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August 2010

New to the Collection: St. John's Lodge Officers Photo

2008_001DS1 The National Heritage Museum photograph collection is a treasure trove with images of people, places and events from the 1840s to the present.  We often include photographs from the collection in our exhibitions and they can be invaluable when we are researching a particular person or fraternal group.

This photo, which was donated to the Museum recently by Harriet Dinsmoor Parish, depicts the officers of Boston’s St. John’s Lodge.  Mrs. Parish had kept this photo because her father, Clyde M. Dinsmoor (b. 1888), appears at far left in the back row.  The Masonic regalia that he wears indicates that he was the lodge’s Tyler.  In Freemasonry, the Tyler guards the entrance to the lodge room during meetings, allowing members and non-members to enter at the appropriate times.  By checking the records of St. John’s Lodge, we were able to narrow down the date of the photo to the late 1930s.  The picture was probably taken between 1936 and 1940, shortly after the lodge officers were elected for the coming year.

In addition to documenting the lodge officers, the photograph also helps us understand how the lodge room was decorated in the late 1930s.  In addition to three Masonic chairs, there are two flags visible and a stand with two bunches of carved grapes.  These grapes are a prized possession owned by St. John’s Lodge.  Formed in 1733, just after Henry Price established the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, St. John’s Lodge is the oldest duly constituted lodge in the United States.  The grapes have a history of hanging outside Boston’s Bunch of Grapes tavern where St. John’s Lodge first met.  The tavern opened in 1712 and played host to Henry Price when he constituted the first Masonic bodies in America.  Hanging outside the tavern’s entrance, the grapes identified it at a glance to passersby.

Officers of St. John’s Lodge, 1936-1940, Boston, Massachusetts.  National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Harriet Dinsmoor Parish, 2008.001. 

What's the Difference Between a Monitor and a Ritual Book?

Masonic libraries, like the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, have multiple editions of various books that are called "monitors," and which, at first glance, look a lot like books that contain Masonic rituals. So what's the difference between a monitor and a ritual book?

McClenachan_Fourth_Degree_web It might help to start with an analogy. One can think of Masonic degree ritual as a sort of morality play, in which the candidate is the main protagonist and other members of the lodge take on other dramatic roles in the cast. (This is more true of Scottish Rite ritual than other Masonic ritual, but all Masonic ritual is presented in a dramatic form.) Ritual books contain the scripts to these "plays," and contain material that is considered either secret or not intended for non-members. Monitors, on the other hand, contain the non-secret excerpts of rituals, lectures, and other ceremonies, and are sometimes a bit more like the CliffsNotes or SparkNotes version of the play. In other words, monitors include extracts of parts of Masonic ritual that, when read, may give the reader a general sense of the ritual while including neither the text of the ritual itself, nor the passwords, signs, grips, etc. that are a part of what Masons pledge not to reveal to non-Masons. Most monitors, however, presume a familiarity with Masonic ritual, so the average reader may still find reading a monitor a somewhat confusing adventure. Historians interested in Freemasonry can use monitors to see how Masonic ritual has changed over time.

Monitors exist for the Craft degrees (i.e. the first three degrees), Scottish Rite, York Rite, and various other degrees. Monitors of Scottish Rite ritual often include descriptions of how the lodge room or stage is decorated and often contain an outline of the narrative story of the degree. Monitors of the Craft degrees usually contain excerpts from the various "lectures" in which the metaphorical meaning of various Masonic symbols is explained. An example of this can be found in the description of the plumb, level, and square in a monitor published in 1861:

The Plumb admonishes us to walk uprightly in our several stations before God and man, squaring our actions by the Square of our virtue, and remembering that we are traveling upon the Level of time, to that undiscovered country, from whose bourn [i.e. destination] no traveler returns.

McClenachan_Ninth_Degree_web Despite the popular impression that Masonic ritual does not change, the fact is that it does - especially in the Scottish Rite's Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. The first official Scottish Rite monitor was Charles T. McClenachan's The Book of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, which was published in conjunction with the "Union of 1867" when two competing Scottish Rite Supreme Councils merged to form the present day Supreme Council, 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A.

McClenachan's monitor provides a peek into what Scottish Rite degrees were like almost 150 years ago. It might surprise Scottish Rite Masons today to find that in those days, Scottish Rite ritual was not staged in a theater setting (that innovation came a bit later), but took place in the same kind of rectangular lodge room in which the Craft degrees are held. The illustrations seen here are from McClenachan's monitor, and show an artist's rendering of how the lodge room was to be decorated for the Fourth Degree, Secret Master (above, left) and the Ninth Degree, Knights Elect of Nine (above, right). It's worth noting that these depictions don't represent current Scottish Rite ritual in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. In fact, as Arturo de Hoyos has pointed out, ritual in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction has changed so often over the years, that a mere three years after the publication of McClenachan's book it was already outdated.

