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About the 2018 Speakers

 

World Conference on Fraternalism,
 
Social Capital, and Civil Society 2018:
 

Not Men Only: Sisters, Sororities, and Ritualistic Societies


 

 

May 17 - 18, 2018

The Whittemore House, Washington DC

 

The 2018 conference will take special note of "The 200th anniversary of the Birth on August 31, 1818 of the unique Robert Morris, the Masonic and Eastern Star laureate"
 
 
 
Morris will be remembered by some as the prolyfic Presbiterian hymn writer, notably of the much loved gospel "Gaililee". His enduring fame is as Masonic writer and author of the original ritual of the Order of the Eastern Star, worldwide fraternity and charity that includes Freemasons and is primarily composed of their female relatives and friends.
 
The world headquarters of the Star is the celebrated Belmont mansion, which is within sight from the steps of the historic Whittemore House where our conference sessions will take place:
 
 
A special speaker will be Dr. Nancy Theiss. She is the Executive Director of the Oldham Historical Society. Its campus includes the church where Morris gave a number of signigicant sermons and lectures, and she has helped lead a multi million dollar campaign to preserve and enlarge the society's role in Kentucky history and research.
 
Dr. Theiss has published several books, numerous articles, and writes a column for the popular Louisville Courier-Journal as well as collecting oral histories in the Living Treasures Program. She and her husband live near La Grange, Kentucky, site of the Oldham historical park and near Dr. Rob Morris' tomb and home.
 
 
 
The title of Dr. Theiss' address encapsulates one of the conference themes, that of women's fraternalism, and is "A Beacon of Light: How Rob Morris Gave Credibility to the Women's Movement"
 
She remarks: "Cajoled and nicknamed the Petticoat Mason, Rob Morris opened the door for women into the light of Freemasonry when he created the Order of the Eastern Star in 1850.  The time at which Morris created the Eastern Star Degrees was ripe for the women's movement.  It allowed, in a conservative fashion, for women to belong to an organization with traditional and respected history, while giving them a voice.  Morris had created a system of degrees that could be duplicated and passed on easily enough through ritual.  The order was established as an androgynous branch of Freemasonry where both men and women were members.  The timing was right for attracting women to a fraternity that was well respected and established in the Masonic Lodges that were part of the villages and townships growing across Antebellum America."
 
A reviewer describes a recent and unique book based on the letters uncovered by by Dr. Theiss: "This book was written about the life of Rob Morris (1818-1888) based upon a collection of over 200 letters composed by Morris and members of his family. The letters were salvaged by Marjorie Morgan Applegate and her first husband Davis "Zeke" Morgan. Marjorie and Zeke, both members of Masonic orders, cared for Ethel Morris , whose husband, LeRoy Morris, was the great-grandson of Dr. Rob Morris. The letters had been passed down through the family line. When Morris began these letters with his wife, Charlotte, he instructed her to save and bind the letters so they could read them in their old age. 
 
The letters in this collection were transcribed by the author and for the most part, kept in their original vernacular and vocabulary. The misspellings that were kept, gave context and insight to the character and background of the people who wrote the letters...
 
Morris's early years, as he pursued his Masonic career while trying to support his wife and young children, provided a perspective about travel, family relationships and day to day life in the antebellum south. Many of the issues regarding education, the women's movement, pioneer living and the widening fracture between the northern and southern states are reflected in the family letters."
 
 
 
Participating in the Conference will be Teresa Lynn, familiar as a researcher, writer, and presenter of historical topics. She is a member of the Order of the Eastern Star and the Ingalls Wilder Legacy & Research Association, and has researched both Freemasonry and the Ingalls family extensively for many years. Little Lodges on the Prairie (Tranquility Press, 2014) is a book by her of very considerable pertinence to our meeting. Besides the Eastern Star and Wilder Association, she has been involved in Women Writing in the West, the Story Circle Network, Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Former Texas Rangers Association, and the Texas Master Naturalists.
 
 
 
Those who enjoyed the long runnig series Little House on the Prairie, a celebrated television show based on Laure Wilder's life, which aired in 1974 and ran until 1982, will recall how children and adults across the country followed Laura's tragedies and triumphs, watching as actress Melissa Gilbert, in her award winning part, grew up on the screen. The show guaranteed continually interest in Wilder, and has helped encourage whole new generations of "Little House" readers. Ms. Lynn has made remarkable discoveries in the relationships between the Wilders, the Freemasons and the Eastern Star.
 
 
 
Cecile Ravauger as Professor at the University of Bordeaux has led young European scholars into pondering the gender roles of  fraternalism in history, and her most recent book on African-American and black involvement has prompted widespread debate on both sides of the Atlantic.
 
 
 
Olivia Chaumont, the well known architect and leading urban designer has had a major influence on European Freemasonry by her decision while a leading Mason to assume a female identity and continue as a member, the only female member for a time of the Grand Orient, thus initiating a major consideration of membership requirements and the decision by the Grand Orient to admit women.