Jan M. McIntyre-Ba joined the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls, a Masonic youth service organization, when she was 12 years old.
Her mother, Frances, had also been a Rainbow Girl, and her grandfather was a Mason, so Freemasonry, the oldest fraternal organization in the world, was something she was intimately familiar with even at a young age.
It was no surprise to those who knew her that McIntyre-Ba would excel in Rainbows, which was founded by Rev. W. Mark Sexson in 1922 as an organization where young women could build self-confidence and leadership skills while serving their community.
Not only did McIntyre-Ba excel, she embraced it as a foundational level stepping-stone to the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic-related fraternal organization she would join shortly after turning 18.
Today, McIntyre-Ba, 56, of Pawtucket, a longtime member of Order of the Eastern Star Queen Esther Chapter No. 2 in Pawtucket, is the Worthy Grand Matron of the Grand Chapter of Rhode Island Order of the Eastern Star, which is the state governing body for all eight Order of the Eastern Star subordinate chapters in Rhode Island.
“Being a member of the Order of the Eastern Star has made me what I am today,” says McIntyre-Ba, who was elected to the Grand Chapter of Rhode Island highest position last October.
“More than just a fraternal group we raise money for charities, support our communities, and become better people by being part of this great organization,” she says.
Charity, Truth and Loving Kindness
The Order of the Eastern Star is the largest fraternal organization in the world to which both women and men may belong. It is a Masonic-related social, charitable and fraternal organization dedicated to charity, truth and loving kindness. The order is comprised of people with deep religious convictions and spiritual values, open to all faiths except no faith. Although not a part of the Masonic fraternity, membership is based on a Masonic affiliation or relationship, a belief in a supreme being and a desire to acquire additional knowledge and for self improvement.
The degrees of the Order of the Eastern Star teach lessons of fidelity, constancy, loyalty, faith and love. These degrees are presented in a ritualistic ceremony designed to not only teach the lessons, but also to provide insight for future study and understanding.
The Order was established in 1850 by Dr. Rob Morris, a lawyer and educator from Boston and Poet Laureate of Masonry. It is based on teachings from the Bible, but is open to people of all theistic beliefs. It has approximately 10,000 chapters in 20 countries and approximately 1 million members under its General Grand Chapter.
Morris had traveled many years and had written many books on Masonry, which, today, are valued references in many Masonic libraries. Never quite satisfied that all the good in Masonry should be confined to men, he felt that Masonry should be for the whole family. But by the laws of the Ancient Order, women are not eligible for its degrees. Knowing he could not change the Ancient Landmarks of Masonry, Morris sought some method by which women could share with their Masonic Brothers 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 Morris created the degrees of the Eastern Star around the lives of five biblical women — Adah, Ruth, Esther, Martha, and Electa, each of whom are examples of heroic conduct and moral values. The heroines represent the tenants of the Order which are fidelity, constancy, loyalty, faith and love.
The emblem of the Order is a five-pointed star with the white ray of the star pointing downwards towards the manger. In the Chapter room, the downward-pointing white ray points to the west.
The General Grand Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star, was organized by a convention of delegates of independent Grand Chapters on Nov. 15-16, 1876. The office of the General Grand Chapter and International Headquarters is in Washington, D.C.
Worldwide, the Order of the Eastern Star's charitable foundation donates about three quarters of a million dollars a day to various charities, including tens of thousands of dollars to Alzheimer's disease research, and juvenile diabetes and juvenile asthma research. It also provides bursaries to students of theology and religious music, as well as other scholarships that differ by jurisdiction.
Eastern Star Chapters donate funds to a wide variety of worthy charities, including the Cancer Research Project, Arthritis Fund, Heart Fund, Knights Templar Eye Foundation, Shriners' Hospital for Crippled Children, orphanages and many other charities within each Grand Jurisdiction. Eastern Star also gives support to young people who are members of Masonic youth groups such as Rainbow for Girls, Job's Daughters, and the Order of DeMolay. Many jurisdictions support a Masonic and or Eastern Star retirement center or nursing home for older members.
The Eastern Star Training Awards for Religious Leadership is a scholarship fund for those who are going to school for the purpose of religious training. Each state administers their own ESTARL program.
