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Women and Minorities in Freethought and their role in Social Movements: An Introduction

A talk about various roles women and other minorities played in Freethought, abolitionist, and women's rights movements

Stephan Goodwin

on 8 March 2018

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Transcript of Women and Minorities in Freethought and their role in Social Movements: An Introduction

The Triumvirate of Women's Rights
Susan B. Anthony
Joslyn Matilda Gage
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Women and Minorities of Freethought
and their role in Social Movements:
An Introduction from an novice

Susan B. Anthony
born 1820, died 1906

Self-identified agnostic by the 1880's

Attacked by Christian groups for "irreligious" behavior

Leader and life-long advocate of the abolitionist and women's rights movements

Collaborated with Harriet Tubman on the Underground Railroad

The 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote, is known as the Susan B. Anthony amendment, passed in 1920

On the $1 coin starting in 1979
Joslyn Matilda Gage
born 1826, died 1898

Native American rights proponent, Suffragist, freethinker and abolitionist

She grew up in a house that was a station of the Underground Railroad

Said to be "born with a hatred of oppression" she was considered the most radical of the "Triumvirate"

One of the authors of the "Woman's Bible," calling on the Bible to be treated like any other book

Established the Women's National Liberal Union (WNLU) in 1890,

In 1893 was adopted into the Mohawk nation and given the name, Ka-ron-ien-ha-wi, “She who holds the sky” made a member of Council of Matrons
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Born 1815, died 1902

Primary organizer of the first Women's Rights Conference in Seneca Falls, NY

Formed the National Women's Suffrage Association with Susan B. Anthony in 1869

Primary author of the "Woman's Bible"

Fought against the 15th amendment because abolitionists refused to include women's suffrage in it

Social Darwinist later in life, but supported interracial marriage rights
The Freethought Trail

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

The Woman's Bible

Elizabeth Cady Stanton: Political Thinker, Political Actor

Matilda Joslyn Gage

Susan B. Anthony
Lorraine Hansberry

A Raisin in the Sun

Daughters of Bilitis

The Ladder

W.E.B. DeBois
The Black Atheists of Harlem
Hubert Harrison
Lorraine Hansberry
Florynce Kennedy
Hubert Harrison
Born 1883, died 1927 (appendicitis)

Radical Socialist political activist in Harlem, a leading organizer of the Socialist Party of America

Argued for class consciousness among working people, positive race consciousness among Black people, agnostic atheism, secular humanism, social progressivism, and freethought

On Christianity: he wouldn't worship a "lily white god" and "Jim Crow Jesus"

Referred to as "Black Socrates"
Lorraine Hansberry
Born 1930, died 1965 (pancreatic cancer)

Children of parents who fought racial segregation in Chicago, won the right for blacks to live in white neighborhoods in Hansberry vs. Lee in 1940.

Dropped out of the University of Wisconsin Madison to move to NYC and attend the New School, a progressive university.

A member of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian civil rights group in the USA, and wrote for the ladder, the first lesbian newsletter in the USA where she wrote about feminism and homophobia.

Playwright, known for "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window - a play about bohemian culture in Greenwich Villiage, and A Raisin in the Sun - the play that involves the court case she lived as a child
A Raisin in the Sun
“I'm just tired of hearing about God all the time. What has He got to do with anything?... I'm not going to be immoral or commit crimes because I don't believe. I don't even think about that. I just get so tired of Him getting the credit for things the human race achieves through its own effort. Now, there simply is no God. There's only man. And it's he who makes miracles.”
25 years ago, [my father] spent a small personal fortune, his considerable talents, and many years of his life fighting, in association with NAACP attorneys, Chicago’s ‘restrictive covenants’ in one of this nation's ugliest ghettos. That fight also required our family to occupy disputed property in a hellishly hostile ‘white neighborhood’ in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house… My memories of this ‘correct’ way of fighting white supremacy in America include being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school. And I also remember my desperate and courageous mother, patrolling our household all night with a loaded German Luger (pistol), doggedly guarding her four children, while my father fought the respectable part of the battle in the Washington court."
Florynce Kennedy
Florynce Kennedy, age 60
Born 1916, died 2000, was an American lawyer, activist, civil rights advocate, and feminist

Kennedy is known for her pro-choice activism on abortion, and stating that "If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament."

