Women Luminaries of Freethought


In a new book on WOs (Wellness Orgasms), Dr. Grant Donovan and I take note of the fact that many of the greatest minds in history offered a rational, WO-filled view of life. We believe the sheer number of luminaries who favor science over religion is encouraging to freethinkers. Perhaps, in time, reason will overtake faith. When and if that ever happens, our species will better appreciate and look after the Earth’s extraordinary natural wonders. What’s more, we all will better appreciate the wonder of our chance existence.

Women Luminaries

One section of our book is devoted to people past and present that we chose to celebrate as “Luminaries of REAL Wellness.” We take a walk down what we call our “REAL Wellness Lane of Luminescence” with short bios of our heroes. There are 18 women and men selected as favorites who have contributed multiple WO-inspiring perspectives. Some are living, some not. We offer a few of their words for the insights they evoke and to encourage you to explore more of their life work.

Eight of the luminaries are women. In this essay, all of the women freethinkers who advanced the prospects of REAL wellness via reason, exuberance and liberty are highlighted. Enjoy these brief overviews of remarkable people to whom we all owe much.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair (1919-1995)

Madalyn Murray O’Hair – Madalyn Murray O’Hair was a champion of secularism. Time magazine called Madalyn Murray O’Hair the most hated woman in America during her reign as a leading secularist in the second half of the 20th century. Her unyielding and, to most, abrasive defense of the wall separating government from religion was as effective as it was controversial. She relished every opportunity to provoke the faithful and challenge public officials who illegally granted religion special privilege in American life. School prayer was the first of many issues that brought Madalyn to public attention when she objected to Bible readings in the Baltimore public schools.

O’Hair founded American Atheists and debated religious leaders on a variety of issues across the land. She annoyed nearly everyone, including fellow religious skeptics and her life truly was an unhappy mess. She is credited with helping put a halt to plans that would have had astronaut Buzz Aldrin staging a televised communion on the moon. She also blocked a Texas law that would have required public officials to affirm belief in a Supreme Being. O’Hair tried, like many other atheists since, to get “In God We Trust” off coins and to prevent the pope from saying mass on the Mall in Washington, D.C. She also took legal action in efforts to put a stop to tax exemptions for churches.

Memorable quotes:

* I’ll tell you what you did with atheists for about 1500 years. You outlawed them from the universities or any teaching careers, besmirched their reputations, banned or burned their books or their writings of any kind, drove them into exile, humiliated them, seized their properties, arrested them for blasphemy. You dehumanized them with beatings and exquisite torture, gouged out their eyes, slit their tongues, stretched, crushed, or broke their limbs, tore off their breasts if they were women, crushed their scrotums if they were men, imprisoned them, stabbed them, disemboweled them, hanged them, burnt them alive. And you have nerve enough to complain to me that I laugh at you?

* This religion gives you goals which are outside of reality. It enriches your fantasy life with ugliness. It fills you with ideas of guilt over the most common human experiences — usually related to sex. In this room, right now, each of you, in your own lives, has agonized over the fact that you have masturbated. Masturbation isn’t sinful. If it feels good — do it. You have my blessing, and you yourself know how it relaxes you.

* People say, ‘So what? It’s just a little cross.’ What if it were a little swastika?

* Atheism may be defined as the mental attitude which unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a lifestyle and ethical outlook verifiable by experience and the scientific method, independent of all arbitrary assumptions of authority and creeds.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (1969 – present)

Ayaan Hirsi Ali – A Somali-born American activist, writer and politician, Ali is known for her views on Islam, female genital mutilation, women’s rights and atheism. Author of two bestselling books, Infidel: My Life and Nomad: from Islam to America, she was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2005. Ali has several other distinctions and awards, including a free speech prize from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, the Swedish Liberal Party’s Democracy Prize and the Moral Courage Award for commitment to conflict resolution, ethics and world citizenship.

Memorable quotes:

* All life is problem solving. There are no absolutes; progress comes through critical thought. Reason, not obedience, should guide our lives. Though it took centuries to crumble, the entire ossified cage of European social hierarchy – from kings to serfs, and between men and women, all of it shored up by the Catholic Church – was destroyed by this thought.

