Marie Bourgeois Goaziou and North American Co-Freemasonry

Marie Bourgeois Goaziou and North American Co-Freemasonry

The woman to whom Co-Freemasonry in North America arguably owes a great debt of thanks, Marie Bourgeois Goaziou, died 100 years ago this year.

It’s doubtful that North American Co-Freemasonry would have survived if not for her. And, yet, there is not one comment, letter, paper, or quotation of hers that is known. She had to have been an interesting lady. For now, we have to take that on faith.

Like many women in history, what we think we know about Marie Goaziou is based on the men in her life, though we don’t know that much about even them. Her father’s name was John Bourgeois, but we know little more about him than his name. The same can be said for her mother, Marie Lepis[1]. She was born 24 July 1866[2] in Namur, the capital city of Wallonia in Belgium, where the Meuse and Sambre rivers meet.

Nothing is know about her childhood, even if she had siblings, though we do know she could read and write as she later helped in her husband’s newspaper business. Literacy alone would have set her apart from a lot of contemporary working class girls in her time.

We also don’t know what her parents did for a living but we do know that the family arrive to Pennsylvania, via Canada, when she was six years old. By 1883, they were living in the mining town of Houtzdale[3]. Shortly after her 17th birthday, Marie Bourgeois saved Co-Freemasonry in North American almost two decades before it was founded by convincing a young Louis Goaziou, future Grand Commander of the Order, not to return to his home in France.

Goaziou had arrived in Houtzdale from a fairly comfortable life in Brittany and spent the next two years mining coal and hating it. He was the best educated coal miner in the region, but it didn’t help. In midsummer of 1883, 19-year-old Goaziou sold his mining tools and announced to his friends that he was going home on a Monday.

“On Saturday, we had a farewell party at the boarding house with music and dancing,” Louis Goaziou later recalled[4].

Louis Goaziou also recalled meeting Marie at that party, but that seems unlikely. Houtzdale was a small community, and it seems impossible this could have been their first meeting. What seems more likely is that he noticed her for the first time. In the more than two years he’d lived there, Marie had blossomed into an attractive young woman. He was badly smitten.

He walked her home from the party and, that same night, discussed marriage with her and her parents. Marie Bourgeois was firm. She was willing to marry him, but she didn’t want to leave her parents. Louis Goaziou had to choose between going home or remaining in the United States to marry Marie Bourgeois and return to the coal mines he hated. He chose to remain.

They were married in Houtzdale on the 28th of August in 1883.

She could not have known that by convincing Goaziou to remain, Marie Bourgeois also insured that he was around during the chaotic period in 1908 when Goaziou effectively saved Co-Freemasonry in North America. She likely did know that she was entering the hard working world of a late 19th Century coal miner’s wife. The couple had eight children together – half of whom died in infancy and only three of whom made it to adulthood[5]. Of those three, one, their oldest daughter Clemence, died only days shy of her 18th birthday.

Life as a western Pennsylvania coal miner’s wife had a certain predictability to it, but Louis Goaziou was no ordinary coal miner, so Marie Goaziou could have been no ordinary miner’s wife. Goaziou became embroiled in union activism, as well as Anarchist and then Socialist politics, as together the two embarked upon a peripatetic life. By 1885, they were in MacDonald, where he worked loading coal machine and whispered “union” to his co-workers.

He did that too much and lost his job in MacDonald the following spring, sending the Goazious back to Houtzdale. Two years later, they were in Hastings in neighboring Cambria County before returning again to Houtzdale two years after that. Louis Goaziou also joined the Knights of Labor and became active in other radical workers groups.

Louis Goaziou’s health began to fail. He suffered at least one bout of measles and developed lung ailments that would plague him much of the rest of his life. Marie Goaziou presumable nursed him through much of that. It didn’t stop him from fighting for union representation among the miners of western Pennsylvania, despite the efforts of mine owners to starve the family out.

While the family was in Hastings, Louis Goaziou obtained a small Kelso printing press and started the first of a series of newspaper. The earliest were small, little more than leaflets, but they culminated in Union des Travailleurs, published in Charleroi. Goaziou family tradition states that Marie Goaziou kept the books for the newspapers and that the remaining ledgers are in her hand.

In 1902, Union des Travailleurs came to the attention of Antoine Muzzarelli, a French Freemason who was trying to found Co-Freemasonry in North America and was looking for the first Master of the new Order’s first Lodge. After corresponding with Louis Goaziou for about a year, Muzzarelli arrive in Charleroi on the 17th of October in 1903. There he met with more than a dozen men who crowded into the living room of the Goaziou home at 730 Washington Avenue.

That same evening, Louis Goaziou asked his wife if she’d like to become a Freemason. She said, “Yes.”

Two days later, Marie Goaziou became one of the first women Co-Masons in North America when she was Initiated, Passed, and Raised into Alpha Lodge No. 301 in Charleroi, becoming a Charter member of the Lodge. Louis Goaziou probably was in the East that day, only one day after his own Initiation, Passing and Raising. Alpha Lodge’s record is not complete, but Marie Goaziou appears to have remained active in Alpha Lodge, as well as, acting as hostess to a number of Co-Masonic leaders. These leaders included Muzzarelli and later members of the National Council, who often stayed at the Goaziou home when they were in town. In this way, she likely exercised influence, though she lacked authority, so long as her health remained good.

Unfortunately, in about 1906, Marie Goaziou’s health began to fail[6]. She had developed what her death certificate later described as “biliary cirrhosis of [the] liver,” which may have been caused by a severe case of hepatitis: an illness that was at epidemic proportions in the early 20th Century Western Pennsylvania coal fields. In late 1906 into the following spring, Marie Goaziou spent months in hospital and ever underwent surgery, which seems to have brought only little relief. Over the next decade, she was ill more often than she was well and her husband, whom she’d nursed through years of his own illnesses and whose own health remained precarious, now nursed her.

Marie Goaziou died on April 5, 1917 in the family’s apartment over their print shop in Charleroi. She was 50 years old. Her death was reported on the front page of the local newspaper.

It can be difficult at times to nail down one Brother’s contribution to any Masonic Order, but the debt Co-Freemasonry owes to Marie Bourgeois Goaziou is clear enough, even if her own words and ideas haven’t survived. Thanks to her, North American Co-Freemasonry did survive.

[1] Her parents’ names are listed on Marie Goaziou’s death certificate, preserved by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. I have found those names nowhere else, so additional research is needed.

[2] Ibid and her Memory Card, preserved in the Archives of the Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry, the American Federation of Human Rights.

[3] From Louis Goaziou’s dictated brief autobiography, “Written enroute to and at El Paso for Initiation Ceremonies”, also preserved in the Order’s archives.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See page 3 of eulogy delivered at Louis Goaziou’s funeral in 1937, preserved in the Order’s archives.

[6] See Andrée Prat’s “Louis Goaziou (1864-1937)”, published in Cahiers de la Commission d’Histoire, Fédération française du Droit Humain, n°9 /février 2004.