In 1972, Kennedy filed tax evasion charges with the Internal Revenue Service against the Catholic Church, saying that their campaign against abortion rights violated the separation of church and state.

On the side of civil rights, Kennedy established the Media Workshop in 1966 to picket and lobby the media over their representation of Black people. She stated that she would lead boycotts of major advertisers if they didn't feature black people in their ads. She attended all three Black Power conferences and represented H. Rap Brown and the Black Panthers.
W. E. B. Du Bois
Born 1868 – Died 1963
American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author and editor. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Du Bois grew up in a relatively tolerant and integrated community. After graduating from Harvard, where he was the first African American to earn a doctorate, he became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois was one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.
"When I became head of a department at Atlanta, the engagement was held up because again I balked at leading in prayer ... I flatly refused again to join any church or sign any church creed. ... I think the greatest gift of the Soviet Union to modern civilization was the dethronement of the clergy and the refusal to let religion be taught in the public schools."

In 1951 the US Justice Department indicted Du Bois, then 83 years old, and other members of a group he headed called the Peace Information Center, accusing them of failure to register as agents of a foreign government. The PIC advocated for nuclear disarmament, and the government considered it Communist-inspired. Although Du Bois and the rest were acquitted, the government confiscated his passport and did not return it for eight years.

In 1961, at the age of 93, Du Bois joined the Communist Party. He left the US for Ghana, where, a year later, he renounced his US citizenship. W. E. B. Du Bois died in Ghana on August 27, 1963 at the age of 95. It was, ironically, the day before Martin Luther King expressed his dream of racial justice during the March on Washington.
"There are very few jobs that actually require a penis or vagina. All other jobs should be open to everybody."
Kennedy was known for her flamboyant dress and attitude.

Once, to protest the lack of female bathrooms at Harvard, she led a mass urination on the grounds. When asked about this, she said
"I'm just a loud-mouthed middle-aged colored lady with a fused spine and three feet of intestines missing and a lot of people think I'm crazy. Maybe you do too, but I never stop to wonder why I'm not like other people. The mystery to me is why more people aren't like me."

Kennedy was well known for pithy, humorous and highly quotable statements, such as, "If the ass is protecting the system, ass-kicking should be undertaken regardless of the sex, ethnicity, or charm of the ass involved," and "I know we’re termites. But if all the termites got together, the house would fall down.”[5] In 1974, People magazine wrote that she was "The biggest, loudest and, indisputably, the rudest mouth on the battleground."
I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.
If all the rich and all of the church people should send their children to the public schools they would feel bound to concentrate their money on improving these schools until they met the highest ideals.
I do not consider divorce an evil by any means. It is just as much a refuge for women married to brutal men as Canada was to the slaves of brutal masters.
Susan B. Anthony Quotes
In the name of religion, the worst crimes against humanity have ever been perpetrated.
To those who fancy we are near the end of the battle or that the reformer's path is strewn with roses, we may say them nay. The thick of the fight has just begun; the hottest part of the warfare is yet to come, and those who enter it must be willing to give up father, mother and comforts for its sake. Neither shall we who carry on the fight, reap the great reward. We are battling for the good of those who shall come after us; they, not ourselves, shall enter into the harvest.
The policy of the church from the moment of her existence has been universal dominion over the lives, property, and thought of mankind.
In each of these three institutions every human being has an interest, and a natural right to assist in framing. Those three institutions, family, society, and government are his only three sources of life, of happiness, and of liberty in this world.
Matilda Joslyn Gage Quotes
Elizabeth Cady Stanton Quotes
Come, come, my conservative friend, wipe the dew off your spectacles, and see that the world is moving.
The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of women's emancipation.
The religious superstitions of women perpetuate their bondage more than all other adverse influences.
The whole tone of Church teaching in regard to women is, to the last degree, contemptuous and degrading.
Surely the immutable laws of the universe can teach more impressive and exalted lessons than the holy books of all the religions on earth.
He criticized, in two letters to the New York Sun, the prominent Black leader Booker T. Washington, whose political philosophy Harrison considered subservient. Harrison lost his postal employment through what he said were efforts of Washington’s powerful “Tuskegee Machine”.

