University of Nebraska Press



Date of this Version



Allen, James Smith. A Civil Society: The Public Space of Freemason Women in France, 1744-1944. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2021.


A Civil Society explores the struggle to initiate women as full participants in the masonic brotherhood that shared in the rise of France’s civil society and its “civic morality” on behalf of women’s rights. As a vital component of the third sector during France’s modernization, freemasonry empowered women in complex social networks, contributing to a more liberal republic, a more open society, and a more engaged public culture.

James Smith Allen shows that although women initially met with stiff resistance, their induction into the brotherhood was a significant step in the development of French civil society, including the promotion of women’s rights in the late nineteenth century. Pulling together the many gendered facets of masonry, Allen draws from periodicals, memoirs, and archival material to account for the rise of women within the masonic brotherhood in the context of rapid historical change. Thanks to women’s social networks and their attendant social capital, masonry came to play a leading role in French civil society and the rethinking of gender relations in the public sphere.