Vol. XVII No. 4 — April 1939

Masonic Population

Every Master Mason knows that the fraternity has lost membership since 1929. From a peak of 3,300,000 we dropped to 2,500,000 in 1937, a loss of more than 24 percent of the highest figure. And of course Masons have worried; grand lodge leaders have been perturbed; enemies of Freemasonry have exulted, even though the fraternity has lost less than other fraternal organizations.

The Masonic Service Association conducted an investigation to ascertain just how much justification there was for the distress over these losses. Perhaps the picture was not as black as the figures seemed to paint. The enormous gains made during and immediately following the world war resulted in a mushroom growth, caused by a rush of candidates many of whom never became interested in the order they had joined in the days of patriotic fervor.

The result of the investigation was a Digest of figures and charts, not only interesting but comforting for the nation as a whole, and for thirty-four of the forty-nine grand lodges of the United States. For they show that if the years from 1888 to 1917 — thirty years prior to this nation’s entry into the great war — be taken as a period of normal growth, the present Masonic population for the country as a whole, and for thirty-four of the forty-nine grand lodges, is greater than it would have been had normal growth continued with no war to speed it tip.

In this Bulletin is a graph of the United States, showing the years from 1888 to 1948 — sixty years. A curved line rises and falls across these years, through heavy black horizontal lines each representing 100,000, and lighter horizontal lines each representing 33,333 Masonic population.

From 607,000 Masons in 1888, the “population curve” climbs to 1,914,000 in 1917, then bends sharply upward to the peak of 3,300,000 in 1929, then down again to the 2,500,000 line in 1937.

Diagonally across the graph is the straight median line. According to the Standard Dictionary, median means “Of or pertaining to the middle. Of or pertaining to the number of a series which has as many numbers preceding as following it. An imaginary line on the surface of a body between opposite symmetrical halves.” On the graph it means “average growth” as shown by the figures from 1888 to 1917. Had the curve for those thirty years repeated itself for the next thirty years the actual population of the Fraternity at the end of 1937 would not be reached until 1943. This is shown by the continuation of the median line beyond 1917. From 1888 to 1917 the median line is an average: beyond 1917 it is a prophecy — a prophecy which might have become a fact had there been no war.

The dates along the bottom of the graph refer to the vertical lines immediately above each figure. The population figures in the column at the left refer to the horizontal lines immediately to the right. The curved line joins the populations to their respective’ dates. The median line shows the “normal expectancy” of population in any year from 1917 to 1946. The heavy vertical line is the year 1917.

The median line is ascertained by simple mathematics. The populations for the thirty years from 1888 to 1917 are added, and divided by thirty, thus giving the average. The average year of the thirty years, of course, is fifteen years forward from 1888; fifteen years back from 1917 — or 1902. The average population of the thirty years marked on the graph at the average year (1902) represents average or normal growth for those thirty years. This point, connected to the starting point, gives the slanting line (median line) for thirty years, which shows normal growth; growth which would have been had all years been alike in increases.

This line, projected onward on the same path becomes the prophecy of what would be normal growth.

The population statistics used in making this graph (and the graphs for each individual grand lodge) were kindly supplied by M.W. Charles C. Hunt, grand secretary and grand librarian of the great Masonic Library of Iowa. Of these he wrote:

Other published figures do not, in all instances, agree with these. As a rule, my figures were from letters received from Grand Secretaries: when these do not agree with figures in the Proceedings (the yearly book published by all grand lodges) it is because letters to me and dates of publication of Proceedings do not correspond. Since Proceedings are published during the year from January to December, and my figures were given me in May, I believe there is more uniformity in my figures than those taken wholly from Proceedings.

The accuracy of the graph as a whole is in no way affected by the small size of the squares, or the possible inaccuracy in any one Square. Had this graph been made on a gigantic sheet of paper, with each line representing 100 instead of 100,000 of population and then the whole great chart reduced to the present size, the curve would appear identical.

The population curve is beginning to flatten. It is not difficult to imagine it making a small segment of a circle and actually meeting the median line in 1943, in which event the population of the Fraternity in that year would he exactly what it ought to be. It is now, what it ought to be in 1943 — in other words, we are five years ahead of normal growth.

And what is true for the country as a whole, is true of three-fourths of the grand lodges of the nation.

The Masonic Service Association published graphs like that here republished for each one of our forty-nine grand lodges. Some are so far ahead of the growth they should have had, by normal expectancy, that the median line runs off the chart! Nevada, for instance, has now the Masonic population which would have been hers by normal expectancy seventy years hence — in 2008.

