The wellness concept, first expressed by Halbert L. Dunn and promoted to a popular audience in the late 1970’s by my own Rodale Press book, High Level Wellness: An Alternative to Doctors, Drugs and Disease, started out as a positive, life-enriching philosophy focused on principles for optimal well being.

For varied reasons, the term wellness was adopted by business interests and others. Unfortunately, the adopters of the term reinterpreted it in a largely medical context. Educational “wellness” programs at worksites, hospitals, universities and elsewhere were designed to discourage high-risk behaviors (e.g., overeating, lack of exercise, smoking and so on).

As a result, the quality of life focus that encompassed much more than simply medical self-management, risk reduction and other prevention and early treatment endeavors was overlooked.

Today, the renewed focus on REAL wellness, that is, on developing knowledge and skills in reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty, represents a return to the original concepts of wellness. That is, a positive approach to living well for its own rewards, not as a strategy to avoid dying early from bad lifestyle practices.

Thus, this essay acknowledges three pioneers of REAL wellness qualities who never heard the term but lived in ways that modeled at least two of the four dimensions of REAL wellness, namely, reason and liberty.

All three courageously, at considerable risk and and in the face of much resistance, challenged certain belief systems, norms, customs and laws that that viewed as irrational or obstacles to personal freedoms.

For that reason, all who embrace the wellness concept might want to become familiar with at least the broad outlines of these remarkable pioneers of REAL wellness.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833 - 1899)

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Often described as the most remarkable American most people never heard of, Ingersoll was the premier orator and political speechmaker of post-Civil War America. He traveled throughout the country lecturing from memory to packed houses, primarily on politics, the arts, science and religion. He was known as The Great Agnostic. He was a champion of women's rights, racial equality and birth control long before these causes won majority support in the nation.

Ingersoll was born in Dresden, NY on August 11, 1833 in what is now the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum. His father was a Presbyterian minister and staunch Abolitionist. He spent most of his life in Peoria (Illinois), Washington D.C., and New York City.

A colonel during the Civil War and an activist Republican thereafter, he was the first Attorney General of Illinois. He married Eva Parker Ingersoll, a rationalist whom he deemed a Woman Without Superstition, in dedicating his first freethought book to her. He and Eva had two daughters.

An electrifying orator, the controversial agnostic was the most sought-after speechmaker on behalf of progressive causes and Republican presidential and other candidates for high office. He gained national fame for a sensational nomination speech for James G. Blaine for president at the national convention of the Republican Party in 1876. Ingersoll was also a distinguished attorney who defended many unpopular defendants, including two men falsely charged in the Star Route scandal and a freethinker brought up on charges on blasphemy in the State of New Jersey.

Ingersoll’s lectures on topics ranging from Shakespeare to Reconstruction, from science to secularism, particularly his passions for women's rights, racial equality and freedom of conscience were almost always standing room only. His repertoire included 3 to 4-hour lectures on Shakespeare, Voltaire and Burns, but the largest crowds turned out to hear him denounce the bible and religion. Ingersoll's speaking fees ranged as high as $7,000, Ingersoll traveled the continent for 30 years.

He was friends with and esteemed by to literary giants like Mark Twain, industrialists like Andrew Carnegie, leading figures in the arts and reformers like Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage - and at least three Republican presidents.

He was an early popularizer of Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory and a tireless advocate of science and reason. Most outrageous to traditionalists, he rejected doctrines of eternal damnation and advocated secularism, skepticism and humanism. His personal and family life were idyllic, and opponents despaired of finding anything to disparage. Religious interests frequently circulated rumors about Ingersoll in attempts to diminish his credibility. abounded. One was that Ingersoll's son was a drunkard who more than once had to be carried away from the table. Ingersoll response was often quoted by both detractors and supporters: "It is not true that intoxicating beverages are served at my table. It is not true that my son ever was drunk. It is not true that he had to be carried away from the table. Besides, I have no son!"

A 12-volume Dresden edition of his lectures, poetry and interviews was collected after his death. 

I do not borrow ideas. I have a factory of my own.

Nothing is greater than to break the chains from the bodies of men -- nothing nobler than to destroy the phantom of the soul.      

If there be an infinite Being, he does not need our help -- we need not waste our energies in his defense.

