The Order of the Eastern Star, commonly referred to as the OES, had humble beginnings in the mid-Western United States. Also very interesting are the how’s and why’s which tell the story of the Organization’s founding. While the history and foundations of the Masonic Institution have been researched and debated for a good while- century’s in fact- the beginnings of OES rest in one individual. Dr. Rob Morris. Through his love of Masonic ideals and his desire to further the element of The Craft within families and among the sexes, and in accordance with Landmarks and usages of the Freemasonic Institution, Dr. Morris is known as the founder of OES and is also the author of the degrees of that Order.
The Little Red Schoolhouse
Although his final residence was in LaGrange, KY, the beginnings of OES were at Eureka Masonic
College, at Richland, Mississippi, . Here exists what most members lovingly refer to “The Little Red Schoolhouse”, the place which the notion of OES was conceived around 1847-1850. This was during a time that Dr. Morris served as Principal of the school. “The Little Red Schoolhouse” is preserved by the Grand Chapter of Mississippi, O.E.S., In honor of Dr. Robert Morris, the Architect and Master Builder of OES.
The history of Star is one that is steeped in tradition, history, and a love of knowledge and acceptance. We would always encourage all Brother Masons to consider joining this- which they are able to with their Wives, daughters, -and certain other family members. Please reference the Order of the Eastern Star for all expectations and regulations.
Find the write up by Nancy Stearns Theiss, appearing in the Courier-Journal:
“When I was growing up in La Grange, I had run of the town – as all children did in those years.
I would hide in the alleys and pretend that I was invisible. And in most instances I probably was. I would put nickels on the railroad tracks as the trains ran through town to flatten the coins. We had town “characters” such as Hambone and Frank Anthony, whom everyone respected as different and we were taught as children to be respectful of. I knew that I could not venture into areas that were off limits for girls – such as Pete’s Pool Hall and Sadie’s Restaurant (because Sadie had pinball machines).
And we had our historic home – the Rob Morris Home, founder of the Order of the Eastern Star, which was always of great curiosity for me. Surrounded by a picket fence, the home, with flags flying and the Eastern Star emblem set in stone, stood quietly on the corner as a standing invitation of exploration. One day when my cousins were visiting, I walked up and knocked on the front door. A very nice, elderly lady answered and I asked if my cousins and I could tour. She opened the door and let us in.
There was well-preserved furniture and proper adornments of an era from 100 years ago. Framed photos and an old stock certificate hung on the walls. There was a small hand drawing of a little boy fishing and upstairs a huge curio cabinet with small bottles and little shells and cones. A large map of The Holy Land graced one section of a small office and old books, shells and other memorabilia were displayed in a glass bookshelf. My curiosity was satisfied as my cousins and I ended our little tour of the home until 50 years later, when I began working as the history center director for the Oldham County History Center.
It was then that “coming into the Light” and the symbols of the Masonic fraternity took on a significance about the place where I grew up and now worked. At one time La Grange was the center of Masonic activity in the state. The Kentucky Masonic College stood boldly on the corner of First and Jefferson streets across from the courthouse. The college was built in 1841 with a donation from William Funk, and the Grand Lodge of Kentucky endowed the school that included boys and girls.
By 1850 the state legislature conferred upon the college the full rights and privileges of a university, and the name of the school was changed to The Masonic University of Kentucky.
Rob Morris spent his early adult years as a Masonic lecturer and educator. He became known for his poetry, which he penned frequently and generously on Masonic topics and special events. During Morris’ lifetime it was the Masons that boldly supported public education. Gen. Morgan Lewis, a Mason and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a speaker at George Washington’s inauguration where he declared: “Literary information should be placed within the reach of every description of citizens, and poverty should not be permitted to obstruct the path to the fane of knowledge. Common schools, under the guidance of respectable teachers, should be established in every village, and the indigent educated at the public expense.”
Morris, who came from humble beginnings, embraced the Masonic fraternity when he “came into the Light” of Freemasonry during his stay in Oxford, Mississippi. He understood the importance of education from his own experience in the Oxford Lodge No. 33 where Masonic brothers such as Judge James Howry, who was a founding member of the University of Mississippi, influenced Morris’ career. During this Antebellum Era, small colleges for men and women were established through the support of Masonic Lodges, and Morris was an eager supporter of these efforts such that he was drawn to apply for professorship at the Masonic University in La Grange.
Morris brought his wife and children to La Grange in 1860 as professor of ancient history at the Masonic University and spent the rest of his years in the small town. He and his wife are buried at the Valley of Rest within the town limits. Besides being conferred the title of the 19th Century Poet Laureate of Freemasonry, Morris also established the Order of the Eastern Star which allowed women to be included in the Masonic fraternity. In later years, Morris’ devotion to Masonic history led him to a trip to the Middle East to explore the roots of the fraternity’s beginnings.
He was a frequent lecturer at the Presbyterian Church which he often stated as place “dear to this heart.” The church is now a part of the Oldham County History Center campus. The Civil War impacted the enrollment of the Masonic University and it was converted to a public school, named Funk Seminary, until it burned to the ground in 1911. Fortunately, the large school bell, which hung in the tower was salvaged and is on display in the newly remodeled exhibits of the Oldham County History Center.
Dr. Bob Fitch, who was a great grandson of Rob Morris, remembered playing in the Morris home when he was a child. The large curio cabinet that I described when I visited the home as a child, was also something that grabbed his attention. The cabinet was actually filled with mementos of items Morris collected when he went to the Middle East. Bob said he and his cousin took the small curio bottles and emptied them into the dirt to adorn mud pies they were making when his mother intervened with a reprimand that he remembered throughout his adult life.”