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The Story of Old Hiram
"The Very Illustrious Bro Edith Armour, right, and Bro Etha Snodgrass, in front of the Packard 'Old Hiram'" (Photo Copyrighted A.F.H.R)

Edith Armour, North American Co-Freemasonry's third Most Sovereign Grand Commander, was almost a year in office, armed and on a grueling nationwide road trip, when she was spotted by Male-Only Masons in El Paso, Texas. Their biased but, oddly, mostly accurate impression of this petite, tough and determined woman is recorded in the March 1938 edition of New Age Magazine[1], published by the Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite:


"The City of El Paso, Texas, recently had as a visitor a so-called Thirty-third Degree Mason of the gentler sex - Miss Edith F. Armour, of Chicago. This young woman[2] claims to hold the title of 'Very Illustrious'[3] and to be a member of the Supreme Council of the International Co-Masonic Order, of Paris, France. She is touring the country and organizing chapters.

"Needless to say, Co-Masonry is not recognized as legitimate Masonry[4]. According to Miss Armour, the purpose of her organization is based on safe-guarding the ideal of human liberty for humanity, and other aims. It was started as a feminist movement in Paris by French intellectuals[5] and, according to Miss Armour, the members of the order stress spiritual values more than do the (regular) [sic] Masons. Of course, this means that the members are improving the Masonic Craft, in the same sense perhaps that some modern intellectuals improve the Holy Bible or the works of William Shakespeare. However, the fact remains that Co-Masonry is clandestine and not recognized by duly constituted and regular Grand Masonic Bodies.[6]"

Meanwhile, back at the Order's headquarters in Larkspur, Colorado that same month, fire "partly wiped out" the little town there, destroying an old barn and one of the cottages on Order's property.[7] There also were concerns about Ritual revisions, dealings with regalia suppliers, checks that needed to be cut and signed and a litter of kittens was born on a sofa. "When you take everything into consideration," a Larkspur Brother wrote to Armour, "Co-Masonry is a very complicated business."[8]

It was that. The state of North American Co-Freemasonry when Armour took over from her predecessor, Louis Goaziou, in 1937 was dire. The Great Depression had depleted the Order in numbers and money. Hard work of Brothers at the height of the economic downturn kept the Order afloat but there was a great need to reverse the depletion. Armour determined the best way to do this was to hit the road, visiting existing Lodges, founding new ones and spreading the word about Co-Freemasonry in North America. She traveled usually alone along those late-1930s highways in the Packard sedan she called "Old Hiram". She had a snub-nose .38 in the glove box but mostly she trusted her personal grit to be sure she wasn't bothered - and she wasn't.

Armour drove hard, long and fast, wearing out at least one set of tires[9] that first nationwide trip.

She started in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, where she saw to the Masonic rites and burial of her predecessor. Next she headed into the Midwest and to all points US, particularly in the Western states, over thousands of miles. We know something of Armour's travels in this period thanks to her correspondence with the Order's faithful and long serving Secretary-Treasurer Zenobe Delwarte; and his newly hired assistant, the often whining Edgar Allen Phillips.

We lack her precise itinerary but we know she was in Wheaton, Illinois in midJuly of 1939 because it was from Wheaton that Armour announced the coming of York Rite degrees officially[10] into North American Co-Freemasonry. "With regard to the Mark and Royal Arch, I have some good news for you," Armour wrote in her July 23, 1939 letter to Delwarte.

 "I got Bro Jinarajadasa to confer the degrees of Mark Master Mason, Excellent Master and the Holy Royal Arch of Jerusalem on myself and the following Brethren: Cooper, Snodgrass, Cook, Logan, Zimmers, Campbell, Mequillet, Elise Staggs, Herbert Staggs, Poutz and myself<sic>. He conferred also the chair degrees of the Mark Lodge and Royal Arch Chapter on me so that now I am in a position to go ahead and initiate people. He was very happy to do all this, and it will be of tremendous help to us in getting these Bodies started. Exc. Bro. Juul van Regteren Altena of Java assisted him as she also in in possession of those degrees."[11]

In addition to new degrees, she also collected enough interest and applications to start a number of new Lodges across the country, including Denver[12] and New York City[13], with just more than a week between stops in those two cities. A few weeks later, she spoke to a Lodge in Pittsburgh.[14] A few days later she was in Columbus, Ohio[15].

Soon after, she ended her tour where she began, paying respect to the Goaziou family in Charleroi, Pennsylvania. She was ready to go home.

Armour drove "Old Hiram" straight and fast to her home in Wheaton. She was exhausted before she left. "Friday morning I shall be on my way to Wheaton, a drive of something over 300 miles," she wrote to Phillips just before her departure.

"I shall be glad to get to a quiet spot. I have been staying in frightfully noisy, dirty hotels and have had very little sleep."

But Armour was satisfied with the job she'd done and the Brothers and new members she'd met along the way. "She was for almost a year 'on the road'," the Morning Star, Journal of the Eastern Federation of International Co-Freemasonry later reported; "and at the end of it she testifies to the solidarity of the Co-Masonic movement throughout the length and breadth of the States and the splendid devotion of its members."[16]

[1] In 1990, the Scottish Rite changed the name of New Age Magazine  to Scottish Rite Journal, under which name it is still published today

[2] Armour was 56 when this article was published.

[3] Armour received the 30th Degree 30th Degree September 14, 1912, the 32nd Degree June 16, 1918 and the 33rd Degree August 24, 1927. She became a member of Supreme Council May 24, 1936. Therefore, Armour was rightfully called "the Very Illustrious Brother".

[4] North American Co-Freemasonry was not then, and is not now, recognized as "legitimate" by most Malecraft Masonic orders in the US. However, then as now, such recognition is not required to be "legitimate". In this context, it's little more than unMasonic name calling.

[5] For a more accurate history of worldwide Co-Freemasonry, see my "On Holy Ground: History of the Honorable Order ofAmerican Co-Masonry, the American Federation of Human Rights" (Masonic Publishing Company of the US, 2011).

[6] See footnote 4.

[7] See Edgar Allen Phillip's March 11, 1938 letter to Armour

[8] See Phillips' March 31, 1938 letter to Armour

[9] See Armour's June 1938 letter to Phillips in which she comments "The old tires were not quite safe and I did not want to risk a blowout when driving fast."

[10] Unofficially, and a bit irregularly, the degrees arrived in the Order sometime in 1912 but was not worked, only conferred; and even then, only seldom.

[11] Determining the exact day these degrees arrived as Armour described, at present, is very difficult. The letter to Zenobe announcing the degrees had arrived is July 23, 1939. Based on other letters in the archives of the Order in Larkspur, Colorado, Armour arrived in Wheaton by July 11. Other letters from Armour to are dated July 11 and 17 with no mention of these degrees. What this means arrived in the Order July of 1939, probably some time between July 17 and 23. Further research may pinpoint the date further but, for now, this is the best information available.

[12] See Armour's letter to Phillips March 28, 1938

[13] See Armour's letter to Phillips April 7, 1938.

[14] See letter from Armour to Delwarte May 27, 1938

[15] See Armour's letter to Phillips June 1, 1938

[16] See the Morning Star January 1939 edition. Morning Star, an Australian publication, was in this instance quoting Armour's Co-Masonic News and Notes, which replaced the American Co-Mason. Sadly, no copies of Armour's News and Notes appear to have survived, even in the archives preserved in the headquarters of The Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry, the American Federation of Human Rights in Larkspur, CO. Quotations from News and Notes in publications such as the Morning Star appear to be all that remains. Bound copies of the Morning Star are maintained at Federation Headquarters.

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