The following was presented April 16, 2024, by Education Officer Joe West.

Old Dues Cards and Petitions Tell Our Masonic Life

—  James A. Marples, 32o Valleys of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Waco, Texas  
Scottish Rite Journal, September / October 2023  

Masonic membership dues cards are a receipt for a member having paid his yearly subscription (or fee) to retain membership in good standing. Masonic dues cards also serve as quasi Certificate-of-Good-Standing if the Brother decides to visit a meeting in another Lodge or Jurisdiction. His status is officially certified by the seal. In olden days, this was done via crimping an enlarged seal to certify authenticity. In some jurisdictions, plastic membership cards may only have the seal embossed thereon.
In the 1922 example, it is evident that the Valley of Wichita took precautions to prevent the card from slipping into the hands of cowans and eavesdroppers who might attempt to say the card was theirs. The safeguards of height, hair color, and eye color were added so a scrutinizing tiler or membership committee could detect an impostor whose outward characteristics failed to match those written on the card.
In multiple ways, Masonic membership dues cards tell much about our lives. Likewise, Masonic petitions of years gone by are fun to examine. This is true not only for the genealogy aspects of showing dates or years of birth and death, but also usually showing a place of birth. This sort of data is prized by family historians and genealogists.
Few Masonic groups went into greater depth, but some did. Consider the case of Homer T. Stewart from Wichita, Kansas. His petition also notes his age and his occupation as a railway switchman. Further, it asks of him his height, the color of his eyes and hair (blue and brown, respectively), and his particular religious persuasion. Various options were available, and thus Bro. Stewart marked “Christian.”
Such a petition personalizes the “getting to know each other” feature of the Scottish Rite. At the time, it was also a zenith of progress for the Scottish Rite in Kansas. It seems incredible by today’s standards, but some Valleys (including Wichita) had classes of more than 400 men at one time.
This may not happen again, as we have developed into a society more consumed by immediate gratification. There has been a change in technology, priorities, and even, in some cases, moral vision.
To my way of thinking, there is just something special about the personal Mystic Tie of Masonic Brotherhood. It transcends mere friendship, for it is a “special friendship” based on mutual solemn promises made between caring individuals.
Even to this day, Masonic petitions and dues cards are more than just membership applications and receipts of dues payments. They are documents by which a candidate addresses the Officers and Members of a certain Body and promises allegiance and faithful fidelity if accepted for membership. Masonic petitions and dues cards leave a lasting paper trail of our steps we take in Masonry.
Like so much in Freemasonry, dues cards and petitions are an important reference point as Masons today look back to Masons of the past for inspiration and continuity of tradition in an ever-changing world.