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.

VP TR Letter 3rd Degree

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. 

Why Must a Freemason Ever Have Hope?

Why Must a Freemason Ever Have Hope?

Freemasons are taught that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Recently, I was faced with the unexpected death of a dear brother in my Lodge which left me feeling hopeless for a time. And so, the virtue of hope became an object of philosophical inquiry for me. How does hope fit in to cultivating a virtuous life? Is it really the best medicine for crushing grief and despair? If so, how does it work? Why are Freemasons encouraged to have hope?

Once I started observing what people would say about hope, when they experienced it, and when they reared back from it, I began to think there was a healthy amount of confusion about it.

Defined in a modern sense, hope is a belief in a positive outcome relating to events and circumstances in life. It is the desire that something will turn out for the best. In Freemasonry, hope is considered a virtue, often associated with the verities of immortality. The craft advocates two different types of virtues. The first are called the “Cardinal Virtues” of Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice. The second are called the “Theological Virtues,” of Faith, Hope and Charity (love).

In his theological discussions about hope, philosopher Thomas Aquinas notes that he considers hope to be a virtue because it provides the possibility for attaining difficult things. In the Western world, in general, there is an overwhelming sense of hope being something good and desirable. For some, it may even be an uncontroversial good. But is it?

Is it possible that hope could be something, well… not so good?

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a situation in which acquiring hope would not be desirable – until we look at the myth of Pandora’s Box.

The Mythology of Hope – Pandora’s Box

The ancient Greeks were not inspired at all with the concept of hope. Hope was not even considered a virtue. It was belittled as a trait defined as not being realistic about life orStory-Pandora-Opening-Box-Greek-Mythology burying your head in the sand. The cardinal virtues, such as justice or fortitude were the ones that the Greeks contemplated and strove to achieve. Hope was even in some myths possibly considered evil.

For example, the Greek myth of Pandora raises many philosophical questions about hope. As the story goes, when she married Epimetheus, she was given many seductive gifts. The God Zeus, being full of mischief, gives Pandora a large jar instructing her to keep it forever closed. But regardless of the warning from Zeus, her curiosity prevailed and she opened the box.

The list of items released from Pandora’s box are a handful: illness, disease, poverty, sadness… basically any horrible thing you could think of. They flew out of the box like tiny buzzing moths, and Pandora tried to shut it back up as quickly as she could. She did, according to some of the versions of her myth, manage to trap one important thing inside… hope.

It is disputed and there is much speculation as to why Zeus would even put hope in a vessel of evils. Regardless of why it was there, the myth of Pandora raises a really good question. Does hope deserve a different reputation?

It’s not optimism. It’s definitely not pessimism. And if it has a realism, what is it ultimately? Where does it come from? How does a Freemason reconcile these seeming paradoxes?

The Freemason’s Ladder – The Hope of Immortality

In the symbols of masonry, the virtue of hope is said to be located on the middle rung of 35584597545_8b99784836_bthe theological ladder of Jacob from the Book of Genesis. A Freemason ascends, climbing the steps of faith and hope which in turn lead to the summit of charity (love). These virtues are often portrayed on the ladder by the cross, anchor and heart, respectively.

Brother Albert Mackey gives us a clue in his Encyclopedia to Freemasonry:

“Having attained the first rung of the ladder, or faith in God, we are led by a belief in His wisdom and goodness to the hope of immortality. This is but a reasonable expectation; without it, virtue would lose its necessary stimulus and vice its salutary fear; life would be devoid of joy, and the grave but a scene of desolation.”

Mackey speaks of a “hope of immortality.” He explains that the cultivation of the virtues of faith and hope is not necessarily based on things going well for us. Freemasonry and its teachings face you with many challenges to explore to knock off the rough edges of imperfection. The craft, for example, is thoroughly rooted in the earth or the service and labor that the mason can offer. It is also entirely bent on moving toward the Heavenly Divine. Managing the two extremes (earth and heaven) is a dynamic balance.

In our climb, all of us have an important, even crucial, task to aid the world. We are prepared in so many ways, yet, still often fail at hope. Why?

In his book, “Art as a Factor in the Soul’s Evolution,” the Freemason Brother C. Jinarajadasa gives us further insight:

“At the very base of your nature, you will find faith, hope, and love. He that chooses evil refuses to look within himself, shuts his ears to the melody of his heart, as he blinds his eyes to the light of his soul. He does this because he finds it easier to live in desires. But underneath all life is the strong current that cannot be checked.”

Cutting straight through the many reasons for failing at hope that may be built upon individual traits, I would say that our hopelessness, when it occurs, is based upon the lack of true courage.

RainbowEnd2All this is to say that the only true and worthy source of absolute courage is the belief in the Immortality of the Self, the One that is Infinite, Changeless and Eternal. The virtue of hope leaps far beyond all the many valuable things, places, family and friends which we have come to rely upon…or may be grieving for.

Brother H.P. Blavatsky stressed there were two kinds of people – those who simply live their lives by the standards of the world, and those who become neophytes and students of the eternal wisdom.  Perhaps the virtue of hope is what is required for those who follow the path of the second group. Yes?

