Robert Morris, the founder of the Order of the Eastern Star, was born August 31st, 1818, near the City of Boston, Mass. He was the son of teachers, and for the first few years of his manly estate, he, too, followed that profession. Like many other young men, the South called him and he continued in his chosen profession in the State of Mississippi. On August 26, 1841, he married Miss Charlotte Mendenhall. Later, he moved to La- Grange, Kentucky, where he spent the remainder of his life.
Robert Morris at the age of twenty-eight, joined Cathright Lodge No: 33 and at once became deeply interested in Masonry and his progress in that Order was notable. In 1858 he was Grand Master of Kentucky and he held more than 150 honorary degrees and complimentary memberships. The honor he chiefly prized was of the Past Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Canada. He was an arduous and seemingly inspired writer on things Masonic, and his writings numbered 73 works, innumerable lectures, contributions to Masonic periodicals and more than 400 poems, the best known of which being “The Level and the Square.”
On December 17, 1884, in New York City at the expressed wish of over half a million Masons throughout the world he was named Poet Laureate of Freemasonry. One hundred years previously Robert Burns had been crowned with the Laurel and after his death no one had been deemed worthy of that high honor until Robert Morris was so acclaimed. The coronation was attended by thousands of Masons the world over, and was a crowning point in a wondrous life.
In 1868 the Masonic Fraternity of the United States raised a large sum of money to send him to the Holy Land for research into the antiquity of Masonry. On his return in 1872, his book, “Freemasonry in the Holy Land” was published.
He was always interested in the welfare of his Masonic brothers and their families. He visited sick brethren at their homes and imparted comfort. He enquired for destitute brothers and gave them aid. He looked up the graves of departed Masons and suggested better care of them and set the secretary to work making a list of the widows and orphans who might be in need, in order that they might not be overlooked in the future. He was responsible to a large extent for the construction and maintenance of the first Masonic Home, which was built in Kentucky in 1871.
From the time he became a Master Mason in 1846, he began to study as to how he could organize an Order that would be suitable for the wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and widows of Master Masons, but it was not until he became ill with an attack of rheumatism that he did have the time to complete his work. After a careful study of the Bible he found the names for the five points of our Emblematic Star, three of which he took from the Old Testament and two from the new Testament, and from the teachings of the Bible he arrived at the colors, emblems and the Cabalistic Motto. He then set to work to write the Ritual. We are told that he spent many sleepless nights drawing plans to compose the Ritualistic work. When these plans were completed, he chose the name “Order of the Eastern Star.”
In 1855, he published the Ritual of these five degrees and it was not long until it became a growing institution, surviving the Civil War and continuing onward. He considered the Eastern Star a Christian Order, with its lessons veiled in allegory and taught by symbols. * It was intended to be a training in Christian truths, its ruling motifs being kindness, forbearance and charity, Christian virtues.
He was often invited to speak or lecture at Masonic gatherings, and he always requested that they set aside a night and bring with them their wives, mothers, daughters and sisters, upon whom he would confer the degrees of the Order of the Eastern Star.
Before leaving for the Holy Land, he gave to Robert Macoy, a printer and publisher, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and a friend who, with his wife, had assisted Morris in the writing of the Ritual and who had received the degrees of the Order from Morris.
Macoy rewrote the Ritual and published it under his own name and many Chapters were instituted under the Macoy Ritual.
In 1878 the General Grand Chapter discontinued the Macoy Ritual and adopted the Morris Ritual. Macoy helped Morris organize the first 0. E. S. Chapter and Robert Morris’ daughter painted the first signet used.
Dr. Robert Morris closed his earthly life at LaGrange, Kentucky, on July 21, 1888. His funeral was attended by those preeminent in Masonry. At the graveside the Grand Secretary read a poem written by Dr. Morris which was sent to him with lK the request that it be read at the first Masonic gathering after his death, which seemed like a living message from the dead.
Thus by his life and influence and the beautiful lessons which he taught and which have been _ handed down to us, he speaks to us today and begs us to follow in the light of the Star which was H his guide and inspiration.
The history of the Order of the Eastern Star is divided into three Eras:
1. The First Era extended from 1850 to 1866, under the leadership of Dr. Rob Morris, Poet Laureate of Masonry.
2. The Second Era extended from 1866 to 1876, under the leadership of Robert Macoy of New York.
3. The Third Era extends from 1876, when the General Grand Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star, was established to the present time.
Of these eras, the first is perhaps the most important as it prepared the way for the other two.
The real origin of the Order of the Eastern Star, like Masonry, will always be shrouded in mystery. Many researchers believe it had a French origin as early as 1703. By some, this is claimed to be the first inception of “Female Masonry” or “Androgynous Degrees” — (degrees for both men and women).
There appeared at this time, to be a demand for “Side Degrees” or Degrees conferred on ladies, and quite a list sprang up — “Heroines of Jericho”, “Danger in the Dark”, “Tall Cedars of Lebanon”, etc. These were extensively used but soon fell into decay for lack of lasting worth.
As to the real origin of the Eastern Star degrees in its Initiatory form, there is not the least shadow of doubt that the honor belongs to Dr. Rob Morris and its real origin comes under the First Era.
Dr. Morris had traveled many years. He had written many books on Masonry which are valued references in many Masonic Libraries.
Never quite satisfied that all the good in Masonry should be confined to men, Dr. Morris felt that Masonry should be for the whole family. But by the laws of that Ancient Order, women are not eligible for its degrees. Knowing he could not change the Ancient Landmarks of Masonry, Dr. Morris sought some method by which women could share with the Masonic Brother the same inspiration that “prompts man to noble deeds.”
Although he harbored these feelings for years, it wasn’t until 1850, while confined to his home after an accident, that Dr. Morris fully developed the Eastern Star Degrees in their present initiatory form.
During this time, he carefully thought out the symbolism and significance of the floor plan and the corps of officers. He conferred the degrees upon his wife and daughters, and some neighbors, presumably having an idea to clothe the ladies with certain words or signs whereby they might make themselves known to Master Masons.
These signs and so-called mysteries of the Order were communicated freely to all Master Masons and their relatives. Dr. Morris and other prominent Master Masons gave many lectures and conferred the degrees on many ladies throughout the nation.
Source: General Grand Chapter