The fundamental idea of the Order of the Eastern Star is to be an organization composed of the female relatives of Masons. Therefore, in looking up its history, all organizations of female relatives of Masons must also be taken into consideration. However, as the history of Masonry itself is clouded in mystery, it is only logical that the history of the women’s organizations connected to it are as well.
The first reliable information on the subject of the organization of the women relatives of Masons seems to take us to what has been called “Androgynous Masonry” and “Adoptive Masonry.” The term “Androgynous” was simply a general term meaning of both “man” and “woman.”
The Adoptive Rite in Masonry was established in France in the mid-eighteenth century. It was called “Adoptive” because under its rules it was necessary for each Lodge to be placed under the charge of, and held under the sanction and warrant of, some regularly constituted Lodge. It must be noted that the ceremonies and rituals of these Adoptive Lodges were not similar to those of regular Masons, but need to be included as these Lodges consisted of both male and female members.
There have been numerous theories that suggest that the Adoptive Rite was brought over from France during Revolutionary times, but there seems to be no authentic history to substantiate this conclusion. It is more probable that some of the people who had knowledge of these ceremonies in Europe came to this country and used their knowledge to assist in forming some of the American organizations that preceded the formation of the Order of the Eastern Star.
O.E.S. Beginnings in America
It seems that during the first half of the eighteenth century, there was a demand for side degrees in Masonry, and many differing organizations were formed to meet this demand. Although some of these organizations are still in existence today, most faded in a relatively short period of time.
The history of the Order of the Eastern Star, as we know it today, has its roots in the ideas put forth by these preceding organizations. However, it began as a wholly separate entity in regards to its rites and rituals. Its history can be divided into three separate and distinct eras. The first era extended from 1850-1866 under the leadership of Dr. Robert Morris of Kentucky, the second era under Robert Macoy of New York, and the third era from 1876 to the present time.
As a Master Mason, Dr. Robert Morris was of the inclination that it would be nice to have a way for female relatives of Master Masons to share the benefits of knowledge and self-improvement that Freemasonry made available to men and to have a place in the Masonic Family that would allow men and women to participate together. Dr. Morris expanded upon this idea by founding the Order of the Eastern Star in 1850 by using beautiful and inspiring Biblical examples of heroic conduct and moral values.
Dr. Morris and his wife Charlotte worked on this idea of a Masonic fraternal Order for Master Masons and their female relatives for many years prior to the founding of the Order, but it was not until Dr. Morris was confined to his home from the effects of an accident that he fully developed the Eastern Start. During that time in 1850, Dr. Morris selected the Biblical heroines and the lessons and values of the Order. He then established the signs and passes, colors and emblems of the Order and defined the fundamental principles which have remained unchanged throughout the years. The first ceremony book for the Order was compiled and published under the title of “The Rosary of the Eastern Star.”
Between the years of 1850 and 1855 Dr. Morris focused his efforts on systemizing the Degrees and giving them a more organic form. In 1855, he inaugurated a short-lived “Supreme Constellation” and began issuing Charters to subordinate Constellations in many parts of the United Stated. This Supreme Constellation, being a self-appointed body lacked the legitimacy of regularly constituted Lodges and was discontinued in 1860. Although the constellation form of the organization was no longer in use, Dr. Morris continued his work from 1860 to 1866 by issuing various charters for “Families” within the organization. The “Family” style of the organization immediately preceded the current “Chapter” system later instituted, and many of the “Families” were in-fact reorganized into Chapters.
In 1866, Dr. Morris became associated with Mr. Robert Macoy, who took over the planning and organization of the Order of the Eastern Star, thus beginning the second era. In 1867 and 1868, Mr. Macoy compiled and published a Ritual, using Dr. Morris’ “Rosary” as a guide. This was the beginning of the organization of Chapters of the Order of the Eastern Star in the United States as well as internationally. He immediately attempted to make the work more systematic and succeeded in adapting it to organized Chapters in such a way as to assure their success.
The Chapter system, together with the more friendly cooperation of Masonry itself, as well as other causes, began to mold the Eastern Star into a real Order. The Chapters began to unite in the different states, forming true general bodies composed of representatives of all of the local bodies. The first Grand Chapters of the Order of the Eastern Star were organized in Michigan in 1867, and in Indiana in 1869, both of which grew from the Morris teachings. In next few subsequent years, all of the States where the Order had spread gradually met amongst themselves and organized their own Grand Chapters with varying degrees of success.
The aforementioned Grand Chapter of Indiana, after much trouble sustaining it-self, and many drawbacks, sent out an appeal in April 1876, requesting a General Council meeting to each of the other states’ Grand Chapters for the purpose of discussing the formation of a General Grand Chapter (GGC.) In November 1876, delegates from the various Grand Chapters met in Indianapolis and organized the first GGC. At this time there are Chapters in 46 states, 8 Canadian Provinces, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Sao Paulo (Brazil) and Italy that are Grand Jurisdictions joined by the GGC. It should be noted that the Grand Chapters of New Jersey and New York are not a part of the General Grand Council, and that Chapters in Hawaii and Alaska report directly to the GGC as there are no Grand Chapters within those states.
The current International Temple Headquarters for all of the Chapters and Grand Chapters throughout the O.E.S. world is located at 1618 New Hampshire Ave, NW, Washington, DC.
O.E.S. in Pennsylvania
A meeting was held on November 22, 1894 to organize the establishment the Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star of Pennsylvania. This meeting was also considered the first session. At this initial meeting, only five chapters were represented. However, over the years, the popularity of the Order of the Eastern star in the state of Pennsylvania increased dramatically reaching its zenith in 1957 with a total of 535 separate Chapters throughout the state. Since that time the number of Chapters throughout the state has been in decline, but the dedication of the membership remains a strong pillar in the Masonic family of appendant bodies.
There have been many members of the General Grand Chapters leadership that have had their home Chapters located in Pennsylvania, and our state continues to be a strong component of the national Grand Chapter system.
O.E.S. Chapter No.392
The Gettysburg Order of the Eastern Star Chapter No.392 was Constituted on October 27, 1924, and has been striving to make a difference in the community ever since.