Would you like to be linked in fraternal brotherhood to George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Harry Houdini and Buzz Aldrin? Do you consider yourself of good character? Do you believe in an Almighty Creator? Are you loyal to your country and interested in public service? Do you like ritual and ceremony? Do you have some extra income for membership fees? Are you a man?
If you answered yes to all those questions, then you might just be the perfect candidate for Freemasonry. To join the Freemasons, the oldest and largest fraternity in the world, all you have to do is call up your local lodge, fill out a petition, find members who will sponsor you and undergo some questioning. If you're accepted, then you'll start making new friends, learning secret rituals and upholding the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. Or, for the conspiracy-minded, you'll start plotting political assassinations and trying to take over the world. For a discussion of the controversies associated with Freemasonry, check out Stephanie Watson's excellent article on the subject.
Controversies aside, what if you're a woman who'd like to join a secret society but missed sorority rush? Unfortunately, the Freemasons' constitution makes it clear that no girls are allowed. Apparently, Freemasons were worried the women wouldn't be able to keep their mouths shut when it came to the organization's secrets. There are a number of women's groups that are associated with Freemasonry; most notably, the Order of the Eastern Star is open to Freemasons' daughters and wives, but it doesn't claim to offer the same sort of rituals or knowledge. There's also Co-Masonry, which began in France as Le Droit Humain and spread to the U.S. Co-Masonic lodges are open to both men and women, but proper Freemasons turn up their nose at these organizations, point to the constitution, and say that mixed lodges can't possibly be considered "real" lodges.
However, history reveals that there are some pretty sneaky ways for women to become Freemasons. Most notable is the tale of Elizabeth Aldworth, who eavesdropped on enough Masonic ceremonies that she had to be inducted so that she would obey the oaths of secrecy. Aldworth inspired a few copycats who spied their way into membership. Of course, it's possible for this plan to backfire -- one woman named Catherine Babington hid in a hollow pulpit in a Masonic lodge for more than a year. Once she was discovered she was kept in custody for more than a month while the members decided what to do with her. Her son maintained that she was made a Freemason as well, though some modern scholars are dubious.
So there you go, ladies. If you want to be a Freemason, just hide, eavesdrop and threaten to spill all. I can't guarantee that it will work 100 percent of the time, but it's your best shot.
Cristen and I discussed women in Freemasonry on an episode of Stuff Mom Never Told You that we recorded today, so keep an ear out for it in the upcoming weeks. We explore the uneasy relationship between the society in women, as well as historical instances when the group proved itself to be amazingly egalitarian. Are there any other boys' clubs that have hung a "No Girls Allowed" sign on the door? Let us know in the comments.