(Member of The Colonial Lodge No. 1821, Master of Acacia Lodge No. 16 in Clifton, VA, and Co-host of The Masonic Roundtable Podcast)
Freemasonry provides unparalleled opportunities for brethren to customize their fraternal experiences. Whether a brother prefers the solemnity of Traditional Observance, the fraternal fellowship of country Lodges, or the focus on scholarship and academics present in research Lodges, Freemasonry provides each man the opportunity to tailor his Masonic experience to fit his personal needs and interests. This custom-tailoring of the Masonic experience has led, at least in part, to a growing number of “affinity” Lodges, wherein Masons band together according to a given affinity, or specified interest – especially in Washington, DC.
Some notable examples of affinity Lodges include Radio Fraternity Lodge No. 8040 UGLE, whose members are all amateur radio operators, Shotokan Karate Lodge No. 9752 UGLE, whose members all practice the martial arts, and closer to home, Arminius Lodge No. 25, our German speaking Lodge (and the oldest of our affinity lodges, chartered in 1876). One might also easily argue that Traditional Observance and Research Lodges fall into this category of affinity Lodges, of which Washington DC has several of, as well.
One category of affinity Lodges that has been growing substantially over the past several decades is the Academic Lodge. These Lodges base themselves close to a given university or academic center. The brethren that compose these Lodges all retain a specific tie to the university to which the Lodge is linked, and the activities and charitable purposes of the Lodge often directly tie to the university community.
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A Short History of Academic Lodges
The oldest Academic Lodge still in existence today is Apollo Lodge No. 357, an affinity Lodge serving the Oxford University community, which held its first meeting on 10 February 1819. The Lodge, which has to date initiated over 3,200 brethren from the Oxford community (including Bro. Oscar Wilde), set into motion several practices that contemporary Academic Lodges emulate, to include the initiation of members under the age of 21 and charging current students a lower dues structure than those brethren who have graduated and moved on. Isaac Newton University Lodge followed Apollo Lodge’s example in 1861, replacing Scientific Lodge No. 88 (chartered in 1854, originally in London) as the primary Lodge to which students at the University of Cambridge gravitated.
Official membership in the Universities Scheme has grown to 73 Lodges as of 2017, three of which are located in South Africa and one of which is located in Jamaica. To make Freemasonry more accessible to university-aged men, the United Grand Lodge of England both reduced the minimum initiation age of men in Universities Scheme Lodges from 21 to 18 (by dispensation), and halved dues fees for students. In addition, any Lodges who wish to participate in the Universities Scheme must adhere to the following rules and regulations above and beyond those required of regular Lodges under the jurisdiction of the UGLE:
- Universities Scheme Lodges must have representation at the annual Universities Scheme conference, where academic papers on Freemasonry are presented;
- Lodge costs--especially dining costs--must be suitable for young members;
- Lodge meeting times must be convenient for young members and students;
- Lodges must have a dedicated mentoring program in place, or under consideration, prior to admittance into the Universities Scheme; and
- Lodges must have a dedicated Lodge website that conveys updated and appropriate information.
Other Grand Lodge jurisdictions across the world, to include the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons, a women-only (femalecraft) Masonic organization, have set out to replicate the success of the UGLE Universities Scheme.
Academic Lodges in the United States
The Academic Lodge system first arrived in the United States in 1921 with the chartering of Richard C. Maclaurin Lodge in Massachusetts, which grew out of the “Masons at M.I.T.” Masonic club which had been operating at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Harvard Lodge, which grew out of a number of Masonic clubs that had been operating at Harvard University since the early 1900’s, soon followed with its chartering in 1922; and later, Boston University Lodge rounded out the three Academic Lodges currently falling under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. In early 2015, the Grand Master of Massachusetts gave a dispensation to organize an Academic Lodge at Northeastern University; however, the status of the founding of that Lodge is currently unknown.
- The Colonial Lodge No. 1821, with an affinity to The George Washington University in Washington, DC;
- The Patriot Lodge No. 1957, with an affinity to George Mason University in Fairfax, VA;
- The Eagle Lodge No. 1893, with an affinity to American University in Washington, DC; and
- Terrapin Lodge No. 241, with an affinity to the University of Maryland meeting in Beltsville, MD.
Leading up to the Mid-Atlantic Convocation, The Voice of Freemasonry will feature a short biopic on each of the Academic Lodges serving institutions of higher learning in the Washington, DC metro area.