Apron and sash presented to the Empress Josephine on her admission to the Lodge of Virtue, Strasbourg, 1805
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 thePremier 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.