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. 

What do Freemasons Imagine?

What do Freemasons Imagine?

I grew up listening to the Beatles. John Lennon was one of my favorite musicians. Recently I was listening to his song “Imagine.” As music sometimes does, it triggered a whole chain reaction of questions.

What does it mean to imagine, really? How is imagination related to creativity? Does it guide the Freemason? Is there a masonic message underneath the song’s lyrics for those who have the “seeing eye”?

At first listen, it’s easy to think of the song “Imagine” as a simple tune: a ballad, a vision of peace, a piano-driven melody. But at second listen,  I began to wonder, deep down, if what Lennon describes will really happen. Will the world have a happy ending?  To imagine all people living in peace asks for the giving up of what we often cling to most frantically.

Consider the third verse:

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

Possible, really? Imagine a life without material possessions. What are possessions? Well, pretty much everything that we love and cherish and cannot do without. Can we imagine a life without our smart devices? Probably, we cannot. And that’s why John Lennon questions if we are capable of such a triumph.

Even so, I subscribe to the theory that we are poised for a great leap forward in our evolution as humans. This turning point in our history is propelled by technology which is fundamentally transforming not only how we live as a species, but also how we see ourselves at our core. IMG_3216

And, in order to journey into this uncharted new phase of human history, we need Freemasonry more than ever. Why? Because behind all the Masonic work and underlying all its rituals and symbolism there can be found the prophetic vision of a new world. It frames a code and system of moral imagination for those who know that their work and actions transform themselves, and their world.

Brother Foster Bailey writes in “Spirit of Masonry”:

“The prophet of old has told us that ‘where there is no vision the people perish.’ In Masonry the vision blazes forth in the East, and towards the materializing of that vision all good Masons work.”

This begs the question: how do all “good masons” work at imagining?

Imagination: From “Ideas” to “Ideals” to “Idols

The scholar Wendy Wright describes the imagination as:

“the crucial capacity of the human person to create a world – either the familiar world of the everyday or a world not yet visible. Our relentless human search for new ways of being and relating, our dreams of beauty, our longings for mercy and justice.”

Wright claims that imagination is the heart of all creative work, allowing us to imagine the unseen and give form to the new. It is essential to all human activity. It gives us the power to recall the past, and to predict possibilities for the future.

1024px-Inside_the_Temple_of_Aboo-symbol-David_RobertsToday, the job of remembering the past has been well documented by research scholars. In our schools and in our lodges, we study the traditional history as it has unfolded down the centuries. But do we spend as much time attempting to imagine a clear picture of the future? Is there a method whereby ideas can be developed?

In the writings of Brother Alice Bailey, she gives an outline broadly speaking of how ideas pass through three stages.

  1. The idea – based on intuitive perception
  2. The ideal – based on mental formulation and distribution.
  3. The idol – based on the materializing tendency of physical manifestation. (This is when the sensed idea unfortunately becomes dogma).

Bailey says that “once an idea becomes an ideal, humanity can freely reject or accept it, but ideas come from a higher source and are imposed upon the racial mind, whether men want them or not.”

Interesting to consider? Not sure I agree with all of that sentence, especially the word “imposed,” but let us see how this method might work.

Imagine: “A Brotherhood of Man”

Take for example the idea of “brotherhood.” Most would say that in its pure state, the idea itself is from a higher source (Divine). In Early America, the impressed idea took flight as a radical thought movement in surprising ways. Brother George Washington and other early American Freemasons abandoned a European past in which an overbearing authority controlled the flow of ideas. A sense of something new was being imagined and being born in America. St._Paul's_Chapel_Great_Seal_Painting

The early masons “worked” to actualize this masonic ideal. They imagined a liberty from the imprisoning conditions of an oppressive class-ridden society. They imagined equality of society based upon universal education and combating ignorance. They imagined a fraternity, where all men are brothers.

Liberty! Equality! Fraternity! These three words were the outcry and ideals of the best minds of the time.

As such, through the imaginative process, the founders of America began to materialize a sensed idea of brotherhood, even if still a rough stone.

Brother Albert Pike writes in Morals and Dogma (1872):

“He who would become an accomplished Mason must not be content merely to hear, or even to understand, the lectures; he must, aided by them, and they having, as it were, marked out the way for him, study, interpret, and develop these symbols for himself.”

Pike stresses that the lectures and teachings must mark out a way. To develop the symbols is to “mark well,” making them manifest in the everyday world.

Great_Seal_of_the_United_States_(reverse).svgA case in point is The Great Seal, which was designed under the direction of accomplished masons such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. The Latin motto that is displayed on the unfinished pyramid — Annuit Coeptis Novus Ordo Seclorum — can be approximately, if poetically, translated as: “God Smiles on Our New Order of the Ages.” It expresses Masonic philosophy at its heart.

Thus, in the founding of America we see the three stages of the imagination process that Brother Alice Bailey describes.

And today? What do Freemasons imagine? Perhaps a better question is: How do Freemasons imagine? Sure, the world is not a Utopia yet.  But I have come to realize that the process of imagination can be a path to discovering what is good, true, and beautiful.  And in the words of John Lennon, “it’s easy if you try.” 

