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Women In Freemasonry: Lodges Of Adoption
The role of women in Freemasonry has evolved mainly in accordance with the culture of each country. There is, however, a general difference between the evolution of Freemasonry in English-speaking countries and in Europe. The original English body which set up the rules as early as 1723 and claimed that Lodges which wished to be accepted as “regular” had to accept their rules, still holds sway over the majority of Lodges in English-speaking cultures and a fair percentage elsewhere.
According to these rules, women were not admitted to Freemasonry, only men. A woman was not considered to be free, since she was dependent on her husband. Before marriage, she was under the authority of her father and, upon marriage, all her money and belongings became the legal property of her husband.
So, ever since 1723, any lodge admitting women has been considered “irregular” by the United Grand Lodge of England (U.G.L.E.), which still decides who is regular or who is not… even though the social position of women has totally changed since the early 18th Century
The history of women in Freemasonry since that time has been complex. As women became less dependent on men, the latter were often questioned on the aim of Freemasonry to work for the well-being of humanity while refusing to admit half of the said humanity as members of their Order. They justified their initial decision with increasing difficulty.
Research into historical archives has revealed some of their answers. In the 18th century, the main reason given was that it was general knowledge that women could not keep a secret. Also they were not financially independent, so not free. Other writers gave their renowned female shortcomings as an excuse: “vanity, moral weakness, sensuality”.
But women’s lodges and lodges for both men and women (also called co-masonry) now exist everywhere in the English-speaking world. Because of the male-only club tradition in England, the accession of women to Freemasonry has been much slower and more difficult than in Europe, especially in France, where some women were initiated as fellow members in “Lodges of Adoption” as early as the 1740s.
The principles of Freemasonry very quickly crossed the Channel, where the French, in any case, were not too keen about strictly obeying rules imposed by the English and where the idea of accepting women was considered feasible quite early.
 Robert Peter: Women in Eighteenth Century English Freemasonry: the First English Adoption Lodges and their Rituals, http://dx.doi/org/10.1558/JREF.vi1-2.60