Vol. XLV No. 10 — October 1967

More about Masonic Honors

Conrad Hahn

In August 1936, The Short Talk Bulletin listed and described various “honors awarded by United States grand lodges.” Twenty-one years later a Digest published by The Masonic Service Association presented photographs of the Masonic honor medals awarded by thirteen grand lodges in this country.

In 1937; five grand lodge Honor Medals were described. In 1967 eighteen grand lodges award them. Obviously, a third of a century has brought additions and changes to the subject of Masonic Honors. This Short Talk brings some of the categories up-to-date, but for a more complete survey of Masonic Honors, the earlier 1936 Short Talk should be consulted.

The Digest of 1957, Masonic Honor Medals, described in detail the awards made by the Grand Lodges of Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Vermont.

The oldest of these is Massachusetts’ Henry Price Medal, first authorized in 1888, and restricted to special award by the grand master in 1926. Nebraska’s medal, the Robert C. Jordan (first grand master) Gold Medal, dates back to 1904. It is a longevity award, for it is held by the Nebraska brother who has been a Master Mason for the greatest number of years. On his death, it is returned to grand lodge and presented to the next brother entitled to wear it.

New York’s Grand Lodge Medal for Distinguished Achievement is presented annually to one Mason in good standing in any recognized grand lodge anywhere in the world who has rendered distinguished service to the arts or to humanity. The roster of the recipients since 1932, when the Award was established, reads like a selection of “Who’s Who” in Who’s Who: poet Edwin Markham, composer Jan Sibelius, aviator “Eddie” Rickenbacker, Antarctic explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd, penicillin discoverer Sir Alexander Fleming, F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover, and General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, to name just a few. The recipient usually addresses the annual grand lodge banquet on the occasion of the presentation.

In 1959 the Grand Lodge of New Jersey established the Daniel Coxe Medal for Distinguished Masonic Service, to be awarded at the discretion of the grand master. An average of two to three of these medals have been presented annually, with only one each year going to a Mason from outside New Jersey. The medal is named after Daniel Coxe, the first provincial grand master of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, appointed in 1730 by the Duke of Norfolk, grand master in England. Coxe died in 1739.

Edward R. Cann, grand master of Masons in Virginia, 1962-63, established the George Washington Distinguished Service Medal of the Grand Lodge of Virginia for presentation to outstanding Masons, at the grand master’s discretion. The award is a handsome silver medal bearing the likeness of Brother George Washington. Grand Master Cann in 1962 also created “The Grand Master’s Certificate of Merit,” as a means of recognizing and rewarding those Virginia Masons who render great service to their lodges.

Montana’s grand lodge awards two grand lodge Medals, one for Distinguished Masonic Service (silver) and one for Meritorious Service (bronze). Of the former, only one can be presented in any grand lodge year, for "eminent service to Montana Masonry.” No more than four bronze medals may be given in any one year for “outstanding service to Montana Masonry.” The first awards of these medals took place in 1962.

Two years later two more grand lodges created honor medals. In 1964 the Grand Lodge of Arkansas established rules and regulations for awarding the “Grand Lodge Medal of Honor” in three categories: (1) to an Arkansas Mason for pre-eminent achievement in a field other than Freemasonry whereby the Craft has gained honor and distinction; (2) for eminent leadership and service to Freemasonry at large, to a member of a lodge in another recognized jurisdiction; and (3) for similar achievement by any Arkansas Mason, not necessarily mere attainment of high office. For the first category, not more than one medal may be awarded in any one year by the grand lodge committee on awards. For the second, not more than two; and for the third, not more than three. “No Medals of Honor are to be presented posthumously.”

In the same year the Grand Lodge of Indiana established its Caleb B. Smith Medal of Honor. Named after the secretary of the interior in Lincoln’s first cabinet and Indiana’s grand master in 1837, this award is made by a grand lodge committee on awards under rules and regulations quite similar to those in Arkansas, described above. There are three categories; only one, two, or three medals maybe awarded in any one year in the first, second, and third categories respectively. The third group specifically excludes elected grand lodge officers and past grand masters. The most recent award of Indiana’s Medal of Honor was on July 4, 1967, to Lt. General Lewis B. Hershey, United States Army, National Director of Selective Service. He is a 51-year member of North Eastern Lodge No. 210 at Fremont, Indiana.

The 1936 Short Talk is also “dated” in its statement about 50-year awards and recognitions. In referring to “concrete evidences of appreciation” by grand lodges, Carl Claudy noted that “Commonest is the ‘Fifty Year Button’” which twenty-eight jurisdictions give to those venerable brethren who have been members of the Craft for half a century.

That number needs a steep upward revision. Today, all United States grand lodges “recognize” 50-year members and give them some kind of an award. Technically, only 44 actually provide 50-year buttons, but another jurisdiction permits one of its past grand masters to purchase such buttons, while two provide 50-year membership certificates but no pins or buttons.

Most grand lodges make the presentation of 50-year awards a grand lodge function, calling the elderly brethren to their feet in grand lodge, or having the buttons presented personally by the grand master or a designated Grand Lodge officer at a special lodge meeting, or even at the brother’s bedside if he is confined by illness. Most grand lodges today require 50 years of accumulated membership, not necessarily continuous, to be eligible for such awards. Needless to say, one of the perennial problems is to hold the fine against well-meaning attempts to present these awards any time in a brother’s fiftieth year of membership, even on the day after he completed his forty-ninth!

