Freemasons share a special bond and a profound legacy that continues to flourish across generations. We are reassured that the past leaders in our Craft, have safely guided the Fraternity through even the darkest moments of history. One such event took place in the year 1945 when a Grand Master was in the unique position of performing the duties of his office while also following the rule of law. As we continue to seek to learn from the lesson of time, we find Grand Master Charles W. Froessell’s 1945 Grand Lodge Session Decision which provides an example of Masonic leadership during a time of crisis.
The iconic image of “Victory over Japan Day,” or “V-J Day,” August 15, 1945.
The Year is 1945
In 1945, the minimum wage was 40 cents, and a man earned an average of $16 for a 40-hour workweek. A gallon of gas cost 15 cents. A movie ticket was 35 cents and box seats to Game 7 of the 1945 World Series at Wrigley Field were $7.50 each. The microwave, cruise control, and the block heater were invented. Popular music artists included The Andrews Sisters, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Shore, and Frank Sinatra. Elvis Presley made his first public appearance at the age of 10. The Slinky was a hit holiday toy. Radio was still king and Arthur Godfrey Time, The Kraft Music Hall, and The Lone Ranger were some of its top programs.
It was indeed a fascinating time and the events of that year would forever change the course of history. At the start of 1945, the Yalta Conference began, as did the bombing of Dresden, the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and the Battle of Berlin. President Franklin D. Roosevelt died, Prime Minister Benito Mussolini was hanged by Italian partisans and German Chancellor Adolf Hitler committed suicide in Berlin. Meanwhile, the Grand Lodge of New York was faced with a unique dilemma: to ensure that a constitutionally mandated Grand Lodge Session could assemble while complying with wartime travel restrictions that would prevent upstate Grand Lodge delegates from traveling to New York City.
World War II and the Office of Defense Transportation
On December 18, 1941, just one week after the United States declared war on Japan, Germany, and Italy, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8989 establishing the Office of Defense Transportation (ODT). This long-forgotten sector of U.S. bureaucracy was in operation for only seven and a half years. During its brief tenure, a dozen presidential executive orders were established, modifying and expanding the agency’s authority over its quickly growing staff, from its Washington, D.C. headquarters to its regional offices in nine other U.S. cities.
The ODT’s mission was direct: to “assure maximum utilization of the domestic transportation facilities of the Nation for the successful prosecution of the war.” The Office’s responsibilities included coordinating the private industry, local, state, and federal estimates of fuel, steel, and other material required for the war effort. The ODT was also responsible for managing the complex schedule of shipping petroleum by land, pipeline, rail, and sea, organizing mass transit for inter-city travel, constructing warehouse facilities, and many other crucial projects to ensure the successful prosecution of the war. To meet these objectives, the ODT instituted travel restrictions as a nationwide effort to conserve fuel for the war effort.
On April 30, 1945, Hitler committed suicide. Germany formally surrendered on May 7, 1945, but the war against Japan was still raging in the Pacific. The ODT advised that the redeployment of troops from Europe to Asia would be critical and extended travel restrictions for an additional 15 months beginning in May 1945.
The nationwide travel restrictions and gas rationing resulted in the cancellations of many large gatherings, including the 1945 MLB All-Star Game. Freemasons throughout the country were not exempt from these government restrictions. Thus, in April 1945, as Most Worshipful Froessel was concluding his first year as Grand Master, he was confronted with this dilemma ― his obligation to protect and defend our Constitutions and the rights it affords all members, with his obligation to abide by the laws of the land as a Master Mason and a loyal citizen. Grand Master Froessel could have simply canceled the Session, arguing that it could not be held due to governmental restrictions. Yet, Grand Master Froesel understood that, whatever it took, he had to fashion some creative solution to permit the opening of the 1945 Grand Lodge Session once restrictions were lifted.
Grand Master Charles W. Froessel
MW Charles W. Froessel was born on November 9, 1892, in Brooklyn, New York to Theodore and Barbara Froessel. He received his undergraduate law degree in the United Kingdom in 1913 and passed the New York Bar in 1914. He served as a lieutenant of the United States Navy during World War I and soon became Counsel to the Sheriff of Queens County, NY. Between 1924-1930, Froessel was Assistant District Attorney of Queens County.
While an assistant district attorney, Froessel tried the murder case of Albert Snyder involving a scheme to collect on his life insurance. The accused were his wife, Ruth Snyder, and her lover, Judd Gray, who claimed to be a “dupe and a slave under her domination.” They were convicted and executed on January 12, 1928, in Sing Sing Prison. This trial inspired the 1954 movie Double Indemnity, starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson.
Pictured: Charles W. Froessel, Associate Judge of N.Y. Court of Appeals. Image courtesy of New York Law School.
