About Those “Glory Days”
Membership Numbers… Note: As always I would like to presage the following with this disclaimer: In no way, shape, manner or form am I trying to disparage anyone or any body. What follows is an argument based purely on Masonic fact that needs no footnotes, for it proves itself in both meaning as well as its use of symbology.
This is a discussion for “Adults Only.” Both figuratively and literally, while also being slightly in-your-face enough to move the needle for context to address current numbers and their possible implications.
So with all that now on the table, here we go…
If you’ve heard it once you’ve heard it a thousand times, “Back in the day we came to Lodge because of our commitment to blah, blah, blah.”
I have no doubt there was true commitment from many Brothers of those times and since. However, I would like to take issue with a bit of it - and maybe - put some additional context around all that “glory days” swagger of times gone by using artifacts from that very same past.
Masons do research into how the Craft came about centuries ago, and both ponder as well as project their thoughts into formulating any impetus and intents.
Many of us also dwell upon the “good ol’ days” when Lodge rooms were filled to the brim and new Temples erected at a pace that would make a Wall Street real estate tycoon blush during the mid-20th century. Then, as was eloquently professed by Bill Murray in the opening scenes of “Stripes” (1981 Columbia Pictures) “…depression set in.”
Everyone talks about “After the war…” when referring to what’s colloquially known as the “Age of Fraternalism” and with it, give reasonings as to why it had such an impact on the fraternity.
In and around the middle of 1945, as there was resettlement into what we might call “normal life” and the collective world breathed a sigh of relief. Many embarked on what some might call “Living life to its fullest via any and all of life’s adult pleasures.” After all, many of this era thought every passing day could be their last, so now living life was to be put through all its zeal.
No one could (or should) blame them, for it was also a different time. But now, since we’ve put time on the table, let’s put it in chart form so we can view and postulate in real-time. To wit:
The above charts out membership via the Masonic Service Assoc. since they began and is the most referred to when numbers enter the picture. The notations are my own, and we’ll discuss them. Just note, although their record keeping begins in 1924, there’s still a lot we can speculate if we want to possibly open the doors for some true introspective assertions on current membership. And I will.
Warning: As I stated prior this is an “Adults Only” conversation, so if you find yourself wanting to yell at me through your screens in a “How dare you insinuate…!” manner. Remember, I’m using actual masonic artifacts and trying to put the pieces together for better understanding using both the history of the time and the underpinnings of the human condition, that we are always trying to scrutinize for possible improvement, nothing more. i.e., I’m only a messenger.
As you can see in the graph above, I made a notation regarding the “Temperance Movement” (TM). The reason for it is relevant to that other question I posed “causation or correlation?”
“And the relevance for all that is?” you may be asking. Great question, let’s see, shall we?
The TM really got going in the early 1800s gaining steam across the globe, and by 1909 a world prohibition conference in London formed the foundation of an International Prohibition Confederation. (source: Britannica.com) Here in the U.S., this culminated in what we now know as “Prohibition” in the 1920s and 30s with a constitutional amendment.
The date of 1909 and the idea behind its revelation is that in the U.S., just about at that same time, a little-known organization thrust itself onto the Masonic scene. They’re known as “Jesters.”
Founded in 1911 the Royal Order of Jesters functions in connection with Freemasonry and the Shriners. It is said to be an “invite only” Order. (source: royalorderofjesters.weebly.com)
“Why are you pointing this out in particular? After all, don’t we basically do this regarding Lodge, anyway?” Again, great question, but let’s remember some of those dates and relate them to the graph.
To use today’s vernacular “The hammer was coming down, hard!” regarding anything alcohol and more, especially so in 1911. Or said differently, with insinuation - you didn’t want to be “seen” having anything to do with alcohol during this period.
And then, in less time than most can memorize a lecture - it would be illegal to do so here in the U.S.
Now look at that graph again and notice precisely it was during this time membership numbers were exploding higher.
(Note: Yes, even though the graph begins in ’24, we can safely assume as we’ve parsed through other literature of times prior membership was in the accent going into ’24 and continuing through.)
Then, we begin to drop off a cliff.
Guess what happened precisely at that time frame? “WW2” you say?
