Apron

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

A2023_168_001DS1
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.

A2023_168_001DS2_rotated
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.

References

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


Abner W. Pollard Masonic Aprons in Photographs

UN2000_0063DS2From the mid-1840s through the 1860s, merchant tailor Abner W. Pollard (1808-1886) sold Masonic aprons and other regalia to Freemasons throughout New England from his store in Boston. An 1849 price list published by Pollard notes several of the different types of aprons he offered to his customers. Included on this list were Master’s aprons in satin for $2.50 to $3.00. A less costly option was a Master’s apron in leather for $00.75 to $1.00. Polland’s price list also noted a painted satin Royal Arch apron for $5.00. Many examples of the aprons that Pollard sold survive to the present day. The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library holds aprons marked by Pollard and others attributed to Pollard in its collection, as well as several on loan to the museum by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts. Surviving examples of Pollard’s aprons with histories of ownership show that he supplied regalia to many lodges in Massachusetts, including lodges in Cambridge, Andover, Dorchester, and the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in Boston.

Photographic portraits of Freemasons wearing Pollard aprons provide evidence of the popularity of Pollard’s designs beyond his home state. Photographer William Weiman Peabbles (1831-1901) who worked in Livermore Falls, Maine, captured this image of a man in his street clothes, a top hat, and what appears to be one of Pollard’s aprons (at left). The relatively plain apron in the photograph bears an image of the jewel of a Senior Deacon, an officer in a Masonic lodge. This design, though it features a Senior Deacon’s jewel, or badge of office, appears to have been used broadly by Master Masons and by lodge officers. The “Master’s aprons” on Pollard’s 1849 price list may have been similar in style to the apron in this portrait. Extant examples of aprons like this one are printed on white silk edged in pleated light blue silk ribbon and silver trim. Others were printed on leather, such as this one with a history of having been used at Union Lodge in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

A Freemason who had his photograph taken in White River Junction, Vermont, wore what is likely one of Pollard’s aprons designed for 2008_038_52DS1members of Royal Arch chapters. He donned the apron and a sash over his street clothes of a vest and pants in a matching pattern and a coordinating coat. The apron that the subject of this portrait (at right) posed in likely resembles this example edged in pleated red silk ribbon.

After almost two decades of outfitting Freemasons, Pollard retired, turning his business over to his son. Abner Pollard’s work survives not only in examples of silk and leather aprons he sold, but also in portraits of proud Freemasons wearing his products.  

Photo credits:

Man in Apron, 1860-1870. William Weiman Peabbles (1831-1901), Livermore Falls, Maine. Special Acquisitions Fund, 88.42.158.

Man in Royal Arch Regalia, 1860-1863. Culver Brothers and Hodges, White River Junction, Vermont. Gift in Memory of Jacques Noel Jacobsen, 2008.038.52.

References:

Aimee E. Newell, The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library (Lexington, Massachusetts: Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 2015), 167-169.

Abner W. Pollard, Price Sheet, 1849, Boston, Massachusetts. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Gift of Maria C. Rogers, A2006/57/3.


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

2008_026_1DI2 - small
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.

2008_026_1DI1 - small
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.

---

Further Reading:

 


The North Shore Lace Industry

GL2004_0143T1
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.