The Honorable Elizabeth Aldworth (1693/95 -1773/1775), born the Hon. Elizabeth St. Leger, was known as “The Lady Freemason”, the only woman ever recorded to be initiated into Regular Freemasonry.
Aldworth was the daughter of Arthur St. Leger, 1st Viscount Doneraile and 1st Baron Kilmayden of Doneraile Court, County Cork, Ireland. She was married in 1713 to Richard Aldworth, Esq. Nothing else of her life is known between her initiation into Freemasonry as a young girl and her death almost sixty years later.
The actual date of her initiation into Freemasonry is unsure, but the Memoir of a Lady Freemason suggests that it was between 1710-1712, which was before her marriage. In his paper in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum in 1895, Edward Conder states that it was sometime between 1710-1718. In answer to the paper, Masonic scholar William James Hughan stated: “Until Bro. Conder’s investigations we had all presumed that the various reports concerning the initiation of the Hon. Elizabeth St. Leger, though not always in agreement, were correct as to the event being of a later date than 1730.” Hughan also found the facts related to contradict the statements made by an Aldworth descendant.
Those facts are determined in the Memoir, extracted from the records of the First Lodge of Ireland, which state that Arundel Hill was present at the initiation and often sat in Lodge with her. The Memoir’s editor also indicates that Conder’s work was the first making of the date, which as of 1864 was not acknowledged.
Conder also puts forward that the specific Lodge in which she was initiated, while generally thought at the time of his research to be known, is also unknown, but that it may have been a private Lodge warranted out of London by her father.Conder also seems to be refuting an unelaborated-upon statement that Aldworth was initiated after the formation of the Grand Lodge of Ireland. He indicates that since the Viscount died in 1727, she could not have been initiated subsequently, and at that time it seems that the commonly accepted date of formation of the Grand Lodge was 1729-30. It is now taken to be 1725.
The tradition of Aldworth’s initiation is that Aldworth had fallen asleep in the library while reading on a bleak winter evening, the library which was located next to the room in which the Lodge was meeting. She was woken by the voices she heard next door, and the light shining through the loose brickwork. She removed some of the bricks and watched the proceedings. when she comprehended the solemnity of the proceedings, she wanted to retreat, but was discovered by the Lodge Tyler, who was also the family butler. Realizing her quandary, she screamed and fainted. The Tyler summoned the Brethren (among them her father), and they eventually decided to initiate her into the Lodge.
In the answer to Conder’s presentation, a Bro. Rylands suggested that “there was no evidence forthcoming” that Aldworth served as Master of a Lodge, or that she attended on a regular basis. Elizabeth Aldworth died in 1775. There was a plaque erected at the new St. Finbarre’s Cathedral by the Masons of Cork, which reads:
1775 Burial in Saint Finbarre’s Cathedral
In Pious Memory of
Of Newmarket Court, Co. Cork, Esq.,
ARTHUR, FIRST VISCOUNT DONERAILE.
Her Remains Lie Close to This Spot.
Born 1695, Died 1775.
Initiated into Masonry in
Lodge No. 44, at Doneraile Court
In this County, A.D. 1712.