The Order of International Co-Freemasonry had its beginnings on January 14, 1882, when the distinguished authoress, lecturer and humanitarian, Maria Deraismes, was initiated into masculine Freemasonry in “Loge Libres Penseurs” (The Freethinkers Lodge) in Pecq, a small town outside Paris. After ten years of vain effort to open Freemasonry to women, Maria Deraismes and Georges Martin (a French doctor, Senator and General Councillor of Paris) resolved to found the first lodge in the world open to men and women and on March 14, 1893, Maria Deraismes initiated 16 women masons. On 4 April, the Order of International Co-Freemasonry “Le Droit Humain” came into being and spread rapidly throughout Europe.
The first English lady to enter the Order was Francesca Arundale, a theosophist and sister of a later International President of the Theosophical Society (TS), George Arundale, who also became a Co-Mason. It is noteworthy that all international presidents of the Theosophical Society have been or are masons and all save Henry Steel Olcott, Co-Masons.
Annie Besant, a close friend of Francesca Arundale, sought initiation to the Order in the strong belief that a masonic movement open to men and women could be a powerful force for good in the world. She was subsequently created Vice-President Grand Master of the Supreme Council (the governing body of the Order of International Co-Freemasonry) and Deputy for Great Britain and its Dependencies. The first English Co-Masonic Lodge “Human Duty” No. 6 was consecrated in London on September 26, 1902, with Besant as its ruler.
As an ardent theosophist and later the Society’s International President, she recognized that the Order would attract men and women from all walks of life who wished to work together to serve humanity. Largely through her enthusiasm it spread throughout the English-speaking world and her subsequent travels to India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, the United States of America gave great encouragement to the Order. The first lodges in Australia were formed in November 1911 (Melbourne) and January 1912 (Sydney). Others soon followed.
The Order now exists in over sixty countries. The international and administrative headquarters is in Paris. Legislative power is held by the International Convention which meets every five years and elects representatives for each country. In the interval between conventions, the Supreme Council is the supreme governing body of the Order and holds three meetings each year in Paris to discuss and make decisions.
The Order professes no dogma and is open to men and women without distinction of race, color, philosophy or religion. It imposes no restriction on the free search for Truth and to secure that freedom, expects tolerance from all its members. Its three great principles are: a) Brotherly Love, meaning that a Co-Freemason should always show tolerance and respect for the beliefs, gender, and race of others and behave with compassion toward them; (b) Relief, meaning that a Co-Freemason should actively practice charity by contributing, so far as his or her circumstances permit, both monetarily and personally toward those in need; and (c) Truth, meaning that a Co-Freemason should strive to understand him- or herself and the world we live in as deeply as possible, while never allowing differences of opinion to interfere with the harmony of the Order.
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