Freemasonry and women have a complex relationship, which can be readily divided into many phases with no demonstrable relationship to each other until the 20th century. A few women were involved in Freemasonry before the 18th century; however the first printed constitutions of the Premier Grand Lodge of England appeared to bar them from the Craft forever.
The French Lodges of Adoption which spread through Continental Europe during the second half of the 18th century admitted Masons and their female relatives to a system of degrees parallel, but unrelated to the original rite. After eclipse in the 19th century, they were revived as women-only lodges in the 20th, and these later adopted the male degrees to give rise to French women’s Masonry in the 1950s.
18th-century British lodges and their American offshoots remained male only. In the late 1800s, rites similar to adoption emerged in the United States, allowing masons and their female relatives to participate in ritual together. These bodies, however, were more careful to discriminate between the mixed ritual and the genuine Freemasonry of the men.
In the 1890s, mixed lodges following a standard Masonic ritual started to appear in France, and quickly spread to other countries. Women-only jurisdictions appeared soon afterwards. As a general rule, the admission of women is now recognised in Continental (Grand Orient) jurisdictions. In Anglo-American Freemasonry, neither mixed nor all-female lodges are officially recognised, although unofficial relations can be cordial, with premises sometimes shared.
Concordant rites do exist with the blessing and often the active support of regular masonic lodges. There are several concordant bodies in the United States which admit the wives and female relatives of Freemasons. The Dutch Order of Weavers admits only the wives, while in the American orders the men and women share in the ritual. Like the lodges of adoption, they have their own ceremonies, which means that some grand lodges view them as irregular.
- Order of the Eastern Star In 1850, Rob Morris created the Order of the Eastern Star for Freemasons and their female relatives. Often classed as an adoptive rite, its ritual is based on the Bible. It continues to flourish in the United States of America, and maintains a presence in Scotland.
- Order of the Amaranth The ritual of the Order of the Amaranth was conceived in 1860 to be loosely based on a society with a similar name instituted over two centuries earlier by Queen Christina of Sweden. Open to master masons and their female relatives, members were once compelled to join the Order of the Eastern Star first, but the two organisations became separate in 1921.
- Ladies’ Oriental Shrine of North America Founded in 1903 in Wheeling, West Virginia, the order has over 16,000 members in 76 Courts across North America. A woman must be related to a member of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine or a Master Mason by birth, marriage or adoption. She must be at least 18 years of age and a resident for at least six months in the area of the Court in which membership is desired.
- The Order of the White Shrine of Jerusalem Like the members of the Masonic Lodge and other appendant bodies, members of the White Shrine must profess a belief in a Supreme Being. However, the White Shrine goes one step further, requiring members to profess a belief in Jesus Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of the World. Membership is open to female relatives of Master Masons or members either active for three years or majority of the International Order of Rainbow for Girls or Job’s Daughters International who have attained of eighteen (18) years of age.
- Order of Weavers Formed on 17 July 1947, the Orde van Weefsters Vita Feminea Textura, or the Order of Weavers was the creation of the wives of Dutch Freemasons. They constructed a ritual system using the tools of weaving in their symbology, which they judged to be more appropriate for women than stonemasons tools. There are now 17 lodges spread through the Netherlands.