The man who does not do his own thinking is a slave, and is a traitor to himself and to his fellow men.

We have heard talk enough. We have listened to all the drowsy, idealess, vapid sermons that we wish to hear. We have read your Bible and the works of your best minds. We have heard your prayers, your solemn groans and your reverential amens. All these amount to less than nothing. We want one fact. We beg at the doors of your churches for just one little fact. We pass our hats along your pews and under your pulpits and implore you for just one fact. We know all about your mouldy wonders and your stale miracles. We want a this year's fact. We ask only one. Give us one fact for charity. Your miracles are too ancient. The witnesses have been dead for nearly two thousand years.

Who can overestimate the progress of the world if all the money wasted in superstition could be used to enlighten, elevate and civilize mankind?

An infinite God ought to be able to protect himself, without going in partnership with State Legislatures. Certainly he ought not so to act that laws become necessary to keep him from being laughed at. No one thinks of protecting Shakespeare from ridicule, by the threat of fine and imprisonment.

The old lady who said there must be a devil, else how could they make pictures that looked exactly like him, reasoned like a trained theologian -- like a doctor of divinity.

The notion that faith in Christ is to be rewarded by an eternity of bliss, while a dependence upon reason, observation and experience merits everlasting pain, is too absurd for refutation, and can be relieved only by that unhappy mixture of insanity and ignorance, called ‘faith.’

With soap, baptism is a good thing. 

Andy Aitken Rooney (1919 - 2011)


Born in Albany, NY, attended Colgate University before being drafted into the Army in 1941. In 1943, he was an Army correspondent on air raids over Germany; two years later he was among the first journalists to tour liberated Nazi concentration camps. Decades later, he said he had been a pacifist opposed to World War II, but what he saw in the camps changed his opinions about whether just wars exist.

Rooney joined CBS in 1949, helped write the Garry Moore Show and collaborated with Harry Reasoner on news specials from 1962-1968. Rooney won the three Emmy Awards for varied TV special reports, wrote 13 books and a regular column for Tribune Media Services but was best known for his sardonic short TV essays called, A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes.

In one of his most popular books, Sincerely, Andy Rooney, he included a chapter entitled, Faith in Reason which included a letter to his children concerning his agnosticism and freethought views. In 2001, the Freedom from Religion Foundation made Rooney a recipient of their Emperor Has No Clothes award.

We all ought to understand we're on our own. Believing in Santa Claus doesn't do kids any harm for a few years but it isn't smart for them to continue waiting all their lives for him to come down the chimney with something wonderful. Santa Claus and God are cousins.

Christians talk as though goodness was their idea but good behavior doesn't have any religious origin. Our prisons are filled with the devout.

I'd be more willing to accept religion, even if I didn't believe it, if I thought it made people nicer to each other but I don't think it does. (Source: Sincerely, Andy Rooney, 1999.)

Ruth Hurmence Green (1915-1981)


Born in Iowa, gained a degree in journalism from Texas Tech in 1935. Married, three children, settled in Missouri. A half-hearted Methodist, she read the bible in her early sixties while convalescing from cancer. She described the shock of that experience as worse than the trauma of her illness. There wasn't a page of the bible that didn't offend me in some way. There is no other book between whose covers life is so cheap.

This experience soon led her to write The Born Again Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible (1979), described by the Freedom from Religion Foundation as an enduring modern freethought classic. The Preface contains this overview: I am now convinced that children should not be subjected to the frightfulness of the Christian religion. . .If the concept of a father who plots to have his own son put to death is presented to children as beautiful and as worthy of society's admiration, what types of human behavior can be presented to them as reprehensible?

Ruth insisted believed that freedom depends upon freethinkers and would remind readers that there was a time when religion ruled the world. It is known as the Dark Ages.

Suffering from cancer, she took her own life in 1981 by swallowing painkillers.

These are but three of about a thousand famous notables, past and present, whose accomplishments were highlighted during the past year by the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s daily calendar item called Freethought of the Day. Much but not all of the information about Robert Green Ingersoll, Andy Rooney and Ruth Hermence Green was adapted from these Freethought profiles. These three honorees were selected because by example and life works, each embodied the REAL wellness values of reason and liberty.  

Best wishes and be well.