Local Eastern Star chapters select their own charities and places of service in their own communities. Each year special charities are selected for that year's emphasis and might include volunteer programs in elementary schools or volunteers in literacy programs and specific community outreach.
To be eligible for membership to the order, a candidate must be a Master Mason in good standing, or a female aged 18 and older with a specific relationship with Masons. Wives, mothers, daughters, legally adopted daughters, widows, sisters, half-sisters, step daughters and step-sisters of Master Masons in good standing at the time of death are all eligible for membership.
There are 18 main officers in a full chapter, including Worthy Matron, presiding officer; and Worthy Patron, a Master Mason who provides general supervision. Other officers include Associate Matron, Associate Patron, Worthy Patron, Secretary, Treasurer, Conductress, Associate Conductress, Chaplain, Marshal, Organist, Adah, Ruth, Esther, Martha, Electa, Warder and Sentinel.
Traditionally, a woman who is elected Associate Conductress will the following year be elected to Conductress, then the next year Associate Matron, and the next year Worthy Matron. A man elected Associate Patron will usually the next year be elected Worthy Patron. Usually the woman who is elected to become Associate Matron will let it be known who she wishes to be her Associate Patron, so the next year they will both go to the East together as Worthy Matron and Worthy Patron. There is no male counterpart to the Conductress and Associate Conductress. Only women are allowed to be Matrons, Conductresses, and the Star Points (Adah, Ruth, etc.) and only men can be Patrons.
OES Rhode Island
There used to be 26 chapters of the Order of the Eastern Star throughout Rhode Island, but today they number only eight with about 1,050 members, including: Queen Esther Chapter No. 2 in Pawtuckert; Woonsocket Chapter No. 3 in Woonsocket; Providence Chapter No. 1 in Cranston; Deborah Chapter No. 9 in Westerly; Queen of Sheba Chapter No. 10 in North Scituate; Adah Chapter No. 15 in North Kingstown; Martha Washington Chapter No. 18 in Warren; and Signet Chapter No. 21 in Cranston.
Since 1963, the non-profit Order of the Eastern Star Home of Rhode Island, Inc. has been been providing services to seniors at Ethan Place, an assisted living/residential care facility in Warwick.
While there may not be as many chapters as there once were, statewide, the order still manages to raise and donate thousands each year for local charities in their communities. Last year, for instance, subordinate chapters through the Grand Chapter doled out more than $22,000 in scholarships and charitable donations.
Queen Esther Chapter No. 2 in Pawtucket was chartered in February of 1893 and today has upwards of 150 members, although in years past it once boasted more than 600 members. In 2005, Order of the Eastern Star chapters in both Lincoln and Limerock merged with Queen Esther Chapter No. 2.
The Pawtucket chapter is one of the busiest in the state as far as charitable work and, over the years, has done everything from helping the local family shelter to planting trees at Slater Memorial Park to providing scholarships to area students studying religious leadership. It has also raised funds to support Grand Chapter charities, including breast cancer research. In fact, the Grand Chapter has donated more than $25,000 towards breast cancer research over the past five years.
And one of the driving forces behind Queen Esther Chapter No. 2's community and service work is McIntyre-Ba who has been a Worthy Matron of the chapter six times and its secretary 10 times. Her Grand Chapter positions over the years have included Grand Martha, Grand Electa and Grand Marshal.
Her husband, Senegal-born Daouda Ba, is a member of the Prince Hall Affiliate chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star. Prince Hall, a tireless abolitionist and a leader of the free black community in Boston, is recognized as the Father of Black Masonry in the United States.
McIntyre-Ba has probably been asked the question a thousand times throughout her years as a member of the Order of the Eastern Star: Is the Masonic-related fraternal organization with approximately 1 million members, a secret society?
“No, secret societies are underground and hard to find. The members of the Order of the Eastern Star are easily found within the community,” she says.
McIntyre-Ba says she's heard just about every myth, misconception and conspiracy theory out there, everything from Freemasonry being a Satanic cult to a conspiratorial organization bent on world domination.
“I've know a lot of Masons and I think if I got 10 of them together there wouldn't be any worry about the guys I know taking over the world any time soon,” she quips. “The fact is, they are just normal men - husbands, fathers, sons and brothers - who care about living a good life and making sure that others who are less fortunate are also able to live a good life.”
