Issued under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license:

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.

The work 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 and its civic morality, 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 copious 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.

“James Smith Allen presents readers with an engaging, kaleidoscopic account of the uphill and contentious struggle to include select women as full participants in the arcane brotherhood of French freemasonry.”—Karen Offen, author of Debating the Woman Question in the French Third Republic, 1870–1920

A Civil Society is important because it connects the activism and writing of major figures in French women’s history with masonic networks and impulses. It accomplishes all of this by providing copious evidence presented with clarity.”—Bonnie G. Smith, author of Women in World History: 1450 to the Present

“In this ambitious new study, James Smith Allen seeks to understand how masonic sisters and their fellow travelers contributed to a more liberal republic and open society and engaged civic culture in the Old Regime and modern France. A Civil Society is a welcome addition to all those interested in the history of sociability, progressive politics, and civil society.”—Kenneth Loiselle, author of Brotherly Love: Freemasonry and Male Friendship in Enlightenment France