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Tue Jul 18, 2017, 08:23 AM

Three Inspiring Atheist Women Who Lived In The Early United States [View all]


Three Inspiring Atheist Women Who Lived In The Early United States
July 16, 2017 by Matthew Facciani

The following is an article by Karen L. Garst, author of Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life Without Religion. This post originally appeared on her website (http://faithlessfeminist.com/blog-posts/early-women-atheists-us/) and has been reprinted with permission.

The mid-nineteenth century in the United States was a time of turmoil. The Civil War, fought to end slavery, resulted in over 600,000 deaths of soldiers. Over 400 women served as soldiers, disguising themselves as men. Both men and women joined the abolitionist movement. Most notable of the women abolitionists were Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Tubman, Mary Todd Lincoln, Lucretia Mott, Clara Barton, and Susan B. Anthony to name just a few. Many of these women became the forefront of the fight for women’s suffrage after the war. What is perhaps less well known is the number of these women activists who were also atheists. Below are a few salient facts about some of these women drawn from Annie Laurie Gaylor’s book, Women Without Superstition: “No Gods-No Masters” published in 1997 by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. All quotes are drawn from this book unless otherwise indicated. These were brave women. Some were arrested, jailed, and ostracized from their families and communities. Just by speaking out, they were violating the tenets of the Bible:

“Let the woman learn in silence in all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” (I Timothy 2:11-14)

Anne Hutchinson
As Ms. Gaylor outlines in her introduction, the first “female heretic” in the “American” colonies was Anne Hutchinson who arrived in 1634. Remember that at this time in this Puritan colony, there was no separation of church and state: the church ruled. Hutchinson began by inviting women to her home to listen and discuss her critique of the male ministers’ sermons and ideas. People became more alarmed, of course, when men began to join her. It is not surprising that she was banished from the colony for “sedition and heresy in 1637.” What is perhaps most interesting, however, is that she and her followers established a community on Aquidneck Island where they adopted a secular government


Ernestine L. Rose
Gaylor characterizes Rose as “nineteenth-century America’s most outspoken atheist.” Her early life must have prepared her to fight the battle of religion. She was raised by a rabbi, lost her mother at sixteen, made a legal case for refusing to marry an older man her father had chosen for her, appealed to the Prussian king regarding the restrictions of travel for Jews, and started a business. Whew! Any one of those things would have been considered difficult even for the men of her day. Once in the United States, she became a woman’s rights activist and was instrumental in achieving the passage of the Married Woman’s Property Act of New York passed in 1848. Part of that act reads as follows:

“The real and personal property of any female who may hereafter marry, and which she shall own at the time of marriage, and the rents issues and profits thereof shall not be subject to the disposal of her husband, nor be liable for his debts, and shall continue her sole and separate property, as if she were a single female.”


Elizabeth Cady Stanton
If ever time travel becomes possible, I would like to travel back and meet this woman. She is one of my heroes. I am using the following quote from her for the introduction to my next book.

“Take the snake, the fruit-tree and the woman from the tableau, and we have no fall, nor frowning Judge, no Inferno, no everlasting punishment – hence no need of a Savior. Thus the bottom falls out of the whole Christian theology. Here is the reason why in all the Biblical researches and high criticisms, the scholars never touch the position of women.”[1]

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