For more information about Scottish Rite monitors, we recommend "Scottish Rite Monitors: A Brief Overview," which can be found in Arturo de Hoyos's The Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor and Guide. C. DeForrest Trexler's The Degree Rituals of The Supreme Council, 33°, AASR, for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction United States of America, published by the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's Supreme Council in 2008, is the definitive overview of the history of the development of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's degrees.

Sources mentioned

Rob Morris. The Freemason's Monitor, or Illustrations of Masonry, by Thomas Smith Webb... Cincinnati, OH: Published by John Sherer, 1861.
Call number: 14 .W368 1861

Charles T. McClenachan's The Book of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. New York: Masonic Publishing and Manufacturing, Co., 1867.
Call number: 14.7 .M126 1867 [Also available online]

Arturo de Hoyos. The Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor and Guide. Washington, DC: The Supreme Council 33°, Southern Jurisdiction, 2007.
Call number: REF 14.7 .D4 2007

C. DeForrest Trexler. The Degree Rituals of The Supreme Council, 33°, AASR, for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction United States of America. Lexington, MA: Supreme Council, 33°, AASR, NMJ, 2008.
Call number: 14.6 .T75 2008 [Also available online, from this page on the Supreme Council's website]

All the Way with LBJ!

2009_071DP1 In a previous post, we showed a few of the political textiles in the National Heritage Museum collection.  Recently, we were given an object associated with Lyndon Baines Johnson’s (1908-1973) 1964 campaign – a red plastic Stetson-style cowboy hat.

The silver label on the front shows a steer’s head and the initials LBJ.  The donor and her siblings wore this hat during childhood play, but it probably dates to the 1964 Democratic convention.  During the election that year, Johnson ran against Republican Barry Goldwater (1909-1998).  Johnson’s campaign images focused on his identity as a Texan; he was often photographed wearing a hat like this one.

After the shocking assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) in November 1963, Johnson vowed to continue to pursue the slain president’s goals, particularly working on civil rights initiatives.  Johnson gained popularity during the remainder of Kennedy’s term and it was clear early on that he would be victorious in 1964.  The only question was how large the landslide would be.  Indeed, election night 1964 found Johnson the winner, with 61% of the vote and the widest popular margin in history – more than 15 million votes.

Incidentally, Johnson did receive the first Masonic degree, Entered Apprentice, in 1937 at Johnson City Lodge No. 561, Johnson City, Texas.  But he did not receive the second and third degrees, so is not included on the list of U.S. Presidents who were Freemasons.

LBJ Cowboy Hat, ca. 1964, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Susan Ward, 2009.071.  Photograph by David Bohl.


Roger A. Fischer, Tippecanoe and Trinkets Too: The Material Culture of American Presidential Campaigns, 1828-1984, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., ed., Running for President: The Candidates and Their Images, volume 2, 1900-1992, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.

Jordan M. Wright, Campaigning for President, New York: Smithsonian Books, 2008.

The Royal Neighbors of America

2006_003_9DP1 In 2006, the National Heritage Museum received a set of five fraternal banners that had originally belonged to the donor's grandmother.  When they were sent to us, the donor explained that his grandmother, Elsie Hlava Meek (1886-1969), was an active member of the Order of the Eastern Star and suggested that the banners were related to that group.

Initial examination quickly established that they were not Eastern Star banners, but determing their correct origin took some effort.  Each banner depicts a symbol and has a word painted above: Endurance; Faith; Modesty; Unselfishness; and Courage.  By searching for these terms on the internet, the group of origin was identified as The Royal Neighbors of America.  Initially founded in 1888 as a social group, Royal Neighbors was chartered in 1895 as a fraternal benefit society for women "to bring joy and comfort into many homes that might otherwise today be dark and cheerless...by affording the mother an opportunity to provide protection upon her life."  The group's first "Camps" were established in Iowa and Nebraska.  Initially, Royal Neighbors was a ladies' auxiliary to the Modern Woodmen of America, but dissolved its affiliation with that group in 1929.

By 1910, RNA had 250,000 members and was the leading women's benefit society in the United States.  As early as 1911, the group supported the cause of universal suffrage, well pre-dating the achievement of the vote for women in 1920.  In 1931, the Royal Neighbors National Home opened its doors to provide "the comforts of a home...for deserving members of our society, in need of such a service," pursuing this goal until the home closed in 2004.  The organization remains active today, providing life insurance and pursuing community service activities.  2006_003_6DP1

Elsie Meek, the last owner of the banners, probably belonged to Ivy Camp #1806 in Ravenna, Nebraska.  From 1920 to 1923, she was also a member of Aster Chapter #258 of the Eastern Star.

Royal Neighbors of America Banners, 1910-1940, American, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of A.J. Meek, 2006.003.6, 9.  Photographs by David Bohl.