Yes, there’s that, but it’s also the end of prohibition, e.g., officially 1933, unofficially circa 1931/32. Suddenly being “seen” is no longer a paramount consideration. Then, there’s the war.
Membership numbers remain flat for all intents and purposes till about 1945ish with good reason. Then, we begin to explode again. Why? Many have their inclinations and insinuations, but here’s one many may not fully comprehend for both its draw as well as efficacy to these now returning men to be “seen” partaking in.
So let’s now see if this prior insinuation holds any argument as we go through some decades…
For your consideration I offer the following, let’s begin with the back of a brochure for a Masonic gathering which at its time was all the rage. To wit:
But then, much in tangent with the fall of membership, so to did the drapes of polite society and it was no longer risqué or anything else of risk that needed to be held in close quarters or behind closed doors. i.e., No longer did men need to find other like-minded, fun-loving others to partake in these venues. After all, you now had versions of “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Replacing the need of the Jester motto or any other wink to secrecy.
Again, to reiterate the insinuation point: There was no longer a need to find others or partake in closed quarter fashion with those others to partake in fare “others” may not have a particular passion for. Yet, it was fully accepted by all those that both were of like minds, or better yet, of like mouths as for keeping them shut. Again - Vegas anyone?
So now that I’ve probably got a few of you swearing under your breath, believing I’m making disparaging insinuations or commentary against the Shrine or any other Body.
To that, I would answer wholeheartedly - absolutely not!
And if you do, then it is you that is willingly not understanding my premise and need to, if, you want to argue or contemplate membership going forward. Period, full stop.
What I am insinuating (because all of it is complete conjecture, even those that use the war argument as a basis) is that - like it or not and argue that it is or it isn’t - the fact that our structure or system for membership that has been copied by countless other organizations, just so happened to be, the perfect structure for men of like minds that wanted to partake in entertainment that was either frowned upon or other by polite society, and all it took for the “price of admission” was to join Lodge then move into the concordant Body. Is an exercise of ignorance-is-bliss to anyone trying to sort causation and correlation arguments seriously.
In other words, let me use this example…
It’s like a willingness to dare not look under the carpet where there’s a noticeable hump next to the 5-year-old standing there holding a broom saying “I swept the floor for you!” You’re going to praise, thank, or whatever. But you know you’re going to have to look, like it or not. You just hope it’s what you want to be there, not what you dare not try to think about might be.
Today the Craft is doing many things trying to retain and increase membership back to the “glory days” level.
The problem is: It’s trying to do so without the tools, slogans, events, and other aspects that are no longer considered acceptable to Masons.
Think about it, can you imagine the uproar today if the Shrine itself put on another event mimicking the one above, even though it was actually, perfectly acceptable at the time and did?
You can’t be looking to replicate numbers that may have been achieved using enticements that today are completely anathema to the Craft. It’s beyond foolish and leads to nothing but complete and utter frustration for those that keep trying. For it won’t work and needs to stop and be thought through for better tactics and achievable and appropriate results going forward.
i.e., Those “working tools” of the past no longer apply, they actually hinder.
Think I’m off base? Fair enough, so consider the following for your own contemplation exercise. Ready?
I would bet dollars to doughnuts that using the above 1946 example as a construct that if a Masonic Con was announced using Masonic Education as the lead - then using “Sally” as the finale, there would be such an uproar that Masonic trials, suspensions and more would shake the very Earth with their weight in numbers hitting Solomon’s floor.
But I would also bet…
It would be the most popular, most well attended, and would probably gain new members in drove if the midsection held a one-day class as mandatory to view the finale.
Think about it.
To reiterate, I am not proposing that we do anything of the sort. However, what I am advocating is: that this is why you need to look at membership rolls with a more discerning eye going forward. For the “entertainment value” of yesteryear are no longer part of our community. And last time I looked…
Booze and sex still have quite an attraction, but we don’t associate with either anymore.
Again, don’t let that point be lost. Truly think about it, and we can plan ahead accordingly. Be willfully ignorant of the possibilities for explaining the past--And you’re planning for oblivion.
Oh, and one last thing for those that maybe think I have no idea what that “Golden age of adult theater” might have entailed. I just leave with the following. To wit:
Lili just so happens to be that era's biggest star.
But then again, what would I know about any of that, right?
~Bro. Mark St.Cyr Freemason