That every Mason may know just what degree of comfort he may take in his own grand lodge, the following table shows the years normal expectancy of population will be reached, or was reached:

Alabama 1931 Nevada 2008
Arizona 1971 New Hampshire 1942
Arkansas 1935 New Jersey 1965
California 1971 New Mexico 1958
Colorado 1945 New York 1936
Connecticut 1951 North Carolina 1933
Delaware 1943 North Dakota 1933
Florida 1956 Ohio i960
Georgia 1932. Oklahoma 1945
Idaho 1967 Oregon 1954
Illinois 1950 Pennsylvania 1943
Indiana 1945 Rhode Island 1955
Iowa 1935 South Carolina 1933
Kansas 1944 South Dakota 1964
Kentucky 1932 Tennessee 1943
Louisiana 1934 Texas 1945
Maine 1935 Utah 1957
Maryland 1951 Vermont 1935
Massachusetts 1945 Virginia 1943
Michigan 1937 Washington 1955
Minnesota 1942 West Virginia 1946
Mississippi 1932 Wisconsin 1954
Missouri 1946 Wyoming 1969
Montana 1963 Dist. of Columbia 1952
Nebraska 1938

Considering dates first, instead of grand lodges, the normal expectancy of Masonic population was reached in 1932 by Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi; in 1933 by North Carolina, North Dakota and South Carolina; in 1934 by Louisiana and New York;[1] in 1935 by Arkansas, Iowa, Maine, and Vermont; in 1937 by Michigan; in 1938 by Nebraska.

These are the minority of grand lodges in which the actual Masonic population has fallen below the normal expectancy population. But to offset these, thirty-four grand lodges have now the population which by normal expectancy should be theirs in these years:

  1. 1942 Minnesota, New Hampshire
  2. 1943 Delaware, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia
  3. 1944 Kansas
  4. 1945 Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Texas
  5. 1946 Missouri, West Virginia
  6. 1950 Illinois
  7. 1951 Connecticut, Maryland
  8. 1952 District of Columbia
  9. 1954 Oregon, Wisconsin
  10. 1955 Rhode Island, Washington
  11. 1956 Florida
  12. 1957 Utah
  13. 1958 New Mexico
  14. 1960 Ohio
  15. 1963 Montana
  16. 1964 South Dakota
  17. 1965 New Jersey
  18. 1967 Idaho
  19. 1969 Wyoming
  20. 1971 Arizona
  21. 1972 California
  22. 2008 Nevada

Objections will be made to these figures by pessimists, of course: “How do you know you’re right? If there had been no war, something else might have increased petitions” “No man can prophesy the future.” “You can’t get away from the fact that we have lost members!” and so on.

“How do you know you are right?" Because the law of average has always worked, always will work. Of ten thousand men, all thirty-five years old, no human knows which will die first. But all life insurance companies know exactly how many will die this year, next year, the next. The whole life insurance business is predicated upon, and has lived and prospered by, the truth of prophetic figures based on averages.

"If there had been no war, something else might have increased petitions." True. And something else might have decreased them. But we are here concerned not with what might have increased or decreased, but what actually did increase population beyond normal.

“No man can prophesy the future.” Certainly not, if Act of God be taken into consideration. But mathematicians predict years in advance the coming of eclipses to the split second. The United States publishes a huge book showing the time of high and low tides in thousands of harbors, years in advance. The life insurance companies predict each year the exact number of men who will die in any age group. The earth maybe destroyed, and all astronomical and tidal predictions fail. A war, an epidemic, some national catastrophe, may largely increase the number of deaths in any age group in a year. But barring such Acts of God, many can prophesy the future in certain matters, and population is one of them, because it can be ascertained by the law of averages.

"You can't get away from the fact that we have lost members." Neither can you get away from the fact that we gained members. If the statement is elaborated to a whole, instead of a half truth, it must read: “You can’t get away from the fact that while we have lost members, we have not lost as many as we gained, over and above normal growth — you cannot get away from the fact that our war growth was more abnormal than our past depression losses.

It is not intended that this Bulletin, nor the Digest from whence its facts are taken, should be understood to mean that losses are not distressing, that Masonry should lose interest in reclaiming those whom necessity forced out for financial reasons, that we should pay no attention to our reduced membership. It does show, however, that in the fight of actual facts our losses are not nearly so perturbing as when considered merely as percentage, and not in relation to normal growth. It would have been delightful if we could have kept every brother upon the rolls, dropped no one, and suffered no losses. It would be as pleasant as astounding if every population curve was always up. But it is much easier to contemplate the drop of the nation’s Masonic population curve, when we see that it has not yet touched the median line — that it reached in 1937 the population which would not normally have been ours until 1943.

By all means let us continue to win back those who have left our ranks; by all means let us exult when increased petitions bring any grand lodge an increase instead of a decrease during the year. But let us also look with pride upon the fact that the nation has not lost in proportion to its gains. A reasonable prosperity; our normal, natural, pre-war rate of growth; plus the gains which this graph shows are greater in proportion than the losses, will, Deo volente, keep our brotherhood not only on the upgrade but continually ahead of “normal expectancy.”

Population Prediction Graph

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  1. There is an error as the chart shows New York achieving its normay expectancy of Masonic population in 1936.

The Masonic Service Association of North America