"The Very Illustrious Bro Edith Armour, right, and Bro Etha Snodgrass, in front of the Packard 'Old Hiram'" (Photo Copyrighted A.F.H.R)
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,
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
claims to hold the title of 'Very Illustrious'
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.
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
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."
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.
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."
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
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
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."
In addition to new degrees, she also collected enough interest and applications
to start a number of new Lodges across the country, including Denver
and New York City,
with just more than a week between stops in those two cities. A few weeks later,
she spoke to a Lodge in Pittsburgh.
A few days later she was in Columbus, Ohio.
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
"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."