Grand Master Froessel further served as Special Assistant to the U.S. Attorney General in charge of slum clearance projects in New York City from 1935 to 1937. In January 1937, he was appointed as a justice of the City Court in Queens County and was elected to the New York Supreme Court (2nd District) in November 1937.
After the war, Froessel successfully ran on the Democratic ticket to the New York Court of Appeals, becoming an Associate Justice of the highest Court in the State of New York. In 1951, he wrote a concurring opinion on school prayer, arguing that non-sectarian school prayer was constitutional, whereas daily school prayer was unconstitutional. He retired from the bench at the end of 1962 when he reached the constitutional age limit of 70 years.
After his retirement, Froessel served on the board of trustees and as a dean at New York Law School. A 33rd degree Mason, Froessel was Chairman of the Conference of Grand Masters of the United States (1946-47) and Chairman of the Masonic World’s Fair Commission that was held in Flushing, Queens (1964-1965). The M:.W:. Charles W. Froessel Award for Distinguished Service has been awarded in the Queens Masonic District for several years. The current Grand Secretary of Masons in New York, R:.W:. Richard Schulz was a recipient of this award in 2006.
Grand Master Froessel never retired, however, from his lifetime of service and visiting those “faraway places with strange-sounding names, far away over the sea,” even visiting Antarctica at the age of 88. His was a life of service and action. He died on May 2, 1982, at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan.
Froessel was not an “activist” judge, but rather one who believed strongly that “neither the courts nor the executive has the right to ignore the will of the people as clearly expressed in the legislative mandate of their duly elected representatives.” He followed this philosophy as Grand Master.
Froessell’s 1945 Grand Lodge Session Decision
In April 1945, Froessel delivered a statement concerning the upcoming Grand Lodge Session scheduled for May 7 and 8.
It read in part, “Inasmuch the presence of representatives of at least 10 Lodges is indispensably necessary to open the Grand Lodge or transact business therein, we may not constitutionally proceed. Of course, we all understand the circumstances. Section 103 of our Constitutions prescribes that the Annual Communications of this Grand Lodge shall be held commencing on the first Tuesday of May. Our Government has requested, in the interests of national security, that all civilians refrain from unnecessary travel, and that any convention or assembly involving the attendance of more than 50 traveling persons be not held for the time being. As Masons, we cheerfully complied with the Government’s request, and the notice and proclamation with which you are all familiar were sent to all persons entitled to be present at this communication on April 2nd last.”
But the Grand Master did not stop at his postponement announcement. Froessel continued, “Before doing so, however, I think it is only fair to the Craft that the reports of our Officers and Chairman of Committees should be received, so that all of our Brethren may have free access thereto through the Grand Secretary’s office for their information. In the event that the travel restrictions should be relaxed hereafter, and I have not only hope but expectation that they will, the adjourned Communication of Grand Lodge may be held, when all those entitled to be present may attend and the usual business of Grand Lodge shall be conducted. In the meantime, Grand Lodge may function as usual.”
The Lesson of 1945
The technology for telephone conferencing would not be available for another 15 years, in 1960. Even then, it would not have the capability to gather hundreds and even thousands as modern platforms, such as ZOOM, Google Meet, and Skype currently afford. Thus, without the technology available to circumvent travel restrictions, Grand Master Frossel had two choices, cancel Grand Lodge or “postpone” the Regular Session.
This was required because our Constitutions require that only at a “regular” Grand Lodge Session held in May can the election of Grand Lodge Officers, voting upon amendments to our Constitutions, and other like proceedings occur. Thus, had Grand Master Frossell canceled the May 1945 Grand Lodge Session, any future Grand Lodge Session held prior to May 1946 would have been considered “special,” and the election of Grand Lodge Officers, voting on Constitutional amendments and other like proceedings would not have been constitutionally permissible. Therefore, Grand Master Frossel, his Judge Advocate, his Committee members, and others, crafted the only solution available, a procedural maneuver postponing the regular Grand Lodge Session, so that the regular Grand Lodge Session could thereafter be reconstituted whenever conditions permitted. Grand Master Frossell demonstrated an understanding of his obligation to the law of the land and the law of the Craft. It was an acknowledgment of the importance of our Constitutions and the obligation to follow its mandate, especially the most important provision ― to ensure that we gather.
In 1945, facing an unprecedented crisis that demanded leadership and the careful examination of solutions, Grand Master Froessel demonstrated by action and deed that he was not the law, but merely its servant. That as Grand Master, he was not the power ― Grand Lodge in Session was the power ― he was merely its caretaker, and that it was his obligation to find any solution that preserved its integrity. His example of servant leadership, the practice of putting the membership of an organization above the personal pursuits of its leadership, are lessons of that time and for all time.
Researched and written by the Brothers of the Craftsmen Online Editorial staff