From the Archives

Great Masons:
John Whicher

Longtime Grand Secretary lived the Masonic life—to the very end.


As part of our series combing through the archives of the Grand Lodge of California, we’re exploring significant Masons who’ve staked their claim by dutifully serving the line and their country, making important contributions to the world, and leaving a profound charitable legacy.

Grand Secretary John Whicher did all three. And with perhaps the greatest Masonic moustache this side of Mark Twain.

Whicher served as Grand Secretary from August 25, 1908 all the way through his death on March 31, 1941—a period of incredible growth for the fraternity. Consider that when he was first appointed Grand Secretary, following the death of George Johnson, the jurisdiction included 315 lodges (and another 11 under dispensation), comprising some 36,126 members. By the time of his death 37 years later, there were 582 lodges comprising more than 125,000 members.

Despite that long record of service, Whicher’s greatest legacy is likely as a Masonic historian. As Grand Secretary, he wrote two tomes on the fraternity’s roots: Masonic Beginnings in California and Hawaii in 1931 and Extinct Masonic Lodges of California in 1933. Both pieces figure prominently in Leon Whitsell’s landmark 100 Years of Masonry in California, published in 1950. Whicher was, by all accounts, a tremendous resource in the researching of that four-part volume, and countless of his anecdotes and references are recounted throughout.

Whicher was not a historian by trade—although he worked in publishing for most of his life. Born in Urbana, Ohio on July 4, 1855, Whicher was raised in Des Moines, Iowa, where he apprenticed as a printer. In 1879, he moved to Leadville, Colorado and later Denver as a newspaper printer, where he stayed until 1879. From there, he made his way to San Luis Obispo, where he was editor of the Tribune newspaper. He was elected as county clerk in 1895 and served until 1903, when he was appointed to the position of deputy superintendent of state printing in Sacramento. In 1908, he became Grand Secretary and moved to San Francisco.

Whicher was originally raised at Pioneer Lodge No. 22 in Des Moines, a station he reached in just two months. In Colorado, he affiliated with Leadville Lodge No. 51 in 1882. In 1896, Whicher joined King David’s Lodge No. 209 and served as its master three consecutive years beginning in 1900. He was also affiliated with the Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, the Commandery of Knights Templar, and even received the 33° Honorary of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.

Whicher lived in San Francisco for 33 years, making frequent international trips in his capacity as Grand Secretary, including to the Masonic Peace Celebration in London in 1919, as well as official visits to the Philippines and throughout Mexico. In addition to his contributions to Masonic history and scholarship, Whicher was a proud booster of the Masonic Children’s Home in Covina. On March 31, 1941, he suffered a heart attack and died inside his office at the San Francisco Masonic Temple at 25 Van Ness.

Whicher was well-memorialized in the official proceedings of 1942, and a framed poem dedicated to his memory was hung in the Grand Secretary’s office for years afterward. Fittingly, upon Whicher’s untimely death, the remainder of his post was filled by Past Grand Master—and fellow Masonic history enthusiast—Leon Whitsell.

Special thanks to Collections Manager Joseph Evans. Image courtesy of the Henry W. Coil Library and Museum of Freemasonry. The library serves as a research source for Masons, academic scholars, and others who wish to explore the history of Freemasonry in California. Visit the library and museum online at