhomme Richard, commanded by Captain John Paul Jones (1747-1792), and the English Serapis, commanded by Captain Richard Pearson (1731–1806). Jones’ 1776 and 1777 privateering successes along the British coast combined with the 1778 Franco-American Alliance led to Jones’ appointment as captain of the French vessel Duc de Duras in 1779. Jones renamed the ship the Bonhomme Richard to show his respect for Benjamin Franklin, whose Maxims of Poor Richard was wildly popular in Paris at the time.

In August 1779, Jones and the crew of the Bonhomme Richard left Lorient, France, and headed towards England intending to harass English warships and to capture them as prizes if possible. As his squadron, consisting of the flagship and six other vessels, neared the English coast, local citizens prepared for the arrival of the man they considered a swashbuckling pirate. The Northumberland militia was called out and the whole coastline was alarmed.

By fall, Jones’ squadron was off the coast of Yorkshire. On September 23, 1779, battle was engaged between Jones’ group and a forty-one-ship squadron of English warships known as the Baltic fleet, led by the Serapis. Off Flamborough Head, a peninsula near Scarborough, the vastly-outnumbered Americans struck first. As it was a clear night, thousands of onlookers observed the battle from the shore. The majority of the Baltic fleet intentionally steered clear of the conflict, but the Countess of Scarborough was taken as a prize by the American ship Pallas. Eventually, the most bitter and drawn-out fight was between the Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis, the two flagships.

Jones maneuvered his vessel alongside the Serapis and lashed the ships together, rendering their larger guns useless and forcing close combat using smaller arms. When Captain Pearson asked Captain Jones to surrender, the latter uttered his famous retort, “I have not yet begun to fight.” Despite his bravado, Jones later stated that “the scene was dreadful beyond the range of language.”

After more than three hours of vicious fighting, Captain Pearson eventually yielded, striking his flag and sending his sword to Captain Jones. With the Bonhomme Richard sinking beneath them, Jones and his crew boarded Serapis and took her as a prize. On December 27, Jones gave the Serapis to the French Navy as a prize ship. The naval victory was a boost to American morale and a victory for the Franco-American Alliance.

For the British public, the loss was significant. Jones and his squadron had again brought the war to their doorstep. The dedication at the bottom of the print, from painter Richard Paton, may have been an attempt to downplay the American victory: “To Sir Richard Pearson, whose bravery & conduct saved the Baltic Fleet under his Convoy though obliged to submit to a much superior force . . .” While the chaos of combat helped the other ships in the Baltic fleet escape, the loss of many sailors and two large warships was hardly anything to celebrate.

Despite the defeat, Pearson was hailed as a hero in England and received a knighthood. The Scottish-born Jones continued to be reviled in England and celebrated in the American colonies.


Further Reading:

Imposing Upon Masons, the Grand Army of the Republic, and Odd Fellows in 1898

A2022_202_001DS1The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's blog started sixteen years ago this month, with a post about Masonic impostors. Nearly every May since then, we have returned to the topic of Masonic impostors. This year, we are doing it once again.

Although we often write about Masonic impostors, Masons were not the only fraternal group that found themselves imposed upon by people pretending to be members in order to elicit charity. Because fraternal organizations supported their members who were in need, they also became targets of either con men or those in desperate situations, who would pretend to be members and impose upon a fraternity’s inclination to be charitable.

The circular pictured here was issued in 1898 by John W. Laflin, the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin. The notice was likely sent to local Masonic lodges throughout the state and warns of a potential impostor – E.L. Martin, a.k.a. David C. Morgan – who claimed to be a Mason from Missouri, and may have made his way from South Dakota to Wisconsin. Laflin also notes that, in addition to pretending to be a Mason, Martin was also pretending to be a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and the Odd Fellows. In all three cases, Martin apparently presented himself to these three fraternal organizations for charity under false pretenses.

Notices like these were intended to warn others to be aware that they might encounter someone claiming to be a member and imposing upon a lodge’s charity. Because of this, names, lodge affiliations, and a physical description were often key to providing useful, identifiable information. While no photograph accompanies the notice, Laflin paints a vivid portrait of the Martin:

About sixty years of age, about six feet in height, slightly stooped, iron-gray beard, wart on inside corner left eye, eyes blood-shot and bulge slightly, smooth talker. Some teeth are gone causing lips to be slightly sunken.

If you want to learn more about Masonic impostors, including an answer to the question why would someone impersonate a Freemason?, be sure to check out our previous posts on Masonic imposters.


Imposter announcement from Grand Secretary John W. Laflin, 1898 June 3. Museum purchase, A2022/202/001.

