On the last day of Black History Month, we’re taking a look at a fascinating fez from an African American women’s order with an intriguing history.
The group, known as the Imperial Court, is an auxiliary to the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Members of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. The A.E.A.O.N.M.S., founded in 1893, is dedicated to the welfare and extension of Prince Hall Freemasonry. Its women’s auxiliary was founded in 1910 in Detroit, Michigan. The Imperial Court boasts more than nine thousand members in more than two hundred courts throughout the United States, as well as Canada, Bahamas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Korea, and Western Europe. According to the Imperial Court website, the group “recognizes and celebrates the historic and current achievement of African American women . . .”
Members are known as Daughters and their regalia includes ceremonial collars worn with white dresses, shoes, and gloves, along with white fezzes or crowns. A Daughter serving as the Court’s current Imperial Commandress, its highest office, wears a crown in lieu of a fez. Members’ fezzes bear the name and number of the owner’s court and a stylized profile view of the Egyptian goddess Isis. If the Daughter served as an Illustrious Commandress, her fez will bear the title Past Illustrious Commandress.
This fez was once owned by a member of Menelik Court No. 53, in Oakland, California. This court was founded in 1922, only a dozen years after the national organization was established. The court celebrated its centennial last year. According to the desert-inspired terminology used by Shrine groups, Menelik Court is in the “Oasis of Oakland” in the “Desert of California.”
The fez is made of white wool decorated with embroidery, multi-colored rhinestones, and a tassel. Many fezzes from the Imperial Court were similarly ornamented. In addition to the designs on the front, this fez has rhinestone-studded tassel holders on the side to keep its long black tassel in place. With this volume of rhinestones, ceremonial parades featuring Imperial Court Daughters had a certain sparkle to them. You can visit the links below for images of the group, including a photograph from the 1950s where five Menelik Court Daughters in their fezzes are shown being driven in a parade in Oakland. Their driver wears the fez of Menelik Temple No. 36, Menelik Court’s corresponding A.E.A.O.N.M.S chapter.
The fezzes worn by Imperial Court Daughters, A.E.A.O.N.M.S. Nobles, and other fraternal members came from regalia supply companies located all over the United States. The Menelik Court fez in our collection bears a tag on the inside that reads: "Styled By Cincinnati Regalia, 113 W. Fourth St. 4th FL, Cincinnati, OH 45202.” The Cincinnati Regalia Company (1895 - 1998) supplied costumes, accessories, and ritual items to Masonic and other fraternal groups, as well as uniforms and equipment to municipal and voluntary organizations.
This regalia maker was located at a number of different addresses along Fourth Street during its century of operations. The January 5, 1986 Cincinnati Enquirer ran an ad for an auction of “odds & ends from Cincinnati Regalia Co. relocating from 139 W. 4th Street to 113 W. 4th Street.” When the company folded in 1998, its final address was 113 W. 4th Street, so it appears the company was located at that address from 1986-1998. This information from the tag helps date our fez to within those dozen years.
This stylish item helps the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library tell a story of local African American organizations and national regalia supply companies. If you’d like to learn more about the Imperial Court, visit a post we published about a photograph of Daughters from Philadelphia. For more on this fez and the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s African American fraternal material, you can dig into a recent article in The Northern Light.
- Menelik Court Daughters photos from Royal E. Towns Collection at Oakland Public Library: