Posts by Stacey Fraser

Heavy Impact: British Cannonball Fired in Lexington on April 19, 1775

75_34aDI1 - for blog
Cannonball (fired in retreat from Lexington), ca. 1775. Gift of Harvey B. Leggee, 75.34a.

Its surface is pitted and its usefulness long gone, but this six-pound iron ball tells an intriguing story of the first military battle of the Revolutionary War and its effect on the town of Lexington, Massachusetts.

According to an accompanying plaque, this cannonball was “fired in 1775 by ‘British regulars’ under command of Captain Earl Perry [sic] during their retreat from Lexington Green.” On April 19th of that year, the first battle of the Revolutionary War was fought in Lexington, now the home of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

Tensions had been high between Massachusetts citizens and the British government–represented by its royal troops–since the soldiers had landed in Boston in 1769. This friction had already led to such events as the 1769 Lexington Spinning Protest, the 1770 Boston Massacre, and the 1773 Lexington Tea Burning and Boston Tea Party.

These tensions and other events led to an armed conflict between Lexington’s Training Band and British troops on April 19, 1775. A contingent of British soldiers headquartered in Boston were deployed on an overnight mission to retrieve stolen cannon and ammunition hidden in Concord. After a short engagement at dawn in which eight Lexington men were killed and ten wounded, the British troops continued to Concord where they found themselves in a pitched battle at the Old North Bridge with militia members from Concord and surrounding towns. Eventually, the order to retreat was given and the British soldiers began a long and harrowing march back to Boston.

Local militias reengaged British troops many times along the route back–now called “Battle Road"–but the fighting took a different tone as the troops marched back through Lexington. By this time, relief troops from Boston had positioned two six-pound cannon at a rise east of the town center to provide covering fire for the soldiers on foot.

This bombardment led to cannonballs smashing through both the Lexington meetinghouse on the Green and one of the houses west of the Green on Harrington Road. According to SRMML’s records, the museum's cannonball was excavated in 1956–181 years after the battle–by local Mason Harold L. Worth (1909-1993) from the “south side of Merriam Hill.” This ball was found within the range of the British cannon that day. The location of the find supports the message on the cannonball’s plaque–that it was fired by British soldiers.

PXL_20230327_203345529 - for blog
Cannonball (fired in retreat from Lexington), ca. 1775. Gift of Harvey B. Leggee, 75.34a.

To confirm this information, SRMML staff measured the cannonball. The British were using six-pound field pieces that day and a six-pound cannonball is usually around 3.58 inches in diameter. As you can see on the right, this cannonball is 3.52 inches, which is within the expected range for historical examples. Using historical accounts, maps, and munitions specifications, we feel confident that this cannonball was fired during the conflict between Massachusetts citizens and British soldiers.

The cannon and troops are long gone, but the town of Lexington is still deeply tied to the events of April 19, 1775. Its landscape and people were profoundly marked by the attack. Evidence of that impact remains in the military detritus left behind. It is also on display in the reenactments and commemorations of the battle held annually in Lexington. See the links below for more Revolutionary War items in the museum’s collection!

---

More Revolutionary War items at SRMML:


A United Order True Sisters Anniversary Medal

91_032_1DS1 for blog
United Order True Sisters Medal, ca. 1946. Gift of Clara W. Gnerre on behalf of Noemi No. 11. 91.032.1

The face of this round medal bears an embossed wreath which curves around the black enamel letters U, O, T, and S. These initials represent Unabhängiger Orden Treue Schwestern or United Order True Sisters, a German Jewish fraternal group which was the first independent national women’s organization in the United States. The group – sometimes known as the United Order of True Sisters - was founded in New York City in 1846 and became known for their charitable fundraising for cancer patients and children’s hospitals after World War II. The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library cares for a small collection of UOTS items, including this medal, which is connected to a fascinating Massachusetts woman.

The items in this collection were donated by Clara Cecile Wagner Gnerre (1920 - 2005) on behalf of her UOTS chapter, Noemi No. 11. This chapter was founded in 1878 in Boston, Massachusetts – the eleventh UOTS lodge in the country - and like its sister chapters in other states, sought to provide Jewish women with a sense of identity, purpose, and community. Due to anti-German sentiment during World Wars I and II and American antisemitism throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, women who joined UOTS may not have felt welcome in other fraternal orders. As past museum Assistant Director Barbara Franco has written of Jewish fraternal orders, “The rites, regalia, and mottoes of these organizations, based on Freemasonry and Odd Fellowship, offered an American aura that might be denied Jews elsewhere.”

91_032_1DS2 for blog
United Order True Sisters Medal, ca. 1946. Gift of Clara W. Gnerre on behalf of Noemi No. 11. 91.032.1.

The reverse of the medal reads “PRESENTED AT THE CENTENNIAL ANNIVERSARY 1846-1946”. To commemorate their one-hundredth anniversary, UOTS chapters produced souvenir medals like these, as well as centennial calendars and other ephemera. A February 1946 article from the Daily Argus (Westchester, New York) shows the kind of activities UOTS chapters were involved in that year. Activities included mahjong games, luncheons, educational lectures, and Red Cross sewing drives. The United States Treasury Department awarded a citation to Westchester No. 34 for raising nearly a quarter of a million dollars in war loan drives. After the war, in 1947, the UOTS formed a National Cancer Service initiative. This program funneled members’ fundraising skills and largesse towards medical charities.

Clara Wagner – later Clara Gnerre - was a member of Noemi No. 11 for forty years. She graduated from Girl’s Latin School in 1937 and attended Radcliffe College, where she graduated cum laude with a degree in chemistry in 1941. If she was a member of Noemi in 1946, she may have received this souvenir UOTS medal when it was first issued, when she was 26 years old.

She worked first for Carbon Black Co. as a rubber chemist and was employed there in 1950 when she married her husband C. Gerald “Jerry” Gnerre. A January 1954 Boston Globe article described her as a “research chemist and rubber technologist” at Godfrey L. Cabot, Inc. Research Laboratories on Cambridge’s “Research Row.” Gnerre was, at the time, one of few women working in industrial materials research and development, a growing field post-World War II in Cambridge.

In the 1980s, Gnerre became more active in Noemi No. 11, serving as its Recording Secretary in 1986 and President from 1987 to 1988. At this time, the chapter focused on fundraising for cancer services and children’s care at Boston’s Children’s and Massachusetts General Hospitals. At Noemi’s 110th Annual Luncheon, Gnerre was praised for her “warmth, encouragement, and good humor.”

After 111 years as a United Order True Sisters chapter, Noemi No. 11 dissolved in 1989. Perhaps inspired by a 1983 chapter visit to the then-eight-year-old Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Gnerre first donated a collection of material from the chapter to the museum in 1991. This medal was the first item that she donated. Over the next five years, Gnerre and other women from Noemi No. 11 donated UOTS material to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, as well as to other historic repositories (see link below).

Clara Cecile Wagner Gnerre died in August 2005. Her Boston Globe obituary reads: “In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The United Order of True Sisters, Inc. . . . where she was a member for 40 years and past President of a local chapter (Noemi Chapter 11) or to a cancer organization of your choice.” Gnerre ably represented the United Order True Sisters and their philanthropic goals to the last.

---

Further Reading:


New to the Collection: Sparkling Fraternal Style

6a00e550caa66d883402b6852a05fd200d-800wi
Menelik Court No. 53 Fez. Cincinnati Regalia Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. Museum Purchase, 2022.067.

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.

---

Further Reading:


Masonic Mathematics: The 47th Problem of Euclid

2017_018_2DP1DB - blog
Past Master's Jewel, 1823. Thomas Harper (ca. 1735-1832). London. 2017.018.2. Photograph by David Bohl.

Do you remember the Pythagorean Theorem? This geometric figure, also known as the 47th Problem of Euclid, represents the idea that the area of the two smaller squares created by using the lines of a right-angle triangle as bases is equal to the area of the largest square created in the same way. It is stated mathematically as c2 = a2 + b2 in which “c” is the hypotenuse (longest side) and “a” and “b” are the other two sides. Like many geometric expressions, it’s difficult to describe with words, but its meaning is fairly comprehensible visually.

Luckily, then, this symbol appears on Masonic aprons, jewels, pitchers, quilts, lantern slides, mark medals, tracing boards, and other decorative and ritual material in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. Freemasonry draws symbols from a variety of sources, including geometry, to teach instructive lessons to its members.

This geometric figure has two names associated with some of mathematics’ historic giants: Pythagoras (ca. 570 B.C.E. – ca. 495 B.C.E.) and Euclid (ca. 300 B.C.E.). However, its roots reach back further. Babylonians (ca. 1900 - 1600 B.C.E) used it to solve geometric problems that involved right triangles. In Freemasonry, it is often called the 47th Problem of Euclid. This symbol is introduced in the 3rd or Master Mason degree.

The object shown here, an engraved Past Master’s jewel, bears a particularly compelling visual representation of this noteworthy geometric figure. English silversmith Thomas Harper (ca. 1735-1832) crafted this jewel, marking it with his initials and British silver hallmarks. The “leopard’s head” mark indicates that the silver was hallmarked in London after 1822. The lowercase “h” indicates Harper made the item in 1823, according to the “date letters” that were used in British silver.

2017_018_2DP2DB - blog
Past Master's Jewel, 1823. Thomas Harper (ca. 1735-1832). London. 2017.018.2. Photograph by David Bohl.

This form of a Past Master’s jewel featuring a right-angle square with a rectangle engraved with a depiction of the 47th Problem of Euclid, was popular in English lodges in the early decades of the 1800s. This style of jewel inspired Past Master’s jewels in Pennsylvania, which often have a right-angle square bearing a suspended rectangle with the geometric figure engraved on it.

This fascinating Past Master’s jewel is currently on view at the museum in "What's in a Portrait?" and in our online exhibition. You can see other items in the museum’s collection that bear the 47th Problem of Euclid on our searchable online collections database.


Clepsammia: Thief of Sand

85_108_20DP1DB
Hourglass, ca. 1700. Italy. Gift of Mrs. Willis R. Michael, 85.108.20. Photograph by David Bohl.

As the remaining hours of 2022 run down, let’s investigate this unusual hourglass in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. Called clepsammia, meaning thief of sand, sand hourglasses are an early method of keeping time. Devices using a fixed amount of sand to measure time were likely first developed in the 1300s, but the need for contained, reliable, and stable timekeeping on ships to aid with navigation helped popularize clepsammia during the Age of Sail (roughly 1650-1850).

Before the invention of the modern clock, hourglasses were used in churches to time sermons, in government offices to time speeches, and in factories to time work shifts. These useful items came in many types, materials, and sizes. A common form of hourglass was intended to measure one hour and was constructed of two glass bulbs, often set in a frame, that were joined with wax and cord.

Another kind of hourglass, used to mark the quarter hour, featured four horizontally-oriented glass bulbs. Each bulb contained either 15-, 30-, 45-, or 60-minutes’ worth of sand. As each ran out, the user could track quarter hours. The vertically-oriented hourglass held by the museum is an unusual form. The sand flows through two glass bulbs - one shaped into four equal chambers and another larger bulb. There seem to be only a few existing examples of this type of hourglass. One is in the collection at the Louvre.

The museum’s clepsammia was crafted in Italy, around 1700. The “sand” is actually powdered stone contained within the glass bulbs, fixed within a wooden frame covered with decorated paper. Compared to beach sand, which has angular edges, powdered stone flows smoothly through the apertures between bulbs. In one direction, the material moves from the largest bulb down, filling first one bulb, then the next in fifteen-minute intervals. When flipped over, the sand empties from each bulb, again in fifteen-minute intervals. This hourglass stands ten inches tall and, at over three hundred years old, is in good condition for its age.

This clepsammia is part of a collection of clocks, watches, tools, and books donated by Ruth Michael of York, Pennsylvania. Her gift of more than 140 items from the collection that she and her husband, Willis R. Michael, assembled over many years forms the core of the museum’s horological holdings. If you’d like to learn more about timepieces in the museum’s collection, you can see more examples in this Flickr album. You can also see this hourglass in action in the video below.


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:

 


New to the Collection: Blood Donor Recognition Pin

2022_049DI1
Blood Donation Lapel Pin. ca. 1983. Gift of Kamel Oussayef, 2022.049a-b.

New to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's collection this month is a small gold-colored lapel pin bearing a square and compasses and a “G” in blue enamel. Masonic lapel pins are abundant in both members’ homes and the Museum’s collection. This, however, is the first pin in the collection in the shape of a drop of blood.

Throughout the United States, more than ten state Grand Lodges sponsor a Masonic blood donation program of some kind. The model for many programs involves a coordinator at each local lodge who schedules blood drives on location and encourages brethren to donate. Each unit of blood donated by individual lodge members is counted towards the total for the whole lodge.

Lapel pins are given to individual members who achieve certain blood donation milestones. Some, like this one, are awarded for an initial donation of one unit. Others are given when the Mason reaches a certain volume of blood donated. For example, the Virginia Grand Lodge Blood Program specifies that new donors and donations under two gallons receive the pin type shown here, with a “G” in the center of the Masonic square and compasses. When an individual donates more than two gallons, each subsequent pin bears the number of gallons, increasing by increments of two.

Some Masons donate impressive volumes of blood throughout their lives, such as Scottish Rite Mason Steven Fishman of Georgia, who has donated over thirty-seven gallons since the 1970s. Given that one gallon is equal to eight one-pint donations and that donors can only give once every eight weeks, achieving that volume would take a minimum of forty-five years.

As mentioned above, individual donations by members are counted towards the one lodge’s contribution to the blood program. In Rhode Island, for example, lodges who seek to earn the Grand Master’s Award are advised to participate in local blood drives and ensure at least ten percent of their eligible members give blood.

This new addition to the collection helps us tell the story of how Masons, as the Virginia Blood Program Manual says, “. . . facilitate donations in an organized and craftsman-like fashion . . .”

---

Reference and Further Reading:


Hurricane Gavel

GL2004_2657DI5 small
Gavel, ca. 1939. Massachusetts. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.2657.

High in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey, there is a grove of Cedars of Lebanon (Cedrus libani). In the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts collection cared for at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, there is a gavel made from the wood of one of these trees. The story of this gavel – from seeds to storage – brings together natural science and Masonic ingenuity.

In the early 1900s, Charles Sargent (1841-1927), the first Director of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, wanted to add examples of Cedrus libani to the collection of trees and shrubs at the site. However, these trees – which are mentioned in the Bible – grew primarily in the warmer climate of Lebanon and did not seem suited for New England weather. With the help of German naturalist Walter Siehe (1859-1928), Sargent was able to locate a forest of Cedars of Lebanon in the Taurus Mountains in Turkey. These trees grew further north and at higher altitudes and the two men thought they might also grow in Massachusetts.

In early 1902, Siehe shipped a number of cedar cones to Sargent and the trees were propagated in the greenhouses at the Arboretum. They started well and were planted on the grounds. By 1930, the Turkish Cedars of Lebanon were growing well and producing their own seed cones. The experiment was a success.

Then came the Hurricane of 1938, one of the most severe storms in New England history. The storm devastated the forests of the Northeast, destroying an estimated two billion trees in New York and New England. In the Arboretum, at least five of the Turkish cedars fell victim to the storm. (Happily, in 2022, eight of the original trees still survive on site.) As for the hurricane-damaged ones, a group of local Masons “grasped the opportunity to perpetuate these trees Masonically,” as one of them later said.

William Judd (1888-1946) was a member of Eliot Lodge in Dorchester and a gardener at Arnold Arboretum. During the clean-up after the hurricane, he and Welby McCollum (1887-1952) of West Roxbury Lodge decided to use some of the cedar wood to make a gavel. Given that McCollum worked as a builder, he may have crafted the piece.

After the gavel was completed, it was given to West Roxbury Lodge’s Past Master, Alexander McKechnie (1887-1965). He wrote out the story of the gavel on two typewritten pages – kept with the item – as a draft of his planned speech for a January 1940 presentation to West Roxbury Lodge. McKechnie mentioned in a handwritten addendum that he intended to present the gavel to the lodge and thence to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts if desired. His note is addressed to Joseph Earl Perry (1884-1983), then-Grand Master of the Grand Lodge, and ends, “If you decide to put this gavel in the Museum you can pick out the important points in the above for a small card.” This small piece of material culture made of wood more than one-hundred-twenty years old still has a big story to tell.

Reference and Further Reading:

Anthony S. Aiello and Michael S. Dosmann. “The Quest for the Hardy Cedar-of-Lebanon,” Arnoldia, Volume 65, Issue 1 (2007). https://arboretum.harvard.edu/stories/the-quest-for-the-hardy-cedar-of-lebanon/


New to the Collection: Pyramid Court Daughters

2022_008_4DS
Members of Pyramid Court No. 17, 1960s. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 2022.008.4.

In this photograph, new to the collection in 2022, a group of women wearing white dresses and either white fezzes or a crown poses for a photo with a man in a suit wearing a darker fez. This image features members of a women’s auxiliary group of Prince Hall Shriners, the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles Mystic Shrine of North and South America and Its Jurisdictions, Inc. in Philadelphia in the 1960s. Historically Black fraternal groups in the United States have a fascinating history and objects like this photograph help us better understand it.

Based on organization proceedings and area newspapers, this photo appears to show members of Pyramid Court No. 17, Imperial Court Auxiliary, A.E.A.O.N.M.S., Philadelphia along with one member of Pyramid Temple No. 1, A.E.A.O.N.M.S., also of Philadelphia. The A.E.A.O.N.M.S. was founded in 1893 in Chicago as a charitable, benevolent, fraternal, and social organization, dedicated to the welfare and extension of Prince Hall Freemasonry. Its women’s auxiliary was founded in 1910 in Detroit. The latter group was established at the behest of a committee headed by Hannah Brown, Esther Wilson, and Lucy Blackburn, wives of Prince Hall Shriners from Maryland, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. These women and others had already created eight “courts” (similar to Shrine Temples or Masonic lodges) for female relatives of A.E.A.O.N.M.S. members. In 1909, they requested an official “Grand Court” to oversee the activities of the local groups.

This international organization, then known as the Imperial Grand Court of the Daughters of Isis, is now called the Imperial Court. The organization boasts more than nine thousand members that meet in more than two hundred courts throughout the United States, as well as Canada, Bahamas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Korea and Western Europe. Members are known as Daughters.

Their regalia includes ceremonial collars worn with white dresses, shoes, and gloves, along with white fezzes or crowns. Decorated with embroidery and/or rhinestones, these fezzes bear the name of the owner’s court and a profile of the Egyptian goddess Isis. When a Daughter serves as Imperial Commandress, the presiding officer of a court, she wears a crown in place of a fez. In this photograph, since a woman in the center of the group wears a crown, she was likely the Imperial Commandress of Pyramid Court No. 17 when the photo was taken.

In their analysis of African American fraternal groups over a period of around one hundred fifty years, social scientists Theda Skocpol and Jennifer Lynn Oser found that “black women played an unusually strong role in African American fraternal federations.” The Imperial Court is an excellent example of Black women leading fraternal groups. It exists because women who were already organizing local courts applied for official recognition from A.E.A.O.N.M.S. The auxiliary’s schedule of meetings, fundraising events, and annual sessions is very similar to that of the brother organization.

In the past and today, the women’s and men’s groups under the umbrella of the A.E.A.O.N.M.S. gather together at an annual joint session. Daughters of the Imperial Court Auxiliary and Nobles of A.E.A.O.N.M.S. work together at all levels to accomplish the charitable, social, and Masonic goals of Prince Hall Shriners.

If you know of or have any materials related to the A.E.A.O.N.M.S. or its women’s auxiliary, please let us know by writing in the comments section below.

---

References and Further Reading:


A Maine Mason at Sea

In 1852, shipbuilders in Calais, Maine, near the American border with Canada, launched a ship named the Lincoln. The following year, the Lincoln would commemorate American Independence Day many miles from Maine, in the Aegean port of Smyrna, Greece (now İzmir, Turkey). Like the Lincoln, her captain that day left his Maine home to make a living in the maritime world of the nineteenth century.

PXL_20220829_152030006 (1)
Bark Lincoln, W.H. Polleys Master Laying at Anchor in Smyrna July 4th 1853. Raffaele Corsini, Smyrna, Greece. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 85.9.

In this watercolor, acquired by the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in 1985, the Lincoln is shown lying at anchor in the foreground, with the city, its castle, and surrounding hills in the background. The ship bears four flags: from bow to stern, the “Union Jack” or Navy Jack, a blue flag with a Masonic square and compasses, a masthead pennant, and an American flag. The Lincoln’s Union Jack, a blue flag with white stars flown on American ships, appears to have twenty-six stars and her American flag twenty-one stars. Given that the United States had thirty-one states by 1853, perhaps the ship’s owners or captain had not updated her flags or, more likely, the painter took artistic license with these details.

It is believed that ship’s captains sometimes raised a flag bearing a square and compasses to invite Masons in the area aboard their vessel. To local residents and other mariners, this signaled his fraternal affiliation and served as an invitation for conversation, informal meetings, and trade. The Lincoln was in Smyrna in July 1853 to purchase opium, a common ingredient in American patent medicines at the time.

The Lincoln’s captain and 1/16 share owner for her first five years was Woodbury H. Polleys. Polleys was born in Cape Elizabeth, Maine in 1817 and raised in Portland Lodge No. 1 in 1844. When he took command of the ship, he had been, as he later wrote in a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, “at sea as Master of a Ship since June 1848, principally trading between Europe & southern ports . . .”

After the Lincoln, Polleys went on to captain other vessels, including at least three Union ships during the Civil War. These included the USS Katahdin, USS Oleander, and USS Madgie. The latter two ships were part of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron, preventing Confederate vessels from eluding the Union trade blockade. After the Madgie sank off North Carolina in 1863, Polleys traveled north to Maine for a month’s leave “to procure a new outfit and visit my family.”

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, Polleys used his knowledge of international trade to serve the new United States as Consul to Barbados and Commercial Agent to Cuba. Woodbury H. Polleys died of suicide in 1885 and is buried in Portland’s Pine Grove Cemetery. His headstone bears a Masonic square and compasses, as his ship’s flag did that day in 1853, many miles from Maine.

If you want to dive into this piece of artwork further, you can visit it and many others in our exhibition, “What’s in a Portrait?,” now on view at the Museum & Library. You can also visit the online version of the exhibition.

Further Reading: