Networking: Freemasons and the Colonial State in French West Africa, 1895–1914

March 2005
French History;Mar2005, Vol. 19 Issue 1, p91
Academic Journal
The links between freemasons and republican elites in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century France are well known to historians, but despite recent discussion of a distinctively republican approach to colonialism there has been relatively little attention paid to the activities of masons in the empire. This case study of French West Africa between 1895 and 1914 analyses the ideological orientation of masons and the influence exerted by their networks in one overseas territory. The article finds that while (as in metropolitan France) such networks sometimes benefited the careers of individual masons, fraternity was often limited between masons who held high office in the colonial administration and those who joined the handful of local lodges established in West Africa. The masonic commitment to equality did not extend to encouraging African membership of these lodges, symptomatic of a more general failure by French masons to adapt their ideas to this colonial environment.


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