Apron

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

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Miniature Rainbow Apron. 1922-1931. 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. 1922-1931.  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:

 


The North Shore Lace Industry

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Masonic Apron, 1780-1800, Unidentified Maker, Probably Massachusetts, Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts Collection, GL2004.0143. Photograph by David Bohl.

I love learning about regional styles of craft and the cultural reasons that associate a particular style or design with a specific area. This is why when I saw a striking apron from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts on long-term loan to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, I was excited.

As recounted in Curiosities of the Craft the name “William O’Brien” is written on the underside of the apron’s flap. William O’Brien (1753-1784) was a member of the O’Brien family of Machias, Maine. William's brother, the famous Captain Jeremiah

O'Brien (1744-1818), is credited with capturing a British ship during the first naval battle of the American Revolution. The most common story associated with this apron was that it was worn during the procession held in memory of George Washington in 1800. However, this story conflicts with existing dates since William O’Brien died in Spain in 1784 and he would have been unable to participate in the processions. It is possible that the apron may have belonged to William but was worn by one of his brothers for the procession. William was a member of the Philanthropic Lodge in Marblehead, Massachusetts, while Jeremiah belonged to the St. Andrews Lodge of Boston.

The apron is made of white leather with “Memento Mori” (Remember Death) written in black ink across the front. While it is easy to be drawn in by this intriguing message, the black lace trimming on the apron also helps to illuminate the object’s history. The lace’s pattern is nearly identical to a pattern made in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Ipswich was the home of a lace industry from approximately the 1750s to 1840. A sample from

Whipple House detailWhipple House detail from The Laces of Ipswich by Marta Cotterell Raffel. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

the Whipple House in Ipswich, an Ipswich historic property named for its first owner, entrepreneur Captain John Whipple (1596-1669), shows striking similarities to the Grand Lodge apron. Both use thicker thread (called gimp) to outline parts of the design. The “spider” motif pattern under the gimp outline near the scalloped edge of the apron lace is very similar to the Whipple House sample. In Laces of Ipswich, Marta Cotterell Raffel explains that lace makers developed the Whipple House pattern in the region. In fact, the Whipple House sample was sent to the Library of Congress as part of a survey of early regional American industries. The marked similarity between the lace on the apron and the Whipple House lace sample supports the story that this apron originated in New England.

No matter who wore the apron, the time and places William and his brothers were active in a time and place when Ipswich lace would have been available. Due to trade embargoes and boycotts of British goods, Ipswich lace may have been a patriotic and also a practical decision. Though delicate and purely ornamental, this black lace helps tell a story of early industry on the North Shore and of the men who fought to win American Independence.

 Kayla Bishop is a volunteer in the Museum's collections department. For the past 5 months, Kayla has assisted in all aspects of collections management. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University.

 

References

Marta Cotterell Raffel, The Laces of Ipswich (Lebanon, New Hampshire, 2003); 86-87, 142-143.

Aimee E. Newell, Hilary Anderson Stelling and Catherine Compton Swanson, Curiosities of the Craft:  Treasures from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection (Boston and Lexington, Massachusetts:  Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, 2013), 234.