The Masonic fraternity brought to the American colonies in the mid-eighteenth century was well established in all of the United States by 1820. Among the first Americans to migrate to Texas in the 1820s were a number of Masons, including Stephen F. Austin. Austin attempted to organize a Masonic lodge in 1828 when he and six other Masons met at San Felipe and petitioned the Grand York Lodge of Mexico for a charter dispensation. The petition evidently reached Mexico at the height of a quarrel between the "Yorkinos" and "Escoceses" (adherents of the Scottish Rite) and disappeared.
A more successful effort occurred in the spring of 1835 when Dr. Anson Jones and five others, fearing Mexican reprisals, met secretly under the Masonic Oak near Brazoria and petitioned the Grand Lodge of Louisiana for a charter. The grand master of that state, John Henry Holland, issued the dispensation, and Holland Lodge No. 36 met for the first time on December 27, 1835, with Jones presiding as worshipful master. Holland Lodge struggled for several months until overwhelmed during the Texas Revolution by the Mexican army of Gen. José de Urrea, which destroyed all the lodge's records and equipment. Because of a scattering of the membership, the brethren decided not to reopen the lodge at Brazoria. Instead, they opened it in Houston in October 1837. The Grand Lodge of Louisiana issued two additional charters to Texas lodges during this period: Milam No. 40 at Nacogdoches and McFarland No. 41 at San Augustine.
In December 1837 delegates from these three lodges convened at Houston to organize the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas. President Sam Houston presided over this meeting, which resulted in the election of Anson Jones as the first grand master. Between 1838 and 1845 the Texas Grand Lodge issued charters to twenty-one more lodges, and membership increased from seventy-three to 357. In addition, there were probably some 1,100 Masons from other jurisdictions living in Texas at this time. Although constituting only 1½ percent of the population, Masons filled some 80 percent of the republic's higher offices. All of the presidents, vice presidents, and secretaries of state were Masons.
After annexation Masons continued to be equally prominent in the state government, and between 1846 and 1861 five of the six governors were members of the fraternity. Masonry continued to prosper; by 1860 Texas had 226 active lodges and 9,000 members. The Civil War saw between one-third and one-half of the membership in military service. During the war, the Grand Lodge issued dispensations for thirty-two traveling military lodges established within army units. Meager records, however, make it impossible to determine exactly how many such lodges were actually formed. The Grand Lodge experienced severe financial difficulties during these years. Many lodges were unable to pay their annual assessments, and in 1861 the grand treasurer was directed to sell all United States government bonds and invest the money in Confederate bonds. The Grand Lodge was thus rendered penniless by the defeat of the Confederacy. Reconstruction brought continued financial problems as local lodges sought remission of their annual dues. Although the Grand Lodge frequently complied, it also canceled over fifty charters between 1865 and 1880 for financial reasons.
Prosperity gradually returned, and by 1878 the Grand Lodge was solvent and membership had reached 17,000. This trend continued for many years except for brief downturns. As after most wars, Masonic membership showed a dramatic increase after World War I; in Texas, it climbed from 94,000 in 1920 to more than 134,000 in 1929.
The Great Depression brought an equally dramatic decline, to a low of 95,000 in 1937. A number of local lodges lost their temples, constructed during the prosperous 1920s, and their membership declined by as much as 60 percent. The waning of the depression and the onset of World War II produced the reinstatement of many former members, and after 1945 thousands of new members joined the lodge.
Postwar membership reached 245,000 in 1961. A magnificent new Grand Lodge Temple was constructed at Waco in 1948–49. This building supposedly patterned after King Solomon's biblical temple, contains 135,000 square feet and includes a library and museum of Texas memorabilia, open to the public.
The charitable and benevolent activities of Texas Masonry fall into two categories. Before 1900 most of the money and effort was directed to education, especially in those years before the establishment of a viable public school system. The Grand Lodge established an education fund in 1847 and appointed a superintendent of education the following year. Between 1850 and 1873 the legislature chartered seventeen Masonic-sponsored schools. Texas Masons also helped establish more than 100 other unchartered schools. In addition, many of the early public schools initially met in lodge buildings.
In the twentieth century, Texas Masons have broadened the scope of their philanthropic efforts. Those limited to the Masonic family include the Masonic Home and School in Fort Worth, the Home for Aged Masons in Arlington, and the Scottish Rite Dormitory for Women at the University of Texas at Austin. Among the Masonic charities serving the public are the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Crippled Children in Dallas and the Shriners Burns Institute at Galveston.
Since the early 1960s Texas Masonry, like other fraternal organizations, has faced a serious membership decline. From the 1961 high of 245,000, the number of Masons dropped to 201,000 by the end of 1985, when 960 working lodges were reported. Changes in modes of living and moral values are among the reasons given for the failure to attract more new members.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.
Handbook of Texas Online, William Preston Vaughn, "FREEMASONRY," accessed July 12, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/vnf01.