Freethought of the Day

Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? "Freethought of the Day" is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

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There are 3 entries for this date: H.G. Wells , Etta Semple and James Watson
H.G. Wells

H.G. Wells

On this date in 1866, (Herbert George) H.G. Wells was born to a working class family in Kent, England. Young Wells received a spotty education, interrupted by several illnesses and family difficulties, and became a draper's apprentice as a teenager. The headmaster of Midhurst Grammar School, where he had spent a year, arranged for him to return as an "usher," or student teacher. Wells earned a government scholarship in 1884, to study biology under Thomas Henry Huxley at the Normal School of Science. Wells earned his bachelor of science and doctor of science degrees at the University of London. After marrying his cousin, Isabel, Wells began to supplement his teaching salary with short stories and freelance articles, then books, including The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898). Wells created a mild scandal when he divorced his cousin to marry one of his best students, Amy Catherine Robbins. Although his second marriage was lasting and produced two sons, Wells was an unabashed advocate of free (as opposed to "indiscriminate") love. He continued to openly have extra-marital liaisons, most famously with Margaret Sanger, and a ten-year relationship with the author Rebecca West, who had one of his two out-of-wedlock children. A one-time member of the Fabian Society, Wells sought active change. His 100 books included many novels, as well as nonfiction, such as A Modern Utopia (1905), The Outline of History (1920), A Short History of the World (1922), The Shape of Things to Come (1933), and The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind (1932). One of his booklets was Crux Ansata, An Indictment of the Roman Catholic Church. Although Wells toyed briefly with the idea of a "divine will" in his book, God the Invisible King (1917), it was a temporary aberration. Wells used his international fame to promote his favorite causes, including the prevention of war, and was received by government officials around the world. He is best-remembered as an early writer of science fiction and futurism. D. 1946.

"Indeed Christianity passes. Passes—it has gone! It has littered the beaches of life with churches, cathedrals, shrines and crucifixes, prejudices and intolerances, like the sea urchin and starfish and empty shells and lumps of stinging jelly upon the sands here after a tide. A tidal wave out of Egypt. And it has left a multitude of little wriggling theologians and confessors and apologists hopping and burrowing in the warm nutritious sand. But in the hearts of living men, what remains of it now? Doubtful scraps of Arianism. Phrases. Sentiments. Habits."

—H.G. Wells, Experiment in Autobiography, 1934, cited by Ira D. Cardiff, What Great Men Think of Religion, 1945

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Etta Semple

Etta Semple

On this date in 1855, Etta Semple (née Martha Etta Donaldson) was born into a Baptist family in Quincy, Illinois. After being left a widow with two sons in 1887, she married Matthew Semple, of Ottawa, Kansas, and they had one son. Etta became Ottawa's town radical, espousing freethought, feminism, opposing racial bigotry, capital punishment, and "blue laws." Her pro-working class novels included Society and The Strike. She helped found the Kansas Freethought Association to "fight ignorance, superstition and tyranny," and in 1879 was elected its president. She also served as vice-president of the American Secular Union. From her parlor she published the bimonthly Freethought Ideal, an 8-page newspaper with a 2,000 circulation. Etta, a community celebrity who supported temperance, amused Ottawans in the summer of 1901 by strolling arm-in-arm with Carry Nation, prompting a local wag to quip: "One believes in no saloons, and one believes in no god." In 1902, Etta opened a "Natural Cure" sanitarium with 31 rooms. "No tramp ever went away hungry, and no fallen woman has been kicked down by us," she once wrote. While the Evening Herald (Ottawa) hailed Etta as a "Good Samaritan" and "one of the greatest benefactors Ottawa has ever had," she was stalked by an assassin. In an unsolved murder on March 28, 1905, an elderly patient in the hospital was bludgeoned in bed. Etta was believed by authorities to be the intended victim. When Etta died of pneumonia at age 59, court was adjourned and crowds filled the cemetery for a godless oration in the spring sun. The Ottawa Herald's banner headline read: "Good Deeds of A Good Woman Are on the Tongues of Ottawa Today." Mourners sang one of Etta's favorite secular songs, "Scattering Seeds of Kindness," which the local newspaper called "emblematic of Mrs. Semple's life." D. 1914. For more about Etta Semple, see Women Without Superstition.

“I never yet have seen the person who could withstand the doubt and unbelief that enter his mind when reading the Bible in a spirit of inquiry.”

—Etta Semple, "A Pious Congressman Twice Answered," Truth Seeker, Feb. 23,1895

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

James Watson

James Watson

On this date in 1799, James Watson, who became a much-imprisoned freethought publisher, was born in Yorkshire. As a young worker in Leeds, he joined a radical reading club and became a freethinker. At age 23, Watson moved to London to assist publisher Richard Carlile at his shop, taking over when Carlile was imprisoned in 1822. Carlile had expressly opened the shop to publish and sell periodicals that would challenge "Six Acts," a suppressive law passed in 1819. Watson was arrested in 1823 for selling Elihu Palmer's Principles of Nature, and was sentenced to a year at Cold Bath Fields prison for blasphemy. He took advantage of his confinement to read rationalist writers. Released in April 1824, he learned the skills of the printing trade directly from Carlile, and also worked for another radical publisher, Julian Hibbert. In 1827, Watson joined the Owenites (see Robert Owen), and became an agent for Owens' Cooperative Trading Association. In 1830, Watson opened his own publishing house, specializing in handprinted and bound volume-classics by freethinkers such as Thomas Paine, Lord Byron and Shelley, selling for one shilling each. In 1831, the irreverent publisher organized a feast to counter a government-ordered fast. In 1832, he began publishing Working Man's Friend, an unstamped newspaper (stamp laws had a chilling effect on publishers of newspapers and pamphlets), for which he was sent to prison for 6 months in 1833. For selling Poor Man's Guardian, Watson was imprisoned 6 months in 1834-35. In the 1840s, Watson campaigned against blasphemy laws, and, with G.J. Holyoake, published the anti-Christian journal, The Reasoner. D. 1874.

“I am happy that I can aid those admirable men, both living and dead, who by their pens or their tongues have aided the great cause of human liberty and universal happiness.”

"

—James Watson, "A Voice from the Bastille," February 23, 1833

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Freethought of the Day

Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? "Freethought of the Day" is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

If you would like to be placed on the "Daily Freethought" e-mail list to automatically receive the calendar notice, log in and edit your email settings (My Membership). Or, email  and include your first and last name with your request for verification purposes. This email service is limited to members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation or subscribers to Freethought Today. To become an FFRF member, click here.


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