OES History

The History

Compiled by Mamie Lander, Past Most Worthy Grand Matron and Right Worthy Grand Secretary -- 1955

     In 1867 and 1868, Mr. McCoy compiled and published a Ritual, using Dr. Morris' Rosary as a guide. This was the beginning of the organization of Chapters of the Order of the Eastern Star in the States as well as internationally. He immediately attempted to make the work more systematic and succeeded in adapting it to organized Chapters in such a way as to assure their success.
     Dr. Morris traveled extensively in foreign countries. He spent nearly a year in the Holy Land. He organized the first Masonic Lodge in Jerusalem, Royal Solomon Number One, and became its first Worshipful Master.
      He was an author of great ability and wrote numerous and valuable works on Masonry and its kindred subjects. The most popular were, "The Lights and Shadows of Masonry" and "Free Masonry in the Holy Land." He contributed to columns in almost every Masonic publication.
     He was also a poet of unusual attainment, having written over four hundred poems. His best-known poem is "The Level and the Square." Many of these poems were devoted to the Order of the Eastern Star and are still used by Chapters.
     Aside from his work in Masonry and Eastern Star, he wrote many religious songs, which are used by Churches and Sunday Schools. While seated on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in Palestine, he wrote the beautiful song "0, Galilee."
     In 1858-1859, Dr. Morris served as Most Worshipful Grand Master of Masons in Kentucky. In 1860, he drafted the Constitution of the Grand Lodge. Having passed through the chairs in the Blue Lodge, Royal Arch Chapter, Council, Commandery, Consistory and Grand Lodge, and having spent most of the strength, thought and wisdom of his early manhood in a close study of the Rituals, codes, principles and tenets of Masonry, he was conceded to be one of the most versatile and learned Masons of his day.
     In 1880 the General Grand Chapter conferred on Dr. Morris the title of "Master Builder of the Order of the Eastern Star" and August 31st, the birthday of this illustrious man, was set apart as the Festal Day of the Order, to be observed by having special programs on that day. He also had the Degrees of Doctor of Philosophy and Doctor of Laws conferred upon him later in life.
     The crowning event in the career of this remarkable man occurred in 1884 when over 500,000 Master Masons throughout the world expressed their desire that he be crowned with the laurel wreath, symbolizing Poet Laureate of Masonry. One hundred years had elapsed since the first Poet Laureate, Robert Burns, had received this honor. Dr. Morris was the first poet thought capable of filling this place after Robert Burns. In the presence of more than seven hundred dignitaries, this honor was conferred for the second time in the history of the craft.
     The first Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star was organized in Michigan in 1867. Three years later Grand Chapters were organized in Mississippi, New Jersey and New York. Before the close of 1876, Grand Chapters were organized in California, Vermont, Indiana, Connecticut, Nebraska, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Massachusetts.
      Meanwhile the publication of different Rituals and revised editions thereof brought confusion and diversity in the work where there should have been uniformity. It therefore became necessary that this be corrected with all Grand Chapters united under one body and using the same Ritual; thus the General Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star was organized in Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 16, 1876. Committees were appointed to compile and edit a Ritual of the Order of the Eastern Star. The one now in use has been evolved from the Ritual edited by the Committees appointed at that time.
      The Chapters of the Order of the Eastern Star now encircle the earth. The General Grand Chapter has jurisdiction over all Grand Chapters in the United States (except New York and New Jersey which are independent Grand Chapters), the Provinces in Canada, and the Grand Chapter of Puerto Rico. There is a Supreme Grand Chapter of Scotland with jurisdiction over Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales, South Africa, and New Zealand. The States, Territories and Dependencies of Australia are under the jurisdiction of the United Grand Chapter of Australia, which was established in 1985.
     Chapters have been organized subordinate to the General Grand Chapter in Alaska, Aruba, Austria, Bermuda, Taiwan, Panama, Germany, Guam, Hawaii, Japan, Mexico, Okinawa, Italy, Philippines and Saudi Arabia. The membership in the Order numbers over 1,000,000 members in over 8,000 Chapters.
     In 1950, the General Grand Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star, observed the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Writing of the Ritual with appropriate ceremonies held in Washington, D.C.
The International Eastern Star Temple and the offices of the General Grand Chapter are located in Washington, D.C. In the Reception room of the International Eastern Star Temple, over the mantel, hangs an oil painting of this distinguished Master Builder of our Order. This was a gift from the Grand Chapter of Kentucky and was unveiled by his grand daughter, Miss Ella Morris Mount, Past Grand Matron and Grand Secretary of Kentucky.
      Dr. Morris spent a great part of his life in Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky. The last twenty-six years were spent in LaGrange, Kentucky, where his family was reared and educated. His home is now the property of the Grand Chapter of Kentucky and is maintained as a Shrine in honor of the Master Builder of our Order.
     The "Little Red Brick School Building in Mississippi" is owned by the Grand Chapter of Mississippi and is maintained as a Shrine in honor of Dr. Morris' writing of the Ritual in Mississippi.
On July 31, 1888, when the news of his death was sent to all parts of the world, profound grief was expressed at his passing as his whole life had been devoted to the uplifting of humanity. He was buried in the cemetery in La Grange, Kentucky, where admiring friends from all over the world have erected a tall marble shaft in his memory. On one side of the shaft is the Square and Compasses and on the other side is the Five Pointed Star.
     Dr. Morris was generous, tender of heart and loving in disposition. He was happiest when sharing with others that which the Lord had bestowed upon him.
     As the stars which bedeck the canopy of heaven are the beauty and glory of the night and light the pathway of man on his journey through life, so may the beautiful Star in the East, with all its significance, ever remain the glory of the Order of the Eastern Star and light the pathway of the members in the fulfillment of their vows.

