Part 3 of a series of the Impact of War on the Grand Lodge of Illinois and Freemasonry. Part one is here and part 2 is here.
Illinois had long been a destination for those immigrating from Germany. Many of my own ancestors had come to Illinois looking for opportunities in farming, commerce and industry. They brought with them their German languages and culture. By 1850 35.9%of foreign born Illinois residents were from Germany.
So, it was only natural that as freemasonry grew, lodges were forming with the work done in the native language of the membership. By 1918 according to the Proceedings of the MW Grand Lodge of Illinois, nine lodges were working the ritual in German, all in the Chicago area. But the Great War was about to have a direct impact on these nine lodges.
MWGM Austin H. Scrogin ordered that these lodges cease working in German and conduct work only in English. Scrogin said, “Fully realizing the great danger to America institutions by the German propaganda, I took up with the nine German-language lodges in Illinois the advisability of a change to the medium of speech in America. I had a consultation with the masters of the German lodges in Chicago. A second meeting was then held. At this all the masters, wardens, secretaries and most of the past masters of the lodges in the state, working in the German language, were present...”
Six of the lodge readily agreed to change their work to the English language. Three did not agree and MWGM Scrogin issued an edict that was mandated to be read in all lodges in Illinois that forbid the use of the German language in the work. Only English was to be allowed. His edict said in part, “A World Crisis is impending; the right of the Nations of the World to choose the form of government under which they shall live is attacked by a predatory militaristic power with a savagery and inhumanity which shock the moral sense of the world; the success of this attack would destroy democracy and free government and the achievements of the moral and religious progress and development of the human race for the past two hundred years; the liberties of all free nations, the perpetuity of the fundamental principles and precepts of Freemasonry now hang in the balance. At such a time, in such a crisis, every loyal and patriotic Mason must be conscious of the personal duty resting upon him to aid in all ways possible, in this supreme moment, to defeat this menace to humanity….”
One lodge refused to submit, Leasing Lodge No. 557. The proceedings reported that by a nearly unanimous vote, the members refused to adhere to the edict. MWGM promptly pulled Leasing Lodge’s charter. Scrogin made a visit to the lodge and concluded that the lodge membership did not understand the power of the office of Grand Master. Leasing lodge later complied with the edict and their charter was reinstated.
The 1918 proceedings also include a section titled “The Point of View” written by Delmar D. Darrah, Past Most Worshipful Grand Master of Illinois. Darrah was a Professor at Illinois Wesleyan University and one of most prolific masonic authors of his day. On the German speaking lodges, he wrote: “…This action was inspired, not so much because of prejudice against the German people in this country and their language, as it was to prevent the segregation of peoples of one nationality under the guise of Freemasonry. The fathers of Freemasonry who formulated the principles under which the fraternity is today working never contemplated the organization of class lodges wherein men of different nations, creeds, and professions might segregate and use the lodge as a means of propagating their own peculiar ideas and practices. The purpose of Freemasonry as originally conceived was that of a fraternal democracy, wherein men of every country, sect, and opinion, religious belief and political party, might come together around a common altar, upon a common equality and meet their fellows as children of one father. Lodges made up exclusively of Germans, Frenchmen, Italians, Swedes, and using the particular language of constituents is not a Masonic lodge; but a lodge composed of men representing these different nationalities and using the language of a country wherein the lodge is located is Masonic. If the war has done nothing else, it has awakened us to the danger of class lodges and has served to bring to us a better understanding of the object and purposes of genuine Freemasonry.”
In part 4 of this series, I will look to the future of Freemasonry in Illinois (after 1918) and provide a reflection 100 years later how these changes initiated in 1918 are still having an impact on the fraternity.
WB Gregory J. Knott is the Worshipful Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754 in Ogden (IL) and a plural member of St. Joseph Lodge No. 970 (IL), Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL) and Naval Lodge No. 4 in Washington, DC.