Henry Gassett's Catalogue of Books on the Masonic Institution

Gassett_Catalogue_of_Masonic_Institution_web In the fall of 1831, around the time that former U.S. Attorney General William Wirt was nominated as the Anti-Masonic political party's presidential candidate for the 1832 election, a prominent Boston businessman named Henry Gassett presented a number of anti-Masonic publications to the libraries of Harvard College, Amherst College, and Andover Theological Seminary.  Gassett would continue this practice of giving gifts of anti-Masonic literature to public and academic libraries for the next twenty years. Although his first gifts were given to libraries in his home state of Massachusetts, Gassett later sent anti-Masonic books and pamphlets to libraries as far west as Utah, as well as to numerous libraries outside the U.S., mostly in Great Britain.

In 1852, Gassett published his Catalogue of Books on the Masonic Institution, In Public Libraries of Twenty-Eight States of the Union, Anti-Masonic in Arguments and Conclusions, a book that lists the name of each institution, date of gift, and list of anti-Masonic titles that he donated (see image).

Henry Gassett (1774-1855) was a dry-goods importer described by one biographer as "an intimate personal friend of John Quincy Adams." Adams, of course, was perhaps the most prominent politician who supported anti-Masonry during the late 1820s and 1830s, and published his own anti-Masonic book in 1847. Gassett lacked neither political influence nor finances in getting anti-Masonic publications into libraries. He is listed in an 1846 publication entitled "Our First Men:" A Calendar of Wealth, Fashion, and Gentility; Containing a List of Those Persons Taxed in the City of Boston, Credibly Reported to Be Worth One Hundred Thousand Dollars, With Biographical Notices of the Principal Persons. Gassett was heavily involved in the Anti-Masonic political party; in 1831, he served as one of the delegates from Massachusetts' Suffolk County at the Anti-Masonic political party's national convention in Baltimore, Maryland in September 1831 at which Wirt was nominated.

Gassett clearly perceived that if he gave books freely to libraries, they were likely to accept his gift and add the books to their collections. And he was, on the whole, correct. In part, Gassett was successful because he was doing this at such an early time in the history of American libraries, a time before the professional field of librarianship had developed and when selection of materials for libraries was decidedly more haphazard. Charles Ammi Cutter (1837-1903), colleague of Melvil Dewey (1851-1931), and an important early leader in the new field of library science, wrote the following in 1891 about Gassett's attempt to use public libraries "for the purposes of propagandism":

"Some 40 years ago Henry Gassett, during the Anti-Masonry trouble, presented to over 100 libraries a series of books opposed to the society. These, so far as we are aware, are the only distinct attempts that have been made as yet to disseminate a doctrine or opinion through the library, and were not only of trifling extent, but were made at a period when libraries were both inadequate and little used. Now we have organized societies for spreading particular theories and arguments, yet it is to be questioned if they take advantage of this extremely cheap and advantageous way."
Today, scholars interested in the history of printing and anti-Masonry may be strangely grateful to Gassett for his 1852 book. As William L. Cummings wrote in his 1963 book A Bibliography of Anti-Masonry, "[Gassett's Catalogue of Books on the Masonic Institution] has proved very helpful in locating collections in which some of the more rare Anti-Masonic items could be found." More recent scholarly bibliographies, such as Kent Walgren's 2-volume 2003 publication Freemasonry, Anti-Masonry and Illuminism in the United States, 1734-1850: A Bibliography, also owe an odd debt to Gassett's fervent, twenty-year campaign to insure that libraries throughout the United States (and a handful beyond) contained works of anti-Masonry on their shelves.

As for whether any of these institutions still have Gassett's gifts in their collection, we'd love to know. If you're one of the libraries that was gifted anti-Masonic works from Gassett, are any of these books in your special collections? It would also be interesting to know (most likely through property stamps on books) whether any of these books made their way out of public or academic libraries and into any Masonic libraries.

Sources mentioned

Cummings, William L. A Bibliography of Anti-Masonry. 2nd ed. Revised and enlarged. New York: Press of Henry Emmerson, 1963.
Call number: 04.4 .C971 1963

Gassett, Henry. Catalogue of Books on the Masonic Institution, In Public Libraries of Twenty-Eight States of the Union, Anti-Masonic in Arguments and Conclusions, By Distinguished Literary Gentlemen, Citizens of the United States: With Introductory Remarks, and a Compilation of Records and Remarks. Boston: Printed by Damrell & Moore, 1852.
Call number: RARE 19.G252 1852

Walgren, Kent Logan. Freemasonry, Anti-Masonry and Illuminism in the United States : 1734-1850: A Bibliography. Worcester, MA : American Antiquarian Society, 2003. 2 volumes.
Call number: REF 04 .W165 2003