Printed Souvenirs of Lafayette's Tour of the United States

Two hundred years ago a hero of the American Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), also known in America as General Lafayette, accepted Congress and President James

75_15_2DP1MC glove

Souvenir Glove, ca. 1824. Gift of George A. Newbury, 75.15.2.

Monroe's invitation to come from his home in France for an extended visit to the United States. When he landed at Castle Garden in New York City on August 16, 1824, throngs of well-wishers greeted Lafayette. As he made his way to City Hall accompanied by a military escort and local dignitaries, cheering admirers—estimated to number 50,000—lined the streets. The party-like atmosphere continued for the next thirteen months as Lafayette visited cities and towns in each of the twenty-four United States. During his tour Lafayette traveled to battlefields, addressed Congress, paid his respects at George Washington’s grave, participated in Masonic ceremonies, and met with friends, among them former comrades in arms and all the living U. S. Presidents. Crowds, church bells, and militias welcomed him at every turn; he was honored by a dazzling number of processions, receptions, and balls.

Commemorative Ribbon, ca. 1824. United States. Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.1403.

Many of the Americans who flocked to see Lafayette and celebrate him as a living connection to the nation's origins sought to display their affection for the hero. Some citizens wore ribbons and badges bearing Lafayette's portrait as they participated in parades and civic events.  An enterprising Boston stationer advertised ribbons adorned with Lafayette’s portrait in 1824. He described his stock as “intended to be worn as a compliment to the General.” The same year the New York City engraving firm of Durand & Wright created “an elegant likeness of the General printed on white satin ribbon, as a badge” that they retailed for 25 cents. The New-York Gazette suggested citizens wear this ribbon “as a token of respect and gratitude to the friend of Washington and our country.”

Countless ribbons (similar to the one below) were printed and worn. On September 1, 1824, Lafayette traveled to Salem, where "two hundred sailors in a neat uniform with Lafayette ribbons upon their hats, greeted the...illustrious benefactor of our country with hearty cheers...." Soon after, in Brooklyn, Lafayette witnessed a demonstration of firefighting at which "Each fireman wore the likeness of Lafayette, with the figures of an engine, on [a] satin ribbon, and the words "Welcome La Fayette, the Nation's Guest." In Boston a group of 2,500 public school students turned out to greet the hero, each with a printed ribbon "bearing a Portrait of Fayette" pinned to their dress or coat.

In addition to ribbons, consumers could purchase other festive items bearing Lafayette's image. Merchants in New Orleans, Nashville, Newport, and Raleigh advertised “Lafayette Gloves,” long for women and short for men, that came from New York—the epicenter of Lafayette-inspired souvenirs and fashions. Dry goods sellers offered sashes, handkerchiefs, cravats, and printed yard goods, all bearing Lafayette’s likeness, to the public. This man's glove (above), an example of one of several styles available to Lafayette fans, bears the legend “Lafayette the Companion of Washington” and "Republican."

Lafayette’s journey through the United States prompted an outpouring of affection for the hero and sparked patriotism throughout the nation. Come learn more about the hero's tour and see these and other souvenirs at an exhibition in the reading room of the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. "Lafayette: The Nation's Guest" is on view now through September 13, 2024. 



"From the New-York Gazette," Hancock Gazette (Belfast, ME), August 25, 1824, 3.

"Reception in Salem," Knoxville Register (Knoxville, TN), September 24, 1824, 2.

"Friend of Washington," American Statesman and City Register (Boston, MA), September 14, 1824, 2.


Auguste Levasseur, Alan R. Hoffman, translator, Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825 (Manchester, NH: Lafayette Press Inc., 2006)





The Lexington Alarm letter - on view and online in 2024!

Lexington alarm letterEach year during the celebration of Patriots’ Day, a Massachusetts state holiday, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library proudly displays an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter—one of several letters created by the colonists to inform other colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England. It gives contemporary viewers a close-up look at the beginning of the American Revolution.

The original alarm letter was written by Joseph Palmer just hours after the Battle of Lexington, which took place around daybreak on April 19, 1775. Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, Massachusetts, near Lexington, had his letter copied by recipients along the Committee of Safety's network. Using this system, the message was distributed far and wide. While the original alarm letter written by Palmer is thought to be lost, the Museum & Library has in its collection this version of his famous description of what happened, which was copied the day after the Battle of Lexington by Daniel Tyler, Jr., of Connecticut.

The letter will be on view at the Museum from April 9 - 27, 2024. (Check the museum's website for specific days and times that we're open.)