After his postal firing, Harrison began full-time work with the Socialist Party of America and became America’s leading Black Socialist. He founded the Colored Socialist Club (the Socialist’s first effort at reaching African Americans). He maintained that it was the principal “duty” of the Socialists to “champion the cause of the African American and that the Socialists should undertake special efforts to reach African Americans as they had done with foreigners and women.” Perhaps most importantly, he emphasized that “Politically, the Negro is the touchstone of the modern democratic idea” and that true democracy and equality implies “a revolution... startling even to think of.”
Christianity, black suffrage and women's rights
The National Women's Suffrage Association was formed when it split from the American Equal Rights Association which went on as the American Woman Suffrage Association

The National Women's Suffrage Association would not support the 15th amendment because it did not explicitly give women the right to vote. The American Equal Rights Association was more worried about Black voting rights.

When Anthony merged the National Women's Suffrage Association with the Christian-run American Woman Suffrage Association Stanton and Gage were run out of the re-merged National American Woman Suffrage Association because of their progressive positions. As the women's suffrage movement became more Christian and conservative, it lost all interest in women's rights beyond the vote.
The United States v. Susan B. Anthony
Anthony was arrested for voting in the 1872 Presidential election

She had previously argued that since the 14th amendment said:

The court case was an obvious sham, Supreme Court Associate Justice Ward Hunt refused to allow Anthony to testify on her own behalf, allowed statements given by her at the time of her arrest to be allowed as "testimony," explicitly ordered the jury to return a guilty verdict, refused to poll the jury afterwards, and read an opinion he had written before the trial even started.

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,"

Gage’s long and brave career culminated in her 1893 volume "Woman, Church and State"
in which she documented the misogyny committed in the name of the Christian religion, from trafficking in women to sexual abuse by the clergy. (yeah, even then) With her clear and unapologetic writing style, and her wealth of knowledge, she backed up her theories with facts drawn from over 2000 years of human history. Her work was far more sweeping in scope than another project to which Gage contributed, the controversial Woman's Bible, edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton., Her motto, penciled into numerous autograph books and carved on her tombstone, embodies her political stand:
In the winter of 1836, Judge Thomas Hertell submitted a married women's property act to the legislature of New York city to investigate methods of improving the civil and property rights of married women, and to allow them to hold real estate in their own name.

When Rose heard of this resolution, she drew up a petition and began to solicit names in support of it. In 1838, this petition was sent to the state legislature in spite of it only having five names.

This was the first petition ever introduced in favor of rights for women. During the following years, she increased both the number of petitions and the number of signatures. In 1849, these rights were finally won.
Early feminist atheists and freethinkers
Ernestine Rose
Lucy Colman
Marilla M. Ricker
Ernestine Rose
Born 1810, died 1892

By age five, Rose began to "question the justice of a God who would exact such hardships" due to the the frequent fasts that her father performed. As she grew older, she began to question her father more and more on religious matters, receiving only, "A young girl does not want to understand the object of her creed, but to accept and believe it." in response. By the age of fourteen, she had completely rejected the idea of female inferiority and the religious texts that supported that idea.
She gave speeches in different states espousing her causes of the abolition, religious tolerance, public education and equality for women. Her lectures were met with controversy.
When she was in the South to speak out against slavery, one slaveholder told her he would have "tarred and feathered her if she had been a man".

When, in 1855, she was invited to deliver an anti-slavery lecture in Bangor, Maine, a local newspaper called her "a female Atheist... a thousand times below a prostitute." When Rose responded to the slur in a letter to the competing paper, she sparked off a town feud that created such publicity that, by the time she arrived, everyone in town was eager to hear her.

Her most ill-received lecture was likely in Charleston, West Virginia, where her lecture on the evils of slavery was met with such vehement opposition and outrage that she was forced to exercise considerable influence to even get out of the city safely.
Black atheist activists
W.E.B. Du Bois
More References
Lucy Colman
Born July 26, 1817
Died January 18, 1906

At age 6, she first learned, to her horror, that slavery exists. She began challenging church teachings at a young age as well. She initially converted to Universalism, then to Spiritualism, and finally to Freethought, "having outgrown superstitions of every kind. "

When her husband was killed working on the railroad due to the railroad's refusal to cover the costs of maintaining a safe working environment, and would give her no aid as a widow she was forced to take a job.
This job was teaching at a black school in Rochester, NY

Starting in 1856, Colman began working for the abolition of slavery. She gave speeches against slavery in New York, Ohio, Iowa, and Michigan. She also used these talks to argue for women's rights.

