Was Brother Theodore Roosevelt a Feminist?

Was Brother Theodore Roosevelt a Feminist?

The man, the myth, and the legend: Theodore Roosevelt was a larger than life figure whose beneficent impact on the rights of humanity has continued long after his earthly demise. Few figures in American history can match Roosevelt’s archetypal status as a hero, adventurer, statesman, and visionary.

He was a many things in his life time, including a Freemason and President of the United States. Was Brother Theodore Roosevelt also a Feminist? 

 


The Early Years: Gaining Strength Through Adversity

Born in New York City in 1858, the boy, named Theodore Roosevelt Jr., was a frail and asthmatic child. Yet, sharing in his Father’s belief that willpower and strenuous living could overcome all infirmities, Teddy transformed himself with discipline and determination into a strong, courageous individual.

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Colonel Roosevelt of the Rough Riders, 1898

His tenacity and idealism would later assist him in weathering dark storms of difficulty, particularly on Valentine’s Day of 1884, when Theodore lost both his mother and wife within a span of a few hours. His mother, Mittie Roosevelt, died of typhoid fever at age forty-eight, in the same house as his first wife, Alice Lee Roosevelt, who at age twenty-three, died following the birth of their daughter, Alice. 

Theodore expressed his deep grief with a single, poignant sentence in his journal: “the light has gone out of my life.”

Searching for a way to transcend his personal tragedy, Roosevelt moved forward by working on a Cattle Ranch in the Dakotas. Then he served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy before attaining mythic war hero status for leading the Rough Riders’ charge of San Juan Hill in the Spanish–American War.

Joining the soon-to-be President McKinley as his running mate, they won a landslide victory in 1900, based on a platform of peace, prosperity, and conservation.

Ascent to Power: Freemasonry and the U.S. Presidency

In 1901, Theodore followed in the steps of his hero, Brother George Washington, by knocking on the door of the Temple to become a Freemason. He was initiated on January 2nd in Matinecock Lodge No. 806 in Oyster Bay, New York.

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V.P. Roosevelt’s Letter Before Receiving the 3rd Degree

After taking office as Vice President of the United States in March of that year, Bro. Roosevelt was Passed on March 27th and Raised on April 24th. Only five months later, Brother Roosevelt became President of the United States at the age of 42, after the untimely death by assassination of McKinley in September of 1901.

As a progressive leader and political maverick, Brother Theodore instituted domestic policies, which uplifted the common people and removed the barriers to opportunity and prosperity. President Roosevelt titled his domestic program, The Square Deala subtle nod to his Masonic allegiance and education. As a demonstration of action echoing his espoused principles, he described his intentions:

“When I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the game, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service.”

Roosevelt was an environmentalist who established national parks, forests, and monuments intended to preserve the nation’s natural resources. His successful diplomatic efforts ended the Russo-Japanese War and won him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. Elected in 1904 to a full term, Roosevelt continued to promote progressive policies that promoted equality and justice for the common people.

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Roosevelt in Masonic Regalia

Theodore Roosevelt’s extensive list of achievements almost defies belief: Harvard University Honors Graduate, Youngest Elected Member of the New York State Assembly, Leader of an Amazon River Scientific Exploration, Famed Historian and Author, Spanish-American War Hero, New York City Police Commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Governor of New York, President of the United States, as well as, famous Freemason.

During his Presidency, Brother Roosevelt combined his affinity for travel with his dedication to Masonry by visiting lodges across the nation and abroad. His words, written and spoken, reflected his Masonic ideals; he emphasized morality, duty, service, equality, charity, self-knowledge, justice, wisdom, merit, and ability.

In an address to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, Bro. Theodore explained his reasons for joining the Fraternity:

“One of the things that attracted me so greatly to Masonry, that I hailed the chance of becoming a Mason, was that it really did act up to what we, as a government and as a people, are pledged to — of treating each man on his merits as a man.”

Equal Before the Law: Roosevelt’s Feminism

In addition to his other accolades, Roosevelt was a woman’s rights advocate, historian and writer, gifted orator, dedicated conservationist, skilled diplomat, avid outdoorsman, hunter, and mountain climber. Could he also be considered a Feminist? 

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Roosevelt’s belief in the principle of equality transcended gender promoting equal rights for women in employment, opportunity, and equal pay. In his essay, “Practicability of Giving Men and Women Equal Rights,” he argued:

“Viewed in the abstract, I think there can be no question that women should have equal rights with men…. I contend that, even as the world now is, it is not only feasible but advisable to make women equal to men before the law.”

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Brother Roosevelt later wrote that “women should have free access to every field of labor which they care to enter, and when their work is as valuable as that of a man, it should be paid as highly.” Moreover, in his 1912 Presidential Campaign, Roosevelt took a revolutionary step for the rights of women in equal pay, labor protections, and universal suffrage.

Do these actions and beliefs qualify Roosevelt as a Feminist? By today’s definition and standard, I think it would be a stretch to call him as such, although he did advocate for equal pay for equal work.

However, considering Feminism during his era which is now described as the “first wave” of the larger movement, I would argue that Roosevelt’s stated beliefs and advancement of policies for equal treatment under the law (i.e., equal employment opportunity, equal pay, and equal voting rights) would qualify him as a Feminist. In fact, Bro. Roosevelt was the first major party candidate in U.S. history to campaign in favor of women’s suffrage, which brought the issue to national stage for the first time in 1912. 

Unafraid of Death: Brother Theodore’s Life of Service

Feminist or not, Theodore Roosevelt remained a faithful servant to Humanity till his death. In 1919, he died in his sleep and passed, at only 60 years old, to the Eternal Grand Lodge. Yet, his service and dedication to humanity continue on as examples of Masonic principles brought to life through action – immortal and true.  

“Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die; and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life. Both life and death are parts of the same Great Adventure.” Brother Theodore Roosevelt


 

Note: As always, this article does not reflect the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but is solely the opinion of the author. 

Is Freemasonry Dying or Evolving?

Is Freemasonry Dying or Evolving?

Time is a river in which all things must sink or swim, and change is a necessary component of what allows any living thing to survive. Freemasonry is no exception. However, today, Masonry seems to be facing some challenges. Statistically, Freemasonry is seeing a major decline, at least in mainstream (masculine, male-only) Masonry. Some Brothers are even saying that Freemasonry is dying.

Is it?

Freemasonry is a tradition which traces its origins as far back as medieval Europe, ancient Egypt, or, some Masonic thinkers even believe, lost pre-historic civilizations. While there are competing theories and narratives about the history of freemasonry, we know that Masonic ritual and culture has not always been the same; what we have today is certainly not a carbon copy of what took place in the ancient world, or even in the Middle Ages. That is certainly a good thing; as much as we love to relish our deep history and connection to the past, ultimately, all traditions must change and adapt to remain relevant, especially today. Is Freemasonry failing to meet that challenge?

As always, this writing does not reflect the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but is solely the reflections of one Co-Mason.

Evolution is Not Optional

freemasonry failingAs the saying goes, the numbers don’t lie, and all of the relevant statistics are given in the blog post by Brother Lance Kennedy linked at the beginning of this work; I won’t spend time re-hashing them here. If you consider Freemasonry in its mainstream form, there certainly is an undeniable downward trend. Many are making efforts to turn the tide, perhaps with some degree of success, but how best can Freemasons know exactly what needs to be changed, to breathe new life into a seemingly fading institution? While change is obviously necessary, exactly what changes are needed is also a matter of critical importance.

One useful point of comparison to learn what will help Freemasonry thrive and proceed into the future is the much higher growth rates being seen by alternative Masonic Orders, such as our own. Universal Co-Masonry is rapidly growing in numbers, and other Co-Masonic bodies around the globe, although still small in comparison to the nearly ubiquitous masculine Lodges, also appear to be healthily thriving, even as traditional masculine Masonry’s numbers decline.

