A Brief History
In truth, the origin of our organization is shrouded in mystery, much as the origin of Masonry, itself. The Order of the Eastern Star, founded on Masonry and for the benefit of the female relatives of Master Masons, was known by other names in Europe before it came to America. In these organizations Masons prepared instructive and enlightening lessons and charges that were given to their female relatives.
About 1780 there appeared in France an organization called “Adoptive Masonry,” under the sanction and warrant of a regularly constituted Masonic Lodge, whose Worshipful Master was the presiding officer, assisted by a woman designated as “President” or “Mistress.” A printed ritual of the work was issued in 1787. Some think the five degrees were introduced in this country by French officers who assisted our country in its struggle for liberty. However, no authentic history substantiates this. It is highly probable that knowledge of the French organization may have filtered through and helped to create and bring into use some of the lectures used in this country as the basis for the formation of the Eastern Star. The Lessons and Charges were collected and published by the Masonic Supreme Council in 1793 in Boston under the title, “Thesauros.”
It remained for one, Dr. Robert Morris, of Kentucky, to give form to the organization known as the Order of the Eastern Star. He initially communicated a regular course of lectures in November 1850 at Colliersville, TN, as evidenced by his written statement:
“At Colliersville, likewise, I conferred the degrees of the Eastern Star and Good Samaritan. Both of these I had received some years before. The restrictions under which the Eastern Star was communicated to me were that it should only be given to Master Masons, their wives, widows, sisters and daughters, and only when five or more ladies of the classes named were present.”
In 1854 he wrote in The American Freemason: “First in the array of Adoptive Degrees, highest in the ranks of brilliant and impressive thought, comes THE EASTERN STAR, with its fixed points of Jephthah’s Daughter, Ruth, Esther, Martha and Electa. Those who would have heard our lectures in different sections of the United States are aware that we value it both for what it has done and for its future promise. We have personally communicated The Eastern Star to more than three thousand ladies, the wives, daughters, sisters and widows of Master Masons. The degree is never communicated from man-to-man – to impart it at all requires the consent and presence of five or more ladies who must be, if unmarried, at least 18 years of age. This degree is of French extraction . . . It is properly conferred in a regular organization styled a Constellation …”
The term “constellation” was later replaced with “families” and still later by “chapter.”
Robert Morris “communicated” the degrees of the Eastern Star in New York City for the first time in April of 1854 and continued to promote the American Adoptive
Rite that included the degrees of the Eastern Star until 1865. At that time he transferred to Robert Macoy the titles and prerogatives which he had assumed.
Robert Macoy continued to communicate the Eastern Star Degrees and immediately prepared a Manual of Eastern Star Degrees in a more simplified form. He coined the term “Order of the Eastern Star.” In this manual were the symbols, scriptural illustrations, lectures and rules for government. Also, in 1865, the Grand Lodge, F & AM, planned a Masonic Fair for the purpose of increasing an already established fund for the erection of a Masonic Hall in New York City.
To assist the Brothers, the ladies in the families of master Masons organized the “Ladies Masonic Fair Association.” Many of these ladies were holders of Adoptive Rite Certificates and, as they worked with Brother Macoy, they pleaded with him to change his manual into an Eastern Star Ritual that would provide a permanent organization in which their works of Charity and Benevolence might be extended.
In October 1868 the manuscript for the Macoy “Chapter System Ritual” was presented to a group of Adoptive sisters in New York City who called themselves the Alpha Sisters. Alpha Chapter No. 1 was organized December 28, 1868.
By 1870 the need to form an umbrella organization for chapters that had been constituted throughout the state became apparent. A convention of delegates met on November 3, 1870 to organize the Grand Chapter Order of the Eastern Star of the State of New York. A Constitution and General Regulations were adopted. In 1884 the Grand Matron was made the executive officer of the Grand Chapter.
By 1874 there were more than 600 chapters in the U.S. and Grand Chapters had also been formed in a number of other states. A Supreme or General Grand Chapter seemed to be a possibility. The Grand Chapter of Indiana sent an invitation to all state Grand Chapters to meet in Indianapolis November 15, 1876. The Grand Chapters of California, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and New Jersey sent delegates and, thus, the General Grand Chapter was formed. New Jersey later withdrew from General Grand Chapter.
There are now 55 Grand Jurisdictions, including Scotland, Australia, the Canadian Provinces and all of the states of the United States, with the exception of New Jersey and New York. New York State has maintained its status as an independent sovereign Grand Jurisdiction since its organization.
An Eastern Star Home has been in existence since 1898, the first home being established in Waterville, New York. It was voted to add an infirmary in 1913.A newer and larger home and infirmary were dedicated in Oriskany in 1916.Since that time, new wings and new buildings have been added at the Oriskany campus to keep pace with need, and substantial renovations of existing buildings have taken place. The present chapel with its beautiful stained glass windows was dedicated in 1936.