Masonic libraries

Grant Wood’s Shrine Quartet

Shrine Quartet, 1939. Grant Wood (1891-1942). Special Acquisitions Fund, 84.16. Photograph by John Miller.

In 1937 Grant Wood (1891-1942) started making lithographs for the Associated American Artists, an art gallery in New York.  Living in Iowa, Wood planned his prints there, executed them on lithographic stones the gallery provided and then sent them to New York for printing. From 1937 through 1941 Wood created 19 lithographs. Associated American Arts sold Wood’s prints, along with others they had commissioned from well-known artists, by mail order and in their gallery. Their innovation was to offer work by popular fine artists to consumers at affordable prices—Wood’s black and white lithographs originally sold for $5 each. Wood lauded the gallery’s business model, writing:

I am very enthusiastic about the Associated American Artists organization. People who cannot afford to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for original paintings cannot afford to have original, signed works of the favorite contemporary American artists in their homes.  It is, in essence, a democratic experiment....

Most of Wood’s work for the firm treated rural scenes and agricultural activity. This 1939 lithograph, part of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s collection, portrays a different kind of subject. In it Wood showed four members of the Shrine as they sang. Dressed for a meeting, the singers' distinctive fezzes cast elongated shadows against a background of pyramids and camels. Wood's scene is evocative and sympathetic. Though a Mason, Wood is not thought to have joined the Shrine. He took his degrees at Mt. Hermon Lodge No. 263 in Cedar Rapids in 1921. Three years later he was suspended for not paying his dues. However, he was likely have been familiar with the Shrine through his involvement in Freemasonry and because a temple met in his hometown.

Wood explored Masonic themes in another work, The First Three Degrees of Freemasonry, a large tryptic commissioned for the National Masonic Research Society in 1921. The painting is now part of the collection of the Iowa Masonic Library at the Grand Lodge of Iowa. Though usually displayed at the library, the painting is currently featured in an exhibition about Grant Wood.  You can see the exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City where is is on view through June 10, 2018.



Barbara Haskell, Grant Wood:  American Gothic and Other Fables (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2018) 29, 180-181, 206-206, 236 and 239.

Bill Krueger “Grant Wood’s ‘The First Three Degrees of Freemasonry,’” Iowa Grand Lodge Bulletin, March, 2016.

Gail Windisch, Sylvan Cole Jr., and Karen J. Herbaug, Art for Every Home: An Illustrated Index of Associated American Artists Prints, Ceramics, and Textile Designs (Manhattan, Kansas: Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, Kansas State University, 2016) http://hdl.handle. net/2097/19686.

Theodore F. Wolff, “Grant Wood’s Lithographs,” The Christian Science Monitor, January 19, 1990.


Many thanks to Bill Kreuger of the Iowa Masonic Library at the Grand Lodge of Iowa.

Jean-Hyacinthe Astier and the Chapitre des Amis de la Sagesse

A2013_5_1DS1_Amis de la SagesseAs I was cataloging 18th and 19th century French Masonic rituals the other day, I found an interesting collection of documents from the Souverain Chapitre des Amis de la Sagesse of Paris (Sovereign Chapter of the Friends of Wisdom of the Orient of Paris) that are not ritual.  The collection of records includes minutes of the chapter, rules and regulations, several lists of members.  These records date from 1822-1830. This chapter was overseen by the Grand Orient of France.

Chapitre des Amis de la Sagesse was a Rose Croix chapter.  Although the Grand Orient of France and the Grand Lodge of France confined themselves mostly to Craft degrees, in 1826-1827 the Grand Orient of France (which had merged with Grand Lodge of France in 1799) had 450 lodges, chapters, and councils. These chapters conferred higher degrees such as the Rose Croix degrees at Les Amis de la Sagesse.

According to the chapter minutes, Jean-Hyacinthe Astier (1784-1852) presided over the Chapitre des Amis de la Sagesse from 1826 through 1828, succeeding Melchior Kubly.  The list of members in this collection includes Astier's name and his signature appears throughout the collection. The membership lists Astier's occupation as a book seller in 1826. 

By the 1830s, Astier had become disenchanted by the Grand Orient of France and took a demit from this chapter.  He decided to put his energies and service toward the Supreme Conseil de France, which had been established in 1804. Astier beleived that Freemasonry was essentially a Christian endeavor and France's Supreme Council, at this time, enforced this belief.

Astier owned a very remarkable collection of books on Freemasonry and a catalogue of his works was published postumously in 1856, entitled,  Notice des Livres Manuscrits et Imprimés sur Franc-Maçonnerie. Interestingly, catalogue no. 274 indicates that Astier's library included the archives of the Souverain Chapitre des Amis de la Sagesse. The description includes the records we now hold at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, including Séances du Comité, Status et Reglément, Registre des Délibérations, and Registre de présence des Amis de la Sagesse. This is evidence of theA2013_5_1bDS1_Astier original provenance for these records! 



Collection of Records from Souverain Chapitre des Amis de la Sagesse, 1822-1830. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, A2013/5/1a-h. 


Bernheim, Alan. "The History of the Present Grand Lodge of France Revisited," Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonry, accessed 2/16/2013. 

Coil, Henry Wilson. Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia.  Richmond, VA:  Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., 1995, p. 263-265.

Hocart, M. J. Notice des Livres Manuscrits et Imprimés sur Franc-Maçonnerie, les Templiers et Sociétés qui en dépendent, provenant du Cabinet de Feu M. Astier.  Paris:  Chez D. Guillemot, 1856.

WorldCat and the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives

Worldcat_textside_200 Did you know that the National Heritage Museum's Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives (below) has the distinction of being the first Masonic library to add its bibliographic records to the OCLC WorldCat database?

WorldCat is the world's most comprehensive online resource for finding items held in libraries, making those records available to researchers worldwide. WorldCat is a union catalog – accessible at – that allows users to simultaneously search the holdings of the 10,000+ libraries that contribute to it. They will now find the holdings of the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives – more than 18,000 items – among them.

Van_Gorden_Williams_Library_and_Archives_01_web Why is this important? For one, it increases the Library and Archives’ visibility, promotes its collections, and helps us better serve those interested in our unique and important collections. Because of the strength of our Masonic and fraternal collections, we anticipate that researchers who don’t yet know about our library will find us while searching for materials in WorldCat. In many cases, they may find that we are the only library in WorldCat that owns a particular book. We believe that this is a win-win situation for both our institution and for researchers interested in Freemasonry, fraternalism, and American history.

For the many people who already know about the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, the library’s own online catalog is an invaluable tool that allows researchers to search just the Library and Archives collections and find records containing information specific to the library’s own copies (e.g. important former owners). Most of the holdings of the library’s book collection are represented in the catalog. In order to provide greater access to the archival collections, the Library and Archives has begun adding collection-level Archives records to the online catalog.

A Dewey Decimal System for Masonic Libraries

Frank_Thompson_System_of_Card_Membership Even if you're not much of a library user, you've still heard of the Dewey Decimal system. Chances are, you probably haven't thought much about what it is or who chooses/creates the call numbers for the books in the library (hint: librarians; more specifically: catalogers). You probably haven't thought too much about what the alternatives are to Dewey either. (Unless, like me, you're a librarian.)

Most public libraries in the United States use the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system, while most academic libraries use the Library of Congress (LC) classification system. Many specialized library collections, however, use other classification systems. The Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives, for example, uses the LC system for its American history collection, but we use the "Boyden system" for our Masonic book collection. Yet the Boyden system is not the only classification scheme devised for Masonic libraries.

In the early twentieth century, at least two classification systems specific to Masonic collections were created. In 1908, A System of Card Membership Record for Masonic Bodies and A Scheme of Classification for Masonic Books, Being an Extension of the Dewey Decimal System (left) was developed by Frank J. Thompson, who served in many Masonic capacities in North Dakota, including Grand Librarian of the Grand Lodge of North Dakota. Thompson was also director of the Fargo Public Library, which started in the Masonic Temple in Fargo. Thompson’s classification scheme is simply an expansion of the Dewey classification number 366.1, used for Freemasonry. That is, Thompson was still using the DDC, but he used the pre-existing class and provided instruction on how to expand upon it. (In Thompson's system, for example, call number for Proceedings of Scottish Rite Supreme Councils would begin 366.1-8994.)

Seven years later, in 1915, William L. Boyden, Librarian for the Scottish Rite’s Southern Jurisdiction in Washington, DC, published Classification of the Literature of Freemasonry and Related Societies (below). Thompson and Boyden were both prompted to create their schemes Classification_of_the_literature_of_freemasonry because, as Boyden writes in the preface to his pamphlet, "[the Dewey Decimal System] provides no classification of freemasonry, assigning one class only to the subject, which class is practically incapable of subdivision. The scheme which I have devised...provides for nearly four hundred classes and sub-classes." Where Thompson simply extended the 366.1 Dewey class, Boyden created a whole new classification system. In the same way Melvil Dewey attempted to divide the world into ten broad classes, Boyden divided the Masonic world into ten major classes, as seen through Boyden's eyes in 1915.

Is it possible to wax poetic about the classification of Masonic libraries? Perhaps. Boyden’s colleague and friend, J. Hugo Tatsch, addressed the topic of classification at the 1932 Conference of Masonic Students and Librarians at the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia, stating, "The importance of a Masonic classification list cannot be over-estimated. It is the framework about which your library is built. It is the anatomical structure through which the card catalog, the soul of the library, expresses itself."


People Who Love Masonic Libraries & Museums: Cedar Rapids in 1928 & 2008

1928_Masonic_Librarians_Cedar_Rapids_web Beginning in 1928 with the first Conference of Masonic Students and Librarians and continuing throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, professional librarians and their avocational counterparts have met to discuss issues and present papers relevant to Masonic libraries.

Librarians from Masonic libraries had no doubt met informally in small groups previous to 1928, but it was during that year that the first documented meeting of librarians from Masonic libraries took place. In May 1928, the first Conference of Masonic Librarians was held at the Iowa Masonic Library at the Grand Lodge of Iowa, in Cedar Rapids (see photo above). The conference was realized through the efforts of Robert I. Clegg and J. Hugo Tatsch, two prominent early twentieth-century figures in Masonic librarianship. Twenty-eight people attended the conference. Although the minutes were not printed, an abstract of the meeting makes clear that some of the topics discussed were of a very practical nature. William L. Boyden presented a paper entitled “The Operation of a Masonic Library,” in which he drew on his thirty-four years of experience as librarian for the Supreme Council 33° Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction in Washington, DC. Other papers delivered at this first conference addressed “the problems of the smaller library,” focusing on the Los Angeles Masonic Library; library classification which was “informally discussed... in a separate room by those familiar with the technical operation of a library”; Masonic “traveling libraries”; and a talk on “Masonic Journalism” delivered by James A. Fetterly, whose “remarks were interspersed with amusing and witty comments.”

Mlma_2008participants_fs Exactly eighty years later, in 2008, a group of people devoted to Masonic libraries and museums again met at the Iowa Masonic Library and Museum in Cedar Rapids. Founded in 1995, the Masonic Library and Museum Association (MLMA) held its 2008 annual meeting in Iowa (see photo at right). The mission of MLMA is “to assist and support, through education, facilitation of communication, coordination of effort, and other means, those individuals charged with the collection, management, and preservation of the Masonic heritage.” Its members range from museum and library professionals who do this work for a living, to dedicated members of the fraternity who work voluntarily and have all different levels of experience. Membership in the MLMA is open to any person who expresses an interest in Masonic libraries or museums. Institutional membership is open to any Masonic body considered “regular” by most Grand Lodges in the United States.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is a proud member of this organization. Museum & Library staff attend the MLMA’s annual meeting and in 2006 co-hosted the meeting with the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts at the museum. Recent meetings were held at the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania's Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania (2007), the Grand Lodge of Iowa's Iowa Masonic Library and Museum (2008), and the Grand Lodge of California's Henry W. Coil Library and Museum of Freemasonry (2009). This year’s meeting will be held October 21-23 in Alexandria, VA and Washington, DC, co-hosted by the George Washington Masonic Memorial, the Grand Lodge of Virginia Library, Museum & Historical Foundation, and The Library and Museum of the Supreme Council, 33°, Southern Jurisdiction.

Photo captions

Top: Photo of attendees of Conference of Masonic Librarians from Grand Lodge Bulletin, Volume 29, No. 5 (May 1928). Cedar Rapids: Grand Lodge of Iowa, 1928), p. 566.

Bottom: Photo of attendees of Masonic Library and Museum Association's annual meeting at the Iowa Masonic Library and Museum, Grand Lodge of Iowa, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Photo used by permission of MLMA)