McIntyre-Ba says one of the great benefits of being a member the Order of the Eastern Star is the lifelong freindships she's made, including one of her longest and closest friends, Shirley E.G. Ayers of Woonsocket, Worthy Grand Matron of the Grand Chapter of Rhode Island Order of the Eastern Star in 2004-2005, and current Worthy Matron of Woonsocket Chapter No. 3.
Ayers, 63, had a similar story growing up. Her father, Arthur Goosetrey, had been a Mason since 1920, and her mother joined the Order of the Eastern Star in the early 1950s. Ayers was a teenager when she became a Rainbow Girl. And like McIntyre-Ba, she took the next logical step and joined Order of the Eastern Star, a membership she has maintained for 45 years.
During that time, she has held five offices with the Grand Chapter of Rhode Island, and several offices in Woonsocket Chapter No. 3. In addition, she was a General Grand Chapter Committee member from 2006-2009.
Woonsocket Chapter No. 3, headquartered at the Morning Star No. 13 Masonic lodge on Clinton St., has 60 members ranging in age from 19 to 91 and was the third Order of the Eastern Star chapter to be chartered (1895) in the state. In the late 1940s, the chapter had more than 400 members.
Over the years, Woonsocket Chapter No. 3 has raised and donated tens of thousands of dollars to cancer and heart disease research, local foods banks and women’s shelters, as well as the city's annual Milk Fund Appeal and Masonic Youth Child Identification Program (MYCHIP).
“We would love to do so much more,” says Ayers, a retired teacher who spent 33 years teaching music to Woonsocket elementary school children.
Like many fraternal organizations, Woonsocket Chapter No. 3 has not seen a dramatic increase in new members in recent years, a problem Ayers feels could be remedied with a relaxing of the Order's rigid membership requirements, which state only men who are Master Masons and only women with specific Masonic affiliation can be members.
“I know many good women who would make fantastic members, but for one problem - they don't have a Masonic affiliation. So, maybe some day things will change,” she says.
In fact, proposals to change the order's membership rules were put to a vote twice in the past seven years at the General Grand Chapter's tri-annual session - and both times it was narrowly defeated. The last time it came up for a vote at the Oklahoma session in 2009, the measure was defeated by only 40 votes.
“I certainly understand there is a long tradition when it comes to membership being based on a Masonic affiliation or relationship, but I think there is also an opportunity to bring in a lot of more women that would make the order stronger than ever,” says Ayers.
Ayers' right hand man at Woonsocket Chapter No. 3 is her husband, Ronald D. Ayers, 63, a past Grand Patron of the Grand Chapter of Rhode Island Order of the Eastern Star (2003-2004) and current Associate Patron at Woonsocket Chapter No. 3. Ayers, who comes from five generations of Masons, became a Mason himself in 1979 and then joined the Order of the Eastern Star in 1983.
Originally from upstate New York, Ayers met Shirley in 1968 while both were studying music at Barrington College and where Shirley would earn a bachelor of music degree, magna cum laude in music education with a minor in voice.
“Shirley is the kindest, most astute woman I have ever met in my life and we have had 39 great years of memories,” says Ayers, an interior design technician. “As for the Order, the freindships I've made and the support I've been given has been tremendous. I have made friendships that have lasted a lifetime and met some pretty incredible people who are like members of my family.”
People like Nancy L. Taylor, past Worthy Matron of Woonsocket Chapter No. 3 and now the chapter's Associate Matron.
Like many Order of the Eastern Star members, Taylor, of North Smithfield, had a family connection to Masonry in that her father, brother and grandfather were all members of St. Alban's Lodge No. 6 in Bristol. She met he husband, Robert, while both worked at Ratheon, and she soon learned that he had been a past Master of his lodge the and that his mother was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star.
“That really piqued my interest so after learning more about it I joined in 1978,” says Taylor, adding that today, both her sons, Geoffrey and Raymond, are Freemasons.
“I have had the good fortune to have met so many wonderful people and made some lifelong friendships,” she says.
McIntyre-Ba agrees wholeheartedly: “I think Disa Johnson, my friend and Grand Ruth of the Grand Chapter of Rhode Island, said it best when she said 'the best part of Eastern Star is the friends that are made.”