Nevertheless, it can be said that all grand lodges in the United States today honor their brethren who have been members for 50 years. Some of them also provide special 60- or 70-year awards, such as wreaths or palms to attach to the 50-year pin.

With modern man’s increasing life span, the number of such “ancient brethren” is increasing. Their advancing Masonic birthdays provide focal points for special activities of the lodge. Brother Tom Yould in Minnesota had been a Mason for almost 87 years when he died in 1966. This Association’s annual list of Oldest Living Freemasons carries the names of 190 brethren, practically all in the United States, who have been Masons for 70 years or more.

In 1936 “one grand lodge, at least, has arranged for silver buttons to be awarded, at the expense of the particular lodge, but with grand lodge approval, to those of its members who have paid dues for twenty-five years.”

That practice has also been greatly extended in the intervening decades; but the award of 25-year buttons is regarded not as an honor conferred by grand lodge, but as the constituent lodges way of congratulating a member on becoming “a Masonic veteran.” There are so many 25-year members in the Fraternity today, it is not an unusual achievement anymore.

Eighteen grand lodges report that they award honorary memberships, upon vote of the grand lodge, but the practice is not as extensive as this count would indicate. Half of these grand lodges usually confer honorary membership at the annual communication on the distinguished visitors from other jurisdictions. As a result they may have as many as 125 honorary members on their rolls at any one time. The other grand lodges do it so rarely that the number of living honorary members is exceedingly small or none at all. Two of them have conferred such an honor only once in their entire history.

Twenty-four grand lodges confer (or have conferred at one time) the title of Honorary Past Grand Master on distinguished brethren. It is regularly done to honor visiting grand masters or past grand masters in seven jurisdictions; in the others, it has been a rather special event, rarely performed. In two grand lodges it appears to be an “attendance award,” conferred on past grand masters who have visited the annual communications two or three times.

Six grand lodges have conferred the title of Honorary Past Grand Master only once in all the years of their existence, usually on one of their own distinguished brethren. In three jurisdictions, the title of Honorary Past Grand Master is never conferred on visiting brethren of that rank, but they are elected to honorary membership in the Past Grand Masters Association.

The principal increase in Masonic honors and awards in the last thirty years has been the creation of grand lodge certificates and awards for lodges and individuals, for outstanding programs or participation in a grand lodge or grand master’s program. Many of these are the outgrowth of the activities of grand lodge committees on Masonic education and information.

For example, Indiana awards Certificates of Meritorious Service to brethren who have rendered unusual and meritorious service to the Craft in the Hoosier state. These are presented by the grand master; they stimulate and challenge the leadership when presented before the full attendance at grand lodge.

The Texas grand lodge committee on Masonic education and service has a very effective system of rating lodges for attendance at district meetings. Certificates for outstanding records and publication of all standings in The Texas Freemason have resulted in some keen competition and great interest in the area meetings, designed to produce better informed lodge officers and leaders.

In Virginia, as in some other grand lodges, grand master’s awards are given to lodges that have developed interesting and meaningful programs during the year. Lodges must furnish complete descriptions of their "prizewinning” activities; there are different categories for different sized lodges. None is too small to be able to win an award, which is a handsome plaque to display in the lodge room.

The Grand Lodge of Connecticut each year honors that Mason of the state who has rendered outstanding individual service to young people and their organizations, by presenting him the Youth Service Award. Young DeMolay leaders are “recognized” in some grand lodges and honored by invitations to speak “at refreshment.” Many grand lodges now award scholarships for college study to the young people of their states; some of these are the result of essay competitions open to all high school boys and girls. While these are probably not Masonic Honors in the way that phrase is used in this Bulletin, they are Masonic awards and vitally involve the “image of Freemasonry.”

The making of a Mason “at sight” is regarded as a Masonic honor in those jurisdictions where the custom is permitted and practiced, Pennsylvania’s grand masters being the principal modern donors of such a distinction.

Grand lodges also sponsor contests and competitions for the members of the Craft, in order to stimulate Masonic fellowship and sociability. Most of these are sports events, like golf tournaments, bowling leagues, etc. The prizes given for winners and champions may not be strictly Masonic honors; but they are occasionally the gift of a grand master or the grand lodge. One jurisdiction has a grand lodge cribbage award.

In the 1936 Bulletin Carl Claudy explained why titles are honors in all grand lodges, even though they may differ from one state to another. The special emphasis that Masons have always placed on the title “Worshipful,” and the special esteem in which past masters are held in all constituent lodges suggest the Masonic honor in particular titles. The title is an honor because of the achievements of the wearer.

M.W. Brother Claudy also pointed out the honor that comes to a Mason when he receives an appointment to be a Grand Representative “near” his own grand lodge, i.e., to be the personal representative of the grand master of another grand lodge to his own.

Fraternal correspondents, i.e., reviewers of other grand lodge Proceedings, and grand lodge historians were ranked high on the list of honored Masons, because of the contributions to Masonic knowledge and understanding that they are enabled to make. “To Correspondent and Historian, the Craft owes more than it can ever pay.”

Masonic Honors have increased in thirty years, yet not in exaggerated numbers. They still are given primarily for long or special services. As more of the craftsmen have been drawn into the labors of the grand lodge, the more appreciation the leaders of the Craft have sought to express. Such is the nature of “a master’s wages.”

The Masonic Service Association of North America