* When a ‘Life of Brian’ comes out with Muhammad in the lead role, directed by an Arab equivalent of Theo van Gogh, it will be a huge step forward.

* Tolerance of intolerance is cowardice.

Anne Nicol Gaylor (1926 – present)

Anne Nicol Gaylor – As editor of the Middleton Times Tribune, Anne Nicole Gaylor editorialized from 1997 for legalized abortion. Requests from pregnant women in desperate straits led Ms Gaylor into volunteer activism for feminist rights. She founded the ZPG Abortion Referral Service in 1970, which resulted in 20,000-plus referrals for birth control, abortion and sterilization over an initial five year period. Two years later, she co-founded a charity to assist low-income women seeking abortions; a service that helped 14,000 women over a 32 year period. In 1976, Ms Gaylor and two others, including her daughter Anne Nicole, created the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) for the promotion of free thought and separation of state and church. Today, FFRF has over 21,000 members and a distinguished record of legal actions.

Memorable quotes:

* Nothing fails like prayer.

* There were many groups working for women’s rights but none of them dealt with the root cause of women’s oppression – religion.

* There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

Wendy Kaminer (1950 – present)

Wendy Kaminer – A graduate of Smith College in 1971 and Boston University Law School in 1975, Kaminer spent her first years practicing law before switching to journalism in 1991. Her eight books include Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism, Perils of Piety and Free for All: Defending Liberty in America Today. She has received many recognitions of a major nature, including the Extraordinary Merit Media Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus and a Guggenheim fellowship. The focus of Kaminer’s work includes atheism and state/church issues, the harm of religion’s influence on politics, civil liberties, psychology and the law.

Memorable quotes:

* Atheists generate about as much sympathy as pedophiles. But, while pedophilia may at least be characterized as a disease, atheism is a choice, a willful rejection of beliefs to which vast majorities of people cling.

* The magical thinking encouraged by any belief in the supernatural, combined with the vilification of rationality and skepticism, is more conducive to conspiracy theories than it is to productive political debate.

* I don’t care if religious people consider me amoral because I lack their beliefs in God. I do, however, care deeply about efforts to turn religious beliefs into law, and those efforts benefit greatly from the conviction that individually and collectively, we cannot be good without God.

Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826-1898)

Matilda Joslyn Gage – Ms Gage distinguished herself as a suffragette, abolitionist, Native American activist, secularist and feminist. She worked closely with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton as an eloquent spokesperson for the then outrageous idea that women had a natural right to vote. Matilda served as President of the National Woman Suffrage Association and in 1890 organized the Woman’s National Liberal Union devoted to separation of church and state. Over a century ago, Gage identified the church as the root cause of the oppression of women and also warned about a danger that confronts the country today, namely, a union of Catholics and Protestants attempting to put God in the Constitution and attack secular schools.

Memorable quotes:

* It is the church and not the state, to which the teaching of woman’s inferiority is due: it is the church which primarily commanded the obedience of woman to man. It is the church which stamps with religious authority the political and domestic degradation of woman.

* There is a word sweeter than mother, home or heaven. That word is liberty.

* In order to help preserve the very life of the Republic, it is imperative that women should unite upon a platform of opposition to the teaching and aim of that ever most unscrupulous enemy of freedom – the Church.

* During the ages, no rebellion has been of like importance with that of woman against the tyranny of the church and state; none has had its far reaching effects. We note its beginning; its progress will overthrow every existing form of these institutions; its end will be a regenerated world.

Butterfly McQueen (1911 – 1995)

Butterfly McQueen – A dancer turned actress, Thelma “Butterfly” McQueen is best known for playing Prissy in “Gone with the Wind” (1939). She acted in twenty other movies and television into the 1950s. During World War II, she made many appearances on the Armed Forces Broadcast Jubilee as a comedienne. Butterfly was a nearly lifelong atheist. She retired from acting because studio executives felt she was insufficiently deferential for a black woman and so she often worked in service jobs including, ironically, as a maid, as a salesperson at Macy’s, a taxi dispatcher, running a snack shop and as a seamstress. She graduated in 1974, at age 64, from New York City College with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

Memorable quotes:

* As my ancestors are free from slavery, I am free from the slavery of religion.