She regularly ran into ministers and preachers who would argue against her, often with Bible verses about women teaching. She would respond with quotes about being clean shaven. This convinced her of the church's role in slavery and women's oppression.

In 1863, as a secretary on the National Convention of Loyal Women, she was part of the following calls to action:
"do everything in their power to aid the Government in the prosecution of this war to the glorious end of freedom"
“There can never be a true peace in this Republic until the civil and political rights of all citizens of African descent and all women are practically established.”

In 1864, Colman accompanied Sojourner Truth to meet President Lincoln. She was not impressed, and found his support for abolition lacking.

In 1878 at the National Woman’s Suffrage Association, she proposed the resolution denouncing religion at the major source of women's oppression. Fredrick Douglass spoke against her, but she used his own arguments for equality against him. The resolution passed.

She also wrote in defense of the anarchists (including Lucy Parsons) behind the Haymarket Riots ( a protest for an 8-hour work day)
Marilla M. Ricker
The first woman to be accepted by the New Hampshire bar as a lawyer, she had the highest score of that year

The first woman to run for Governor in New Hampshire

The first woman to apply for a foreign ambassadorship

She was introduced into freethought and women's rights by her freethinking father who took her to court cases with him

At age ten after listening to a Baptist minister, said she no longer believed in God. She stated “Do you wonder that I, a child of ten years, said to my father, who was a freethinker, infidel, atheist, or whatever else you please to call him: “I hate my mother’s church. I will not go there again.”

Marilla M. Ricker quotes
“Give me then the man who is not a Christian, and who has no religion, for if the man who loves his wife and children, who gives to them the strength of his arm, the thought of his brain, the warmth of his head, has not religion, the world is better off without it, for these are the highest and holiest things which man can do.”

A religious person is a dangerous person. He may not become a thief or a murderer, but he is liable to become a nuisance. He carries with him many foolish and harmful superstitions, and he is possessed with the notion that it is his duty to give these superstitions to others. That is what makes trouble. Nothing is so worthless as superstition. . . .

“I am a freethought missionary, and I am doing my ‘level best’ to drive superstition, alias Christianity, from the minds of mankind.”

A steeple is no more to be excluded from taxation than a smoke stack.
Ricker was also one of the first women that argued that the 14th amendment protects a woman's right to vote, and she was the first woman in the USA to vote, voting in 1870.
Colman was against segregation, so what did she do at her new job? Immediately started getting parents to pull their kids out of school until it was integrated. The school was integrated within 2 years, in 1856.

It was in teaching she met Susan B. Anthony. Anthony got Colman to give a talk at the state teachers conference where she spoke out against corporal punishment, stating that if the Bible was for corporal punishment, common sense should override the Bible.

She was forced out of the teaching profession for teaching from Thoreau instead of the Bible

Worked with Ingersoll as a lawyer. Fought for prisoners rights. She was known as the Prisoner's Friend.

She successfully fought a district law that allowed permanent imprisonment for prisoners unable to pay fines
Anthony repeatedly ignored the judge's orders to stop talking at the delivery of the verdict, finally stating:

She was fined $100 dollars, but never paid it.
"May it please your honour, I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty. All the stock in trade I possess is a debt of $10,000, incurred by publishing my paper - The Revolution - the sole object of which was to educate all women to do precisely as I have done, rebel against your man-made, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law, which tax, fine, imprison and hang women, while denying them the right of representation in the government; and I will work on with might and mine to pay every dollar of that honest debt, but not a penny shall go to this unjust claim. And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old Revolutionary maxim, "Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God."
At the turn of the twentieth century Du Bois had been a supporter of black capitalism as the best means of African American economic development. But as the decade progressed, his views moved steadily away from capitalism and toward socialism.

He joined the Socialist Party in 1911, but resigned to support Woodrow Wilson for President, angering Hubert Harrison.
When the NAACP was accused in the late 40s of being influenced by Communists, and moved to distance itself from any links, Du Bois refused. He continued to publicly associate with known Communist sympathizers such as Shirley Graham (whom he later married after his first wife died). This led to his final break with the NAACP in 1948.
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