“There is a road, steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind, but yet a road, and it leads to the very heart of the Universe: I can tell you how to find those who will show you the secret gateway that opens inward only, and closes fast behind the neophyte for evermore.”  – Brother Helena Blavatsky

The Masonic Pursuit of Freedom

The Masonic Pursuit of Freedom

What makes a Freemason free? I started brooding over this question one day when wondering which word is better to use, “Freemason” or “mason.” Is one term more correct? Historically, the distinction is said to be a carry-over from the medieval period of the stone masons. In a grammatical sense, both terms are used interchangeably today. Like any word, I guess you can speculate more about their deeper meanings, if you are so inspired.

Anyway, as sometimes happens, a smaller question led to bigger ones. 

What is freedom? How is it important to a Freemason?

The concept of freedom is difficult to understand because it can work in mysterious ways from within out; it is not imposed from the outside. Rosa Parks was not protesting so that she could be free, nor was Mahatma Gandhi in prison waiting for someone to anoint him with an elixir of freedom. In their hearts and minds. they were already free!

Freedom means many things to different people. Some philosophers call freedom a principle, a law, or a right. It can be defined from various perspectives like economic, social, political or religious. Freedom has also been said to be a state of mind or even a state of being when a person is liberated from the “tomb of matter.” There are a select few who don’t believe it exists at all.

Regardless of how we define it, most would agree that freedom is part of our approach to life. The very ideas such as freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of worship, and freedom of choice all have become the very water and air of our societies. These freedoms are highly prized.

The American Declaration of Independence tells us:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Is, then, the instinctual striving toward freedom and the pursuit of happiness inherent in all human beings?

The Pursuit of Happiness by Aristotle
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The great philosophers in earlier centuries had a huge impact about how we think about these types of questions today. More than anyone else, Aristotle enshrined happiness as a central purpose of human life and a goal in itself. I read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics years ago before becoming a Freemason and adopted it as much of my own personal philosophy. In the lectures he presents a theory of happiness that has carried through all my years as a mason which says a lot.

Aristotle sought to answer the most fundamental questions you can ask yourself. What is the highest good of human existence? What is the highest good achievable by action?

Aristotle suggests that human existence is an activity of soul in accordance with virtue. To understand the nature of happiness or “eudaimonia,” as he called it, we must investigate the nature of virtue.

As Aristotle puts it:

“If happiness is in accordance with virtue, it is reasonable that it should be in accordance with the highest virtue; and this will be that of the best thing in us.”

Now, I thought the conclusion that Aristotle comes to after his lecture on virtue is very interesting. He says that none of the moral virtues are inherent in human nature. For example, the moral virtues, such as fortitude, temperance, justice, and prudence, can only be attained through practice and habitual action. Essentially, his line of thinking is that happiness comes from virtue, and then virtue comes from  freedom of choice. He says that “to entrust to chance what is greatest and most noble would be a very defective arrangement.”

statue-of-liberty-1746808_960_720Choices, as he defines them, are the things that can be brought about by one’s own efforts. Responsible choices are the ones that provide the greatest good for the greatest number. The freedom of choice is an essential component in the formula to happiness and consequently to becoming more “free.”

Which aspects, then, of freedom are most immediately identifiable to a freemason?

The “Free” Mason

In the writings of Manly P. Hall, we find many ideas that are in sync with Aristotle. When a mason passes through the door of the Temple and takes his seat, he has made a choice to let his entire nature be subjected to a drastic discipline of ethical training. By development of virtues, he advances in the Craft.

Manly Hall writes in The Candidate:

“There comes a time in the growth of every living individual thing when it realizes with dawning consciousness that it is a prisoner. It is at this point that man cries out with greater insistence to be liberated from the binding ties which, though invisible to mortal eyes, still chain him with bonds far more terrible than those of any physical prison.”

soul-2698886_960_720One can only speculate what Hall meant by the binding ties that chain him. 

What is the candidate being liberated from? Perhaps it could be said that the candidate is a slave to his dogmas and ideologies. He may be further tainted by the dynamics of power and profit. When a person is liberated from the prisons of ignorance and vice, then the attainment of greater freedom is automatic. There’s a greater purpose to life than the egotistic individual who is running the show.

Hall writes again:

“The eternal prisoner awaits the day when, standing upon the rocks that now form His shapeless tomb, He may raise His arms to heaven, bathed in the sunlight of spiritual freedom, free to join the sparkling atoms and dancing light-beings released from the bonds of prison wall and tomb.”

As Hall expresses, to be released from the bonds of prison wall is not a simple task. As Aristotle emphasized, it is easier to miss the mark than to hit it. For this reason, “right conduct is rare and praiseworthy and noble.” Freedom comes from examining everything in the light of whether it comes from an inner truth, or from a reaction to outer things.

In the end, why is it so hard to align with that inner truth? I say that maybe it’s much harder to hold out against it.

“Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.”  ~ George Washington

Universal Freemasonry

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