His Own Words:

     "The five Androgynous degrees ... are supposed to have been introduced into this country by the French officers who assisted our Government during the struggle for liberty"....1852
      "The degree called the Eastern Star... is strictly my own origination. By the aid of my papers, and the memory of Mrs. Morris, I recall even the trivial occurrences connected with the work- how I hesitated for a theme, how I dallied over a name, how I wrought face to face with the clock that I might keep my drama within due limits of time, etc. The name was first settled upon, The Eastern Star." 1852
     First in the array of Adoptive Degrees, highest in the ranks of brilliant and impressive thought, comes the Eastern Star, with its fixed points of Jepthah's Daughter, Ruth, Esther, Martha, and Electa. Those who have heard our lectures in different sections of the United States are aware that we value it both for what it has done and for its future promise. We have personally communicated The Eastern Star to more than three thousand ladies, the wives, daughters, sisters, and widows of Master Masons. The degree is never communicated as from man to man- to impart it at all requires the consent and presence of five or more ladies who must be, if unmarried, at least 18 years of age. This degree is of French extraction, and has all the embellishments of that fanciful race. It is properly conferred in a regular organization styled a Constellation, which in its American form will be shortly placed before the public- when generally adopted in our fraternity, as we doubt not it will be, it will add greatly to the practical importance of the degree." 1854
     "My first course of lectures was given in November, 1850, at Colliersville, Tennessee.... At Colliersville, likewise, I conferred the degrees of the Eastern Star and Good Samaritan. Both of these I had received some years before, the latter by Brother Stevens, the same who presided at my passing and raising. The restrictions under which the Eastern Star was communicated to me were 'that it should only be given to Master Masons, their wives, widows, sisters and daughters, and only when five or more ladies of the classes named were present'; these rules I have always adhered to." 1862
     "When I was initiated into Masonry in 1846, I received my Third Degree from Brother William H. Stevens, afterward Grand Master of Mississippi. He was a Mason of considerable ability, burning zeal, and a warm advocate of Ladies' Masonry. In 1847, he conferred upon Mrs. Morris and myself the Degree of Heroine of Jericho; and from him I acquired my first appetite for this whole system of Adoptive Masonry." 1873
     "I wrote every word of the original lectures and composed the songs. For twenty-eight years I have been communicating it as my own origination. I am the founder of the system, and no one can show any proof of its existence prior to 1849." 1877
     "In the winter of 1850 I was a resident of Jackson, Mississippi. For some time previous I had contemplated, as hinted above, the preparation of a Ritual of Adoptive Masonry, the degrees then in vogue appearing to me poorly conceived, weakly wrought out, unimpressive, and particularly defective in point of motive. I allude especially to those degrees styled The Mason's Daughter, and the Heroines of Jericho. But I do expressly except from this criticism The Good Samaritan, which, in my judgment, possesses dramatic elements and machinery equal to those that are in the Templar's Order, the High Priesthood, and the Cryptic Rite, and other organizations of Thomas Smith Webb. I have always recommended The Good Samaritan, and a thousand times conferred it in various parts of the world.... About the first week of February 1850, I was laid up for two weeks with a sharp attack of rheumatism, and it was this period, which I gave to the work at hand.... The only piece of mechanism difficult to fit into the construction was the cabalistic motto known as *****; but this occurred to me in ample time for use.... The theory of the whole subject is succinctly stated in my Rosary of the Eastern Star, published in 1865.... So my Ritual was complete, and after touching and retouching the manuscript, as professional authors love to do, I invited a neighboring Mason and his wife to join with my own, and to them, in my own parlor, communicated the Degrees in 1850. They were the first recipients- the first of twice fifty thousand who have seen the signs, heard the words, exchanged the touch, and joined in the music of the Eastern Star... In 1855, I arranged the system of 'Constellations of the Eastern Star' of which the Mosaic Book was the index, and established more than one hundred of those bodies.... Four years later I prepared an easier plan styled 'Families of the Eastern Star' intended, in its simplicity and the readiness by which it could be worked, to avoid the complexity of the 'Constellations.' This ran well until the war broke out. This ended my work in systemizing the Eastern Star, and I should never have done more with it, save to confer it in an informal manner as at first, but for Brother Robert Macoy of New York, who in 1868, when I publicly announced my intentions of confining my labors during the remainder of my life to Holy Land Investigations, proposed the plan of Eastern Star Chapters now in vogue. He had my full consent and endorsement, and thus became the instigator of a third and more successful system." 1884
     "Robert Macoy proposed the plan of Eastern Star Chapters now in vogue."