Masonic Lodges have maintained a long-standing tradition of restricting membership in Freemasonry to men. This is based on the historical make-up of the guilds during the Middle Ages. At that time men traveled far from home and lived in Lodges while constructing the great cathedrals throughout Europe.
However, in Freemasonry, as in all other areas of life, women play an important role. The opportunities for women to participate in Freemasonry are widespread and meet a variety of needs, from social interaction in the Orders for both men and women, to the unique needs met in the "women only" Masonic organizations. The moral and ethical values that Freemasonry encourages are universal and not gender-based.
In the middle 1800's, the fraternity took the then radical step of creating organizations for women so that men and women could share Masonic fraternalism. The Order of the Eastern Star (the largest of these Masonic-related groups) was established in 1800's, the Order of the Amaranth, the Heroines of Jericho, and the Order of Cyrenes. These groups are open to both men and women.
The Order of Eastern Star has the only Masonic-related youth organization for young women under the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Missouri.
The only Masonic-related organization limited to women only is the Order of Golden Circle. This Masonic-related organization, like many organizations in the United States, both social and professional, base their membership on gender. For instance Junior League, P.E.O. National Association of Female Executives, and even Girl Scouts, are organizations created exclusively for women, established to fulfill their unique interests and specific needs.
All Masonic groups--for men, for women, and for both--are organized for fraternal, educational, and charitable purposes. No Masonic organization allows its members to use their membership to advance their business, social or religious interests.