Sisters of the Gild
The attempt of some writers to maintain that women were admitted into the Medieval Confraternities of Freemasons fails to be substantiated for want of sufficient proof. The entire spirit of the Old Constitutions indicates that none but men, under the titles of Brethren and fellows, were admitted into these Masonic Gilds; and the first Code of Charges adopted at the Revival in 1717, declares that "the persons admitted members of a Lodge must be good and true men . . . no women, etc."
The opinion that women were originally admitted into the Masonic Gild, as it is asserted that they were into some of the others, is based upon the fact that, in what is called the York Manuscript, No. 4, whose date as affixed to the Roll is 1693, we find the following words: "The one of the elders taking the Booke, and that hee or shee that is to be made mason shall lay their hands thereon, and the charge shall be given. " But in the Alnwick Manuscript, which is inserted as a Preface to the Records of the Lodge at Alnwick, beginning September 29, 1701, and which manuscript was therefore probably at least contemporary with that of York, we find the corresponding passage in the following words, "Then shall one of the most ancient of them all hold a book that he or they may lay his or their hands upon the said Book," etc.
Again in the Grand Lodge Manuscript, No. 1, whose date is 1583, we meet with the same regulation in Latin thus: Tunc unus er senioribus teneat librum et ille vet illi apposuerunt manus sub librum et tune praecepta deberent legi. This was no doubt the original form of which the writer of the York Manuscript gives a translation, and either through ignorance or clerical carelessness, the ille vet illi, instead of We or they, has been translated he or she. Besides, the whole tenor of the Charges in the York Manuscript clearly shows that they were intended for men only. A woman could scarcely have been required to swear that she "would not take her fellow's wife in villainy," nor make anyone a Free mason unless "he has his right limbs as a man ought to have."
It cannot be admitted on the authority of a mistranslation of a single letter, by which an a was taken for an e, thus changing ille into illa, or he into she, that the Masonic Gild admitted women into a Craft whose labors were to hew heavy stones and to ascend tall scaffolds.. Such never could have been the ease in Operative Masonry.
There is, however, abundant evidence that in the other Gilds, or Livery Companies of England, women or sisters were admitted to the freedom of the company. Herbert (History of the Livery Companies xi, page 83) thinks that the custom was borrowed, on the constitution of the Companies, by Edward III from the Ecclesiastical or Religious Gilds, which were often composed of both sexes. But there does not seem to be any evidence that the usage was extended to the Building Corporations or Freemasons Gilds. A woman might be a female grocer or haberdasher, but she could hardly perform the duties of a female builder.
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