In addition to seeing the letter in person, you can also view our online exhibition, “'To all the Friends of American Liberty': The 1775 Lexington Alarm Letter,” which is available on the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. This exhibition takes a close look at the Lexington Alarm letter that is in the Museum & Library's collection.

Lexington Alarm Letter, [April 20, 1775], Daniel Tyler, Jr. (about 1750–1832), copyist, Brooklyn, Connecticut, Museum purchase, A1995/011/1. 

Dr. John Warren's Medical Trunk

Trunk, 1770-1815. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.2055. Photograph by David Bohl.

This leather and wood trunk decorated with brass studs is thought to have belonged to Dr. John Warren (1753-1815) of Massachusetts. Its side handles and manageable size (11-7/8” x 13-1/2” x 24-1/2") made it both portable and practical. Through the service of its dynamic owner, this trunk may have seen military action during the American Revolutionary War.

Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Dr. John Warren was the younger brother of Dr. Joseph Warren, whose death at the Battle of Bunker Hill made him a martyr to the Patriot cause. John Warren studied medicine at Harvard, graduating in 1771. He became a surgeon with a militia regiment commanded by Colonel Timothy Pickering in 1772 and in that capacity, responded to the Battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775.

In 1775, Warren was practicing medicine in Salem, Massachusetts. He traveled with his regiment to the various battles in which he was involved. Like many Massachusetts militia members who were called out for the Lexington Alarm, Warren remained in the Boston area into the month of May. Warren likely brought his own medical supplies with him when he traveled. He owned two amputation kits. Based on the dimensions of these amputation kits, both items could have been carried inside this trunk.

By June 1775, Warren had returned home to Salem and received news of the start of the Battle of Bunker Hill. He hurried down to Cambridge in the early hours of the following morning to treat wounded soldiers. At the same time, Warren fretted about his brother Joseph who had fought during the battle. At one point, Warren left the medical area in Cambridge and went to Bunker Hill to find his brother, asking any and all soldiers he encountered about Joseph’s whereabouts. One of these was a British sentry, and Warren received a bayonet wound to his side in response to his inquiry. Unfortunately, Joseph “fell on the field,” as John later wrote in his diary.

His fervor for the Patriot cause and his brother’s death motivated Warren. According to Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, “He enjoyed helping repulse the raid at Lechmere Point, and, case in hand [emphasis mine], took his post on Cobble Hill at night hoping for another Bunker Hill.” The “case” mentioned in this quote was likely a medical case, possibly this trunk. Cobble Hill was a colonist-fortified hill in Charlestown with an excellent view of Boston Harbor. Warren may have carried his medical supplies in this trunk during the early days of the Revolutionary War when the action was focused in Massachusetts.

It's also possible that Warren brought this trunk with him when the action moved away from Massachusetts. The nascent Continental Army struggled to provide uniforms, firearms, and other supplies to its soldiers. Warren’s medical tools and supplies would have been highly valued and were likely brought with him when he left for New York in May 1776, after the British evacuated from Boston.

Warren later served as Surgeon General of the army hospitals in Long Island, New York and Bethlehem, New Jersey in 1776. In the latter location, he – and possibly this trunk – saw action at the Battles of Trenton and Princeton. Warren also participated in the Rhode Island campaign in 1778, perhaps due to his 1777 marriage to Abigail Collins, the daughter of Rhode Island Governor John Collins.

Dr. John Warren was a knowledgeable and dedicated surgeon, who put his medical skills to use in service of the American cause. This trunk, both substantial enough to hold needed medical supplies and portable enough to carry into battle, is an apt symbol of his service.

50th Anniversary of Cornerstone Laying of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library

Photo 29 for web

This March marks the fiftieth anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in Lexington, Massachusetts. The ceremony took place just a little more than a year before the museum opened to the public. Much to our delight, a 15-minute film of the March 10, 1974 event was made and still exists today in our Library & Archives collection.

The Museum & Library recently had this 16mm film of the event digitized and you can now watch the entire 15-minute film here.

The 1974 Proceedings of the Supreme Council, 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, included a description of the ceremony:

A little more than a year after the groundbreaking ceremonies for the Museum and Library complex occurred, the gray granite cornerstone, gift of the Scottish Rite Masons of New Hampshire, was placed officially with ancient ceremonies conducted by the officers of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, with Grand Master Donald W. Vose presiding.

Some 400 participants and spectators were on hand on a clear but blustery Sunday afternoon for these traditional cornerstone exercises. Active and Emeriti Members of the Supreme Council, who had been in Boston on the preceding days for the Mid-winter Executive Session, served as hosts for the occasion…

Photo 39 for webIn addition to Masonic dignitaries, the ceremony also included representatives of the Town of Lexington, as well as Hugh Shepley from the architectural firm Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott, and Walter Creelman from Turner Construction Company.

