While mainstream Freemasonry is traditionally exclusively a male organization, historically, there do seem to have been occasional exceptions. Elizabeth Aldworth is a notable one.
Who was the First Female Freemason?
Elizabeth Aldworth was born in 1693 in Doneraile, Co. Cork, to a prominent Anglo-Irish family. Elizabeth was the daughter of Elizabeth Hayes and Arthur St. Leger, 1st Viscount Doneraile.
Sometime around 1713 (the exact date is unknown), Elizabeth fell asleep while reading in the library at Doneraile Court. The building was undergoing renovations, and the wall between the library and the adjacent room included loose bricks with no mortar between them. She awoke to hear noises in the next room. The tone and cadence of the voices made her curious. Supposedly, she removed a brick or two so she could see what was going on.
She discovered her father’s lodge of Freemasons was using the neighboring room for a meeting. When she heard the gravity of the oaths being sworn, she became frightened. In her fear, she attempted sneak out of the library. But just outside the door, the butler was acting as “Tyler” for the lodge. His role was to protect the meeting from eavesdroppers. Startled by him, she screamed and fainted, and the butler called into the lodge room for her father.
It was decided that the only way to preserve the secrets that she had witnessed was to initiate her. This initiation would make her bound by the same oaths not to reveal what she had seen and heard.
Contemporary accounts say that she remained active Mason throughout her life, appearing in parades and meetings. Her name even appears among the subscribers in an early version of the constitutions of the fraternity, published in 1744. The memorial plaque that marks her grave was commissioned by the Freemans of Cork, Ireland, and lists her initiation as a Mason in 1712.
These days there are branches of Freemasonry or “Co-Freemasonry” that do accept women. However, most traditional Masonic jurisdictions still do not recognize them. Elizabeth Aldworth remains the only recognized female Freemason in Ireland. She is said to be one of only four women to have been initiated into Freemasonry.