So, what is Co-Masonry doing right that traditional Masonry is falling short of, that leads greater numbers of young initiates and even former mainstream Masons into our ranks?

The Elephant In the Lodge

women and freemasonryA reasonable way to approach the topic is to look at the key differences between the Orders. It appears that some of the things which once contributed to Masonry’s growth and popularity are now contributing to their decline. This includes the exclusion of women (as equals) from the Lodge, as well as the segregation of Lodges by race, in some jurisdictions. This is the most obvious difference, and was the primary motivation for our Co-Masonic Orders to emerge, or rather, diverge. This is primarily why Co-Masons, considered by masculine Masonry to be “clandestine,” came to exist, because Mainstream Masons refuse to acknowledge the enormous discrepancy between the modern recognition of the moral necessity for Equality in any organization, and their continuation of institutionalized inequality.

I believe that for most Masons under the age of 40, what is most mysterious is why this trend of young seekers favoring Orders based on Equality would be mysterious to anyone, in 2018. In an age of global culture and rising concern for equal rights for all people, the idea of a “Men-Only Club” seems inherently antiquated. To many young minds, it probably calls forth an image of stodgy old Victorian gentlemen, puffing pipes and pontificating through monocles in leather armchairs over how best to maintain their power and wealth, with wives obediently cooking after-Lodge dinner, nearby. I mean no offense to our masculine Masonic Brothers (and we do consider them Brothers, whether they recognize us or not), but this is a very real perception and state of affairs which is, perhaps in more symbolic ways than one, an elephant in the Lodge.

Pancakes Are Only Slightly Magical

masonic pancake breakfastHowever, in this author’s opinion, while inequality is one of, if not the primary factor, there are other major differences which are contributing to Co-Masonic success and mainstream Masonry’s decline, as well. After speaking to Masons who have been members of both, or have transitioned over, I believe I can accurately point out another huge problem facing Masonry, today.

One of the major complaints about mainstream Masonry is that it doesn’t deliver what the seekers drawn to it are looking for. Around the turn of the 20th century, Masonic organizations shifted their focus to charity instead of esoteric matters, mostly in response to growing anti-masonic sentiments, often associated with religious fundamentalism, and suspicions of the occult. Now, huge portions of time in the meetings are consumed with business matters and planning charitable events such as pancake breakfasts, and relatively little is devoted to esoteric study. While charity is ultimately a worthy and necessary aspect of Masonry, it’s not really what most of us come to the Fraternity looking for.

No, there are any number of charitable organizations out there which any young person can join, if they simply want to help/feed/educate people, which don’t involve commitments to secrecy, hours of memorization, and participation in rituals. What young people approaching Masonry today are seeking is more along the lines of guidance in their personal development, spiritual brotherhood, and revelations of arcane knowledge preserved against the eroding forces of time and religious suppression. The unfortunate fact is that masculine Masonry is generally not delivering on that promise, while Universal Co-Masonry emphasizes these things above all else.

Evolution or Extinction

masonic phoenixUltimately, the challenge facing Freemasonry today is the same as the challenge which has always faced every organism throughout all time: evolve, or go extinct; adapt, or fade away; iterate, or fail the market; upgrade, or become obsolete; sink, or swim. I really believe it is as simple as that. As we know from biological evolution, the branches of the evolutionary tree which will survive are those which are most suited to their environments. At one point, our rodent-like ancestors were not so different from their dinosaur cousins, but the differences they did have were a matter of life and death, the difference between inheriting the Earth, or fading into oblivion.

Luckily, the fate of Masonry today does not have to be determined by slow mutation, but rather, the willingness of each individual Mason to cast off the dry, scaly husk of the rigid, unequal, and mundane aspects of Masonry, and walk hand-in-hand with Brothers of all genders and creeds into a new dawn of spiritual enlightenment. If we wish to pass on the treasures which the Craft represents and guide humanity to a higher state of existence, it is the only way. So mote it be.