Fraternal aprons

Lecture: “In the Neatest Manner at the Shortest Notice: Collaborating on Masonic Aprons”

Master Mason Apron
Master Mason Apron, 1846-1862, A. Sisco Regalia Company, Baltimore, Maryland, Special Acquisitions Fund, 88.42.125. Photograph by David Bohl.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

2 PM

Lecture and book signing by Aimee E. Newell, Ph.D., Director of Collections at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library

A Mason’s apron is one of the most recognizable symbols of Freemasonry. Aprons from the early 1800s were often works of art which reflected a tangible connection between a member and his experience as a Mason. These detailed and symbolically decorated aprons reflect the collaboration between a Mason and the craftsman or woman who created it.

In her lecture Aimee E. Newell, Director of Collections and author of book The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library will discuss the relationships that produced many early-1800s Masonic aprons. Using examples from the Museum’s collection, Dr. Newell will discuss how each apron represented a unique collaboration between Mason and maker. One example is a painted apron made in the 1820s in Salem, Massachusetts. Maker Nathan Lakeman and client Charles Peabody were fellow Jordan Lodge members suggesting a shared understanding of the symbolism depicted on the apron. Aimee E. Newell, Ph.D.

Newell will also discuss the role of female makers in apron construction. Although barred from membership, women were not absent from the temple; they employed a working knowledge of Masonic symbolism to create aprons. Like many other craftsmen of the era, these women utilized their skills to serve a growing Masonic clientele.

Dr. Newell is pleased to offer a book signing after her lecture.

This lecture is made possible by the generous sponsorship of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation and is the first of four talks in the 2016 lecture series, “Enterprise and Craft in the Young Nation.”

New to the Collection: IOOF Astoria Lodge No. 38 Apron

2015_027DP1DBFreemasonry is widely recognized as the first fraternal group to organize in America.  There are accounts of men meeting together in informal lodges during the 1720s. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts was formally established in 1733.  As the most venerable group of its kind, Freemasonry served as an inspiration for other American fraternal groups throughout the 1700s and 1800s.  When the Independent Order of Odd Fellows began in England in the mid-1700s, and came to the United States in the early 1800s, it followed the degree structure of Freemasonry and incorporated similar symbols and regalia. 

Among the early regalia items worn by the Odd Fellows were aprons.  Recently, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library acquired this Odd Fellows apron that was originally worn by a member of Maine’s Astoria Lodge No. 38.  Based on the lodge’s history, the apron dates between 1846 and 1862.  In 1846, the lodge was founded in Frankfort, Maine.  By 1849, the lodge numbered 83 members.  The last meeting of the lodge was held on December 30, 1862.  A brief published history of the lodge alludes to its dramatic end, “various causes combined led to the death of the Lodge.  Many of the members moved away, others lost all interest in the order, and a few proved themselves unworthy.  One, who held a prominent position, used a large portion of the fund, leaving worthless paper as security.  This soured and disappointed many, and finally the Lodge ceased work.”

Accompanying the apron is a receipt dated July 1, 1849, documenting that Brother Leonard B. Pratt (1820-1882) paid his quarterly assessments for nine months, for a total of $2.25.  Pratt lived in Bucksport, Maine, near Frankfort, where the lodge met.  Like many Odd Fellows aprons, this one is shield shaped and includes the fraternity’s three-link chain emblem, signifying “the only chain by which [members] are bound together is that of Friendship, Love and Truth.”  Odd Fellows used the red and white colors for regalia worn by the Noble Grand, the Outside Guardian and state Grand Officers.

The apron will be on view in our lobby, starting in February 2016, as part of a small exhibition of some of our recent acquisitions.  We hope you will be able to come by and see it in person.  See our website for hours and directions.  And, if you have seen any similar aprons or know more about Astoria Lodge, please leave us a comment!

Independent Order of Odd Fellows Astoria Lodge No. 38 apron, 1846-1862, unidentified maker, probably Maine, Museum purchase, 2015.027.


Independent Order of Odd Fellows Encampment

2010_024_3DP1DBAt the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, we aspire to collect and interpret objects associated with all of the fraternal groups that have ever met in the United States – Masonic and non-Masonic alike.  Millions of Americans have joined one or more groups since the 1700s and many men and women belonged to more than one.  During the late 1800s and early 1900s one of the most popular fraternal groups in America was the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.  Originally founded in England in 1745, the American branch was organized in Baltimore in 1819.  By 1907, the group numbered almost one million members in this country (see this previous post for more information).