“The heart of human identity is the capacity and desire for birthing. To be is to become creative and bring forth the beautiful.” — John O’Donohue

The Perfection of Humanity: A Work in Progress

The Perfection of Humanity: A Work in Progress

What if perfection isn’t what you think it is? It is a term that every Freemason can relate to as part of their understanding. The zeal to achieve perfection is a core value of the masonic practice. Many instances of the word turn up in masonic language.

In the Scottish Rite, the combined degrees of 4 to 14 are called the “Lodge of Perfection.” In the Egyptian Rite, we find the “Rite of Perfect Initiates.” When we think of perfection, the idea has positive connotations. Achievement, completeness, evolution, excellence, fulfillment, integrity, and so on. People sometimes wear the title of perfection as a badge of honor.

What does perfection mean, really?

When I was younger and taking piano lessons, my music teacher’s studio wall was framed with a picture that said: “Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.” That was a tall order! Later, I discovered the view is very different. The merit of perfectionism is called seriously into question outside the music studio. For example, in the book Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, Fritz Perls writes that if you are “cursed with perfectionism, you are absolutely sunk.”

This contrast of views can be quite perplexing, since there appears to be truth on both sides of the equation. Perfectionism can apparently be a destructive trait or a good trait. The danger with using the word perfect is that it seems to imply completeness. One of the meanings of the word perfect is “absolute and unequivocal.” There’s a certain arrogance built into the word.

IMG00025-20100812-1145Trying to be perfect assumes that you know what perfect would be.

What if perfection is more like a verb? Is perfection a means to an end or the end itself? How is the idea of perfection portrayed in Freemasonry?

The Seed of Perfection

Man has always been fascinated by the mysterious perception of life and its purpose. As the hunt for the truth advances, more individuals are starting to focus on perfection of mind, body, and soul.

Manly Hall writes:

All humans have within them the seed of their own perfection. It is not bestowed; it is revealed. Man is a god in the making, and as in the mystic myths of Egypt, on the potter’s wheel he is being molded.

Manly Hall suggests that the perfection of potential is within us. We, of ourselves, are not that perfect, but there’s something within us that is. The true seeker on his journey ever strives for that hidden secret lost within — that seed of perfection.

The Buddha named Six Perfections to work on before illumination will manifest through us: 1) magnanimity, 2) selflessness, 3) patience, 4) fiery striving, 5) meditative quiescence, and 6) wisdom. The perfection of wisdom arises when the first five perfections have been attained. The masonic teaching focuses on the development of character and virtue as part of the training. Attention is given to “building in” certain patterns of right living, thinking and conduct. The Greeks, Persians, and Indians all had narratives of how to perfect the individual. These are ancient paths — tried, tested and proven.

statue-1593706_960_720Therefore, it appears that the divine plan for man can be both perfect and imperfect. The divine impulse that moves us all on the great Way through life, might be considered a perfect process. However, the product of this perfect system is yet to be fully manifested. It is truly a “work in progress.” It is a piece of labor that we must work on continually.

Annie Besant in her book Outer Court calls the process “spiritual alchemy.” She says:

Imagine the spiritual alchemist as taking all these forces of his nature, recognizing them as forces, and therefore as useful and necessary, but deliberately changing, purifying, and refining them.

It is so interesting to reflect on what it might mean to purify each of our faculties. What would it mean to guide others through this process of spiritual alchemy; to educate, to nurture, to listen and not always get the last word in? I walk with you, my friend, on this path of love and light back to the divine.

When the service for the divine spills over into assisting the perfection of humanity, it could be so uniquely lovely.

Service: The Highest Ideal

What is service? The word service is somehow elusive to me because it evokes different personal ideas in each of us. But anyone involved in a true service activity knows it is far from personal. It is about others and the grand design. It is not about “what’s in it for me” or the separate self. When we see everything in relation to ourselves, so will our spiritual vision be limited, isolated, and narrow.

Service is when our heart begins to beat in unison with the heartbeat of the divine plan, the divine tracing board, not our separatist mind.the_rough_ashlar_2

I ponder these obligations every time I think about the allegory of King Solomon’s Temple. I recently read a wonderful article about the legend here. The symbolism suggests that true perfection can never end with physical perfection. It is only the means to the end which is spiritual perfection.

The Temple must not only be built, but it must also be spiritualized, often described as “a Temple not made with hands.”

Albert Mackey tells us:

The speculative mason is engaged in the construction of a spiritual temple in his heart, pure and spotless, fit for the dwelling-place of Him who is the author of purity.

When we look at each other through this glance, we hear an echo of a heavenly realm. All here and now. I wonder about what it would be like to build and live in such a sacred community.

Too often the outer court, with its distractions and fleeting pleasures, demands our attention in ways that leave us enthralled within the walls of ourselves, and the veils of the mundane, forgetting our true perfect master. A call, if not responded to, a knock if ignored, causes the doors of inner perception to close, at least for a time.

What would it be like to see the deepest jewel in one another’s soul? What would it mean for divine faculties to come and take over, replacing all that is egotistic with all that is eternal? Will the perfection of humanity always be a work in progress?

A pile of rocks ceases to be a rock when somebody contemplates it with an idea of a cathedral in mind.   

—   Antoine De Saint-Exupery