When an initiate presents himself at the door of the preparation room, he is asked by what right or benefit does he expect to become a Freemason? His reply through the Jr. Deacon is, because he is a man, freeborn, of mature age and coming under the tongue of good report. Which leads to the following question: "has there ever been a female Freemason?" The answer, affirmed by the Grand Lodge of England is yes one woman, and one woman only was initiated into the mysteries and secrets of Freemasonry. This occurred at the beginning of the 18th century and is a very curious tale indeed.
At this time Freemasons did not have set Lodge rooms, but rather rented rooms over taverns or used premises that were owned by one of the members. As an aside, a number of the Lodges from this time, took their names from the taverns in which they met.
Lord Doneraile, of County Cork, Ireland belonged to a Lodge that met occasionally at his estate Doneraile House. On the night in question, a gentleman was to be initiated a Freemason in a large apartment at Doneraile House. Unknown to the masons there assembled, Lord Doneraile's teen age daughter Miss Elizabeth St. Leger, was in a small chamber adjacent to the temporary lodge room, the only exit from which was through the lodge room. History has explained that her presence was accidental, but I rather feel her curiosity was a determining factor. At any rate, as the ceremonies began, she was able to loosen a brick in the wall, and clearly could hear the ritual of the degree the gentleman was going through. Once her curiosity was satisfied, she realized that she would have to make her escape undetected. As the ritual was being conducted in the far end of the apartment, she quietly stole to the door and opened it. Imagine her surprise as she ran into the Tyler, complete with raised sword! She was terrified and let out a loud shriek, which caused the whole lodge to surround her. It was obvious that she now knew a number of the secrets of Freemasonry, and her fate was hotly discussed. The more rigid and traditional members proposed death, but Lord Doneraile explained that she was his only daughter, and that was more punishment than was warranted by the crime. One member said that if she was a man, she could be made a mason, and therefore sworn to secrecy. Lord Doneraile said "she must be sworn in without being a man". This proved acceptable, and Elizabeth St. Leger was initiated on the spot. She subsequently proved herself to be as loyal and true to her oath as any Freemason in the fraternity. It is reported that whenever a benefit function for the "Masonic Freemason Orphan Asylum" was given in Dublin or Cork, Miss St. Leger always walked at the head of the procession of Freemasons, wearing her apron and other regalia. Her portrait formerly graced almost every Lodge in Ireland, and at the present time (1920's) many Lodges in England have faded mezzo-tints of this lady in full regalia.