Recently, we acquired the daguerreotype at left, showing an unidentified member of the Odd Fellows.  In the photograph, he proudly wears his collar and apron.  While we unfortunately do not know who this man is or who took the photo, his apron is detailed enough, with a tent, sun, moon and wreath, to tell us that he received the Odd Fellows Encampment degrees.  The Encampment degrees originated in 1827 and were conferred on members after they received the initial three degrees.  The Encampment degrees are called Patriarchal, Golden Rule and Royal Purple. 87_50_1DI1

In addition to the daguerreotype, we are fortunate to have an example of an Encampment apron in our collection, seen here at right.  The dark silk apron has gold bullion fringe and painted emblems of a tent and wreath with an all-seeing eye on the flap.  While the daguerreotype dates to the 1840s or 1850s, this apron was probably made a bit later – in the 1870s or 1880s.

Unidentified Man, 1840-1860, United States.  Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library purchase through the generosity of Helen G. Deffenbaugh in memory of George S. Deffenbaugh, 2010.024.3.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Independent Order of Odd Fellows Encampment Apron, ca. 1880, United States.  Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, gift of Paul Fisher, 87.50.1.

The Independent United Order of Mechanics

2007_029_2DI1 Here at the National Heritage Museum, we get pretty excited about lesser-known fraternal groups.  The apron seen here is a recent acquisition, which was originally used by a member of a little-known group - at least it wasn't listed in our standard reference books and it wasn't represented in our collection.

The apron was worn by Torrance Ashby (1897-1966), as a member of the Independent United Order of Mechanics, a group that is still active.  Ashby joined Star of Cambridge Lodge in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1920, when he was about 23 years old.  When he died in 1966, the apron, along with a collar and his membership certificate passed to his son, Deighton Ashby (1935-2006).  We are pleased to have all three items in our collection.

The Independent United Order of Mechanics formed in England in 1757 as a Friendly Society, a type of mutual benefit society that also served ceremonial and friendship purposes.  Reportedly, a schism between two local English Masonic lodges spurred organizers to found the group.  In the 1800s, the Order spread to the United States, Central America, the Caribbean, the Netherlands, and Canada.  The IUOM became established in the United States in its present form on January 3, 1910.  Membership is open to men and women, boys and girls, of "high moral and ethical standards, who believe in "A Supreme Being" who rules and governs the Universe."  Membership embraces all races, creeds and religions; indeed, the group has a tradition of a strong African American membership, which included the original owner of the apron, Torrance Ashby.

The group's motto is "Friendship, Truth and Love," suggesting some additional inspiration from the Odd Fellows.  Members aim to practice and promote justice, philanthropy, charity and benevolence.  They look after the welfare of their members and are active in their communities, particularly in healthcare and in education.

The apron is silk with a design printed on the front in black.  Bright pink and green silk, along with gold trimming are added as borders.  A close look at the apron suggests that Ashby's wife or another female relative made it at home.  One of the brown elasticized "ties" stitched at the corners has a clasp reading "Gem Golf Garter," suggesting that the maker repurposed the garter for the apron ties.

Independent United Order of Mechanics Apron, ca. 1920, probably American, National Heritage Museum purchase, 2007.029.2.

The National Heritage Museum's Masonic and Fraternal Apron Collection

Established in 1975 by Scottish Rite Freemasons of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A., the National Heritage Museum tells America’s story.  For over thirty years, the Museum has collected, by gift and by purchase, objects that help tell that story.  Today, the collection numbers over 16,000 objects.

The collection’s primary strength is its American Masonic and fraternal items.  The Masonic and fraternal apron collection is a particular highlight.  With over 400 aprons in the collection, the Museum serves as an important resource for the study of these intriguing pieces.  Spanning three centuries and the globe, the apron collection offers potential for new interpretations not only of Masonic history, but also of American history.

84_15di1_cropped Our website includes a section called Treasures, which highlights about 100 objects in the collection, including some aprons.  One of my favorites is shown here – it was probably made in Herkimer County, New York in the early 1800s.  In addition to its Masonic symbolism, the apron depicts two Masons dressed in their lodge finery, including their aprons.  The apron offers a Germanic interpretation of a popular Masonic design that appeared in English and American engravings between 1790 and 1815.  

We encourage scholars and researchers to contact us if our apron collection could be helpful for their research.  And, we continue to add to our collection, looking to increase our strengths and to fill our gaps.  We are very interested in aprons that have a story about who owned, made or used them.  If you have a special apron that you would like to consider donating to the Museum, please contact our Senior Curator of Collections, Aimee Newell, at [email protected].

Masonic York Rite Royal Arch Apron, 1800-1820, probably Herkimer County, New York, National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 84.15.