* I’m an atheist and Christianity appears to me to be the most absurd imposture of all the religions and I’m puzzled that so many people can’t see through a religion that encourages irresponsibility and bigotry.

* They say the streets are going to be beautiful in heaven. Well, I’m trying to make the streets beautiful here…When it’s clean and beautiful, I think America is heaven. And some people are hell.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815 – 1902)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton – Elizabeth Cady Stanton is viewed as the founding mother of the feminist movement. Her issues were women’s subjugation and religion’s role in keeping women subordinate. A suffrage plank she introduced at the historic Seneca Falls convention in 1848 won endorsement and galvanized women for the next 72 years. In her diary, she noted that her beliefs were “grounded on science, common sense and love of humanity, not fears of the torments of hell and promises of the joys of heaven.” She described how “the bible was hurled at us from every side” in a history of the early movement. Nearly every speech Stanton wrote condemned religious dogma. She is also fondly remembered by contemporary secularists for writing “The Woman’s Bible” in 1895.

Memorable quotes:

* The Church is a terrible engine of oppression, especially as concerns woman.

* I have endeavored to dissipate these religious superstitions from the minds of women and base their faith on science and reason, where I found for myself at least that peace and comfort I could never find in the Bible and the church. . . the less they believe, the better for their own happiness and development.

* For fifty years the women of this nation have tried to dam up this deadly stream that poisons all their lives but thus far they have lacked the insight or courage to follow it back to its source and there strike the blow at the fountain of all tyranny, religious superstition, priestly power and the canon law.

Vashti McCollum (1912 – 2006)

Vashti McCollum – Vashti McCollum endured the wrath of the loving faithful, including death threats, harassed children, murder of the family cat, job loss and more, for challenging school prayer in the public schools and eventually winning the Supreme Court case that put a stop to religious education in public schools in America. This 1948 ruling remains in force to this day. Her book, One Woman’s Fight (1953), was a best-seller and propelled her career as a free thought leader. Ms McCollum served two terms as president of the American Humanist Association and she was featured in a PBS documentary entitled, The Lord Is Not on Trial Here. The title was inspired by an incident during court hearings when a Bible-toting man confronted the school board’s attorney, announcing that he was there to testify for the Lord. The attorney replied, “The Lord, sir, is not on trial here today.”

To their credit, the Baptist Joint Committee submitted an amicus brief to the Court in support of McCollum, saying, “We must not allow our religious fervor to blind us to the essential fact that no religious faith is secure when it meshes its authority with that of the state.”

Memorable quotes:

* Between being praised and persecuted, condoned and condemned, I might understandably have become bewildered, particularly at the brand of ethics sometimes displayed by the staunch defenders of Christianity. But of one thing I am sure: I am sure that I fought not only for what I earnestly believed to be right but for the truest kind of religious freedom intended by the First Amendment, the complete separation of church and state.

* As long as the public school is used to recruit the child or to segregate the children according to religion or to use the truancy power of the public schools to make them go to religions classes, I’m against it.

That’s an overview of our female freethinker heroines—hundreds more could be identified who have done wonders for the spread of reason, exuberance and liberty for everyone and all deserve our gratitude and respect.

In the course of researching the facts on these and other luminaries, varied sources were examined. However, special appreciation goes out to the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s (FFRF) Freethought of the Day feature, particularly to Anne Laurie Gaylor, Bill Dunn and Sabrina Gaylor.

Be well and look on the bright, luminescent side of life.

For information on obtaining our new book about this concept entitled, Wellness Orgasms: The Fun Way to Live Well and Die Healthy by Exploring the Secrets of REAL Wellness, write Dr. Donovan at grant@perceptionmapping.com