Preceding the outside cornerstone laying event, Donald Vose, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, gave remarks in the museum's unfinished lobby. Forty-six “distinguished Masonic guests,” as well as many representatives of the Supreme Council all placed “selected items to be preserved for posterity in the cornerstone box. A wide selection of historical documents and Masonic memorabilia and artifacts were sealed inside the cornerstone…” A list of the contents of the box was printed in the 1974 Proceedings of the Supreme Council.

Following the outdoor cornerstone laying ceremony, the guests reassembled in the lobby, where Sovereign Grand Commander George A. Newbury, 33° delivered remarks. Newbury was the visionary and driving force behind the founding of the museum. In a speech he delivered at the 1972 Annual Session of the Supreme Council, Newbury spoke of his vision:

Our objective is to set up at Lexington a museum and a library devoted primarily to the visual and auditory presentation of facets of American History which will stimulate a lively interest in it and an appreciation of the tremendous achievements of those who founded our Country, established her form of government, developed her institutions and economy, and performed the miracle of bringing her from a scattered group of weak and struggling colonies to a place of World leadership in the phenomenally short period of two hundred years.

...We plan to tell a thrilling story--the story of America.

Were you at the cornerstone laying event or otherwise involved with the founding of the Scottish Rite Museum & Library? We’d love to hear from you!


Photo 29, Museum and Library cornerstone laying photograph album, 1974, Gift of the Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A., A1992-175-001

Photo 39, Museum and Library cornerstone laying photograph album, 1974, Gift of the Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A., A1992-175-001

In a Portrait Studio, Worn with Pride: Prince Hall Freemasonry, Order of Eastern Star, and Real Photo Postcards in the Early Twentieth Century

In celebration of Black History Month and the long history of Prince Hall Freemasonry, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library wanted to highlight a striking new acquisition of a real photo postcard of a Black man standing between two women, with all three wearing Masonic regalia. The man wears a dark suit with a jewel of office pinned on his chest and a Past Master’s apron—identifiable by the common motif of a square and compass with the legs of the compass connected by an arc. The two women are in white dresses, white high heeled shoes, and white stockings. The younger woman, to the right of the man, wears two sashes, one on either shoulder. The one on the left shoulder is more visible, with a band of color running through it, a cockade on the top. The other sash is less visible, although the darker colored folds are clear to see by her waist near the hem of her dress. Any identifying features of the regalia are difficult to discern. Do these sashes mark her as a member of the Order of Eastern Star? The older woman, to the left of the man, was clearly a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, as evidenced by her five-color star apron. Though the picture is black and white, the red, blue, yellow, green, and white in the star are easy to visualize. With her proudly displayed apron, she also wears a necklace, earrings, and a white pin in her hair.

The postcard has no date, no location, nor any hint to the identities of the three people in the photograph. Was this a man and his wife and mother or daughter? Was this a family demonstrating their Masonic pride? The postcard was never sent and was likely kept as a keepsake or handed physically to its intended audience. Postcards were widely popular at the end of the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century in America. In 1913, almost one billion postcards were in sent in the United States, almost ten times the population at that time. Real photo postcards, like the one seen here, were produced on photographic paper with postcard backs. This postcard is undoubtedly a studio portrait—the upper right-hand corner gives a glimpse of the hanging backdrop—that was then printed on photographic postcard stock.

Using the Real Photo Postcard Guide: The People’s Photography, by Robert Bogdan and Todd Weseloh, we were able to estimate the age of the postcard using the distinct design on the back. Bogdan and Weseloh studied thousands of postcard backs to determine the earliest known date and years that the design of the back was in use by manufacturers. This postcard was manufactured by Eastman Kodak Company, which you can tell by the letters AZO surrounding the area for the stamp. The back of the postcard is divided between correspondence and address, which the United States Postal Service allowed after 1907, and the small black squares on the corner of the stamp box are all signifiers that this style of postcard was produced mainly in the 1930s by Eastman Kodak Company.

Though not much is known about the three people in the postcard, the family’s clear pride in their Masonic brotherhood and sisterhood shines through the small photograph and gives a glimpse into Prince Hall Freemasonry and Order of Eastern Star in the early twentieth century. Can you help us identify anyone in this real photo postcard? Do you know what the women’s sashes on the right represent? Please comment below if you have any insight!

Photo Caption

Postcard portraying African American Freemason and two women with regalia, 1930-1939, Museum purchase, A2023/168/001.


Bogdan, Robert and Todd Weseloh. Real Photo Postcard Guide: The People’s Photography. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2006.