Aldworth in Masonic regalia, from a mezzotint of 1811
Elizabeth St Leger
County Cork, Ireland
|Children||St Leger Aldworth|
Elizabeth Aldworth (1693/1695[note 1]–1773/1775[note 2]), born Elizabeth St Leger, was known in her time as "The Lady Freemason" and was the first recorded woman to be initiated into Regular Freemasonry.
She was the daughter of Arthur St Leger, 1st Viscount Doneraile, of Doneraile Court, County Cork, Ireland.:7 She was married in 1713 to Richard Aldworth, Esq.,:7 in Newmarket. During the duration of the Hon. Elizabeth Aldworth—‘Whenever a benefit was given at the theaters in Dublin or Cork for the Masonic Female Orphan Asylum, she walked at the head of the Freemasons with her apron and other insignia of Freemasonary, and sat in the front row of the stage box. The house was always crowded on these occasions. Her portrait is in the lodge-room of almost every lodge of Ireland.’
The date of her initiation into Freemasonry is uncertain, but the Memoir of a Lady Freemason indicates that it was between 1710–1712, before her marriage. In his paper in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum in 1895, Edward Conder states that it was sometime between 1710–1718. In a reply to the paper, Masonic scholar William James Hughan stated: "Until Bro. Conder’s investigations we had all assumed that the various reports respecting the initiation of the Hon. Elizabeth St. Leger, though not always in agreement, were correct as to the occurrence being of a later date than 1730." Hughan also found the facts related to contradict the statements made by an Aldworth descendant.
Those facts are found in the Memoir, extracted from the records of the First Lodge of Ireland, which state that Arundel Hill was present at the initiation and often sat in Lodge with her.:8 The Memoir's editor also indicates that Conder's work was the first fixing of the date, which as of 1864 was not known.:16
Conder also states that the particular Lodge in which she was initiated, while commonly thought at the time of his research to be known, is also unknown, but that it may have been a private Lodge warranted out of London by her father. Conder also seems to be refuting an unelaborated-upon statement that Aldworth was initiated after the formation of the Grand Lodge of Ireland. He indicates that since the Viscount died in 1727, she could not have been initiated after that point, and at that time it seems that the commonly accepted date of formation of the Grand Lodge was 1729–30. It is now taken to be 1725.
The tradition of Aldworth's initiation is that Aldworth had fallen asleep while reading on a dim winter evening in the library, which was located next to the room in which the Lodge was meeting. In consequence of construction going on in the library, she was woken by the voices she heard next door, and the light shining through the loose brickwork. She removed some of the bricks and watched the proceedings. When she understood the solemnity of the proceedings, she wished to retreat, but was caught by the Lodge Tyler, who was also the family butler. Realizing her predicament, she screamed and fainted. The tyler summoned the Brethren (among them her father), and they ultimately decided to initiate her into the Lodge.
Later life and death
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In the reply to Conder's presentation, a Bro. Rylands indicated that "there was no evidence forthcoming" that Aldworth served as Master of a Lodge, or that she regularly attended. Elizabeth Aldworth died in 1775. There was a plaque erected at the new St. Finbarre's Cathedral by the Masons of Cork, which reads:
Of Newmarket Court, Co. Cork, Esq.,
ARTHUR, FIRST VISCOUNT DONERAILE.
Her Remains Lie Close to This Spot.
Born 1695, Died 1775.
Initiated into Masonry in
Lodge No. 44, at Doneraile Court
- AQC and Memoir both indicate a birthdate of 1693, while the cathedral plaque indicates 1695.
- AQC indicates 1773, Memoir and the cathedral plaque both indicate 1775.
- The editor of Memoir states in a footnote that Doneraile Lodge, No. 44 was founded at Clonnel in 1844, and that the number given is therefore incorrect.
- Day, John, ed. The Memoir of the Lady Freemason. Cork: Guy & Co., 1914.
- Lewistown Gazette (Lewistown, PA USA) February 16, 1860 Pg. 1 Col. 3.
- Ibid 2.
- Conder, Edward. "The Hon. Miss St. Leger and Freemasonry". The Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon. Reprinted with permission from Ars Quatuor Coronatorum: the Transactions of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, UGLE, vol. viii (1895), pp. 16–23. Accessed 13 August 2011.