In historical terms, a human “generation” is considered a period of time spanning some 20 to 25 years. Using that measure, it has been almost a full generation since the Sovereign Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodge of California, and Grand Lodges in other jurisdictions, opened membership in Odd Fellows Lodges to women. The Rebekah Degree and Rebekah Lodges were always open to women since their inception in 1851, and ironically, men could join Rebekah Lodges almost from their beginnings. Yet Odd Fellows Lodges were closed to women until the turn of this Century. In the 21st Century, all Odd Fellows Lodges are open to women to apply and to join and to advance to any and all degrees and offices. This is the Law of Odd Fellowship.
Yet, it is distressing to say that there are still Lodges in California and in other jurisdictions that have no female members. I can certainly understand that there may be a brief period of time (perhaps one or two years) when all-male Lodges would transition to admitting their first female members. But that time has long since passed. It’s been almost 20 years since the decision to open our Odd Fellows Lodges to women, and – sad to say – in 2017 there are still Lodges with no female members. This is unacceptable, and violates basic principles of our Order. The Odd Fellows Membership Application states, explicitly, the following as to who may become a member: “A man or woman over the age of 16 years, of good character, whose life and acts have been worthy and honorable, is eligible for membership.”
Significantly, nothing less than the Code of General Laws of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows makes crystal clear, in Chapter III, Section 1 that membership in an Odd Fellows Lodge is open to “a person”. It does not limit membership to “a man”. And to reinforce this egalitarian requirement of the Code, that same Section states the following warning to non-complying Lodges: “Continued rejection of women may result in revocation of an Odd Fellows Charter after notice and hearing.”
I have heard the excuses (and they are, truly, excuses) from members of Lodges that have no women on their membership rolls. And these are not just small Lodges of less than ten members. There are Lodges of 40, 50, even Lodges with over 100 members, that have not one female member.
Some members offer excuses that are brutally frank, and say things like: “I don’t want a woman member in my Lodge. If a woman joins, I would leave.” But let’s substitute another word for “woman” in this statement. What if the member had not used the word “woman” in his statement, but instead had used the word “African-American” or “Asian-American” or “Hispanic” or “Jew” or “Catholic” or “Hindu” or “Muslim” or “Buddhist”? Would that be acceptable? Of course not. It would display intolerance and prejudice and would be a show of blatant discrimination. How is it any less reprehensible or more acceptable because the member used the word “woman”? It is demonstrably unacceptable and should be so to every Odd Fellow who professes belief in Friendship, Love and Truth.
Some offer what they must consider to be reasonable or logical “excuses” and say, “No woman has ever applied” or “I don’t know any women who would want to join” or “the women I know have their own organizations.” These sorts of “reasons” are simply thinly veiled excuses for discrimination. Give me a break. Half the population of this country is female, as is the population of every state and province and every city and town. Are you really telling us that in a Lodge of 30 members, not one male member is able to find even one woman who would like to apply to join? Nonsense. Of course they can. But either through laziness, inertia, prejudice or just because they want the Lodge to remain an “old boy’s club” no women are sponsored for membership.
This sort of behavior should be anathema to good fellowship and should be rejected by every true Odd Fellow. Odd Fellowship professes, right on the website of the Sovereign Grand Lodge, “to elevate the character of men and women”. Relegating women to second-class citizenship is not acceptable. Creating structures for women which are “separate but equal” is no longer acceptable. Odd Fellows Law requires Lodges to accept men and women. For any Lodge to admit men, but reject women either de jure or de facto, is a violation of Odd Fellows Law and Odd Fellows principals. After a generation – almost 20 years – a Lodge today that has no women on its membership rolls must be viewed as a Lodge that rejects women. For all those men who routinely profess that we must all “follow the Code,” I remind them that not admitting women into their Lodge is a violation of the Code.
And even from the very narrow perspective of membership development, the exclusion of half the population makes no sense. Particularly Lodges that are struggling to survive as membership declines can ill afford to turn their collective backs on women.
The Lodges that have no women as members know who they are. I hope and trust that they will – after all these years – finally do the right thing. Follow the Code.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master