The history 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 1860 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 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 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 now 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.
Robert Macoy became associated with Dr. Rob Morris in New York City in the 1860's. He later created a ritual for use of the Chapters in the State of New York. Under this chapter system organized by Robert Macoy, Alpha Chapter #1 in New York City became the first Eastern Star Organization. Alpha Chapter is still in existence today, tracing it's beginning back to 1867.
On August 10, 1874, Thornton Andrew Jackson received the several degrees of the Rite of Adoption of the Order of the Eastern Star from Brother C.B. Case, a Deputy and agent of Illustrious Robert Macoy 33, Supreme Patron of the Rite of Adoption of the World. In addition, Thornton Jackson also received a letter from Bro. C. B. Case granting him the authority to establish chapters of the Eastern Star among eligible black women. In obedience to the authority granted by William H. Myers, Grand Master, Union Grand Lodge, Jurisdiction of the District of Columbia, Bro. Jackson established the first Eastern Star Chapter among black women in the United States.
The first Eastern Star Chapter In Modern Free and Accepted Masons of the World Inc. was Tennie Wilson #174 and was organized on Opelika, Alabama in 1936. Additional chapters were organized, including Smithfield Chapter #148, which became by 1940 the largest chapter with over three hundred members. By 1949, the first Grand Chapter, Silver Queen was established under the leadership or Sis. Dr. Esther Poole.
Sis. Poole became an Eastern Star at the age of eighteen and joined the Free and Accepted Color Masons in 1940. Between 1940-1960 she dedicated herself to organizing chapters and lodges and formed the first junior courts. She was committed to improving the quality of life for all people. She was the "organizer" and a "driver' before joining the Free and Accepted Colored Masons. In 1930 she formed the United Women Workers of America. This group was known as "the better half" of the United Mine Workers. Sis. Poole was an embalmer, hairdresser, pianist and a poetess. After many years of outstanding performance as a star, she became the first Supreme Grand Matron of the Free and Accepted Colored Masons of America. She died in 1971.
Other Stars who joined the Free and Accepted Colored Masons in the 1940's include, Sis. Fannie Rushings of Hoyts Pride Chapter #195, our Longest serving Worthy Matron and Sis. Alma Patterson of Tennie Wilson Chapter #174.
Sis. Poole, the first Supreme Grand Matron died in 1971, and in 1971 another very accomplished Star, Sis. Maragret Belcher, became the Second Supreme Grand Matron.
Today the Rt. Illustrious Ann T. Porter reigns as current Supreme Grand Worthy Matron for the Order of the Eastern Stars Modern Free and Accepted Masons of the World. Inc.
The fraternal order is comprised of people with deep religious convictions and spiritual values open to all faiths except no faith. The lessons of the Order are spiritual and teach us to have a deep love for God, our country and family. Members must be eighteen years or older and either Master Masons in good standing or properly related to a Master Mason in good standing. The latter category includes wives; widows; sisters; daughters; mothers; granddaughters; step-mothers; step daughters; step-sisters; and half-sisters. In 1994 this was expanded to include nieces, daughters-in- law, and grandmothers.
Each chapter has eighteen officers, some elected and others appointed. Two offices are specifically male (Patron and Associate Patron) while nine offices are specifically female (including Matron and Associate Matron). While the Worthy Matron is considered to be the presiding officer of the chapter, the degrees cannot be conferred without a presiding brother in good standing (hence the Patron and Associate Patron).
Each chapter retains the right to decide who shall be a member of the organization. Election to the degrees must be unanimous, without debate, and secret. The successful candidate must profess a belief in a Supreme Being and is initiated in five degrees, which are conferred in one ceremony. (When Eastern Star was created, it was intended to be the first of a three degree series. The second and third degrees were Queen of the South and the Order of the Amaranth, respectively.)
Interestingly enough, OES requires only the belief in a Supreme Being even though the degrees are based in both the Old and New Testaments. While non-Christians are not specifically barred from membership, it would seem to be difficult to be other than Christian and belong to the Order.