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 4 entries for this date: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow , John Steinbeck , Sonia Johnson and Charles Watts
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

On this date in 1807, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Maine, the son of an attorney, who was also a member of Congress. Longfellow's mother was a descendant of John Alden of the Mayflower. Henry began writing poems at 13. He graduated from Bowdoin College, where classmates included Nathaniel Hawthorne. Longfellow traveled widely, married twice (both wives dying tragically), and became professor of modern languages at Harvard. He was the 19th century's most popular American poet ("I shot an arrow into the air"). His poems included "The Village Blacksmith" and "Paul Revere's Ride," as well as "Evangeline" (1847) and "The Song of Hiawatha" (1855). William Ellery Channing reputedly said of Longfellow, a lifelong Unitarian, that "he did not belong to any one sect but rather to the community of those free minds who loved the truth." D. 1882

“I think that as he grew older his hold upon anything like a creed weakened, though he remained of the Unitarian philosophy concerning Christ. He did not latterly go to church.”

—Friend W.D. Howells, writing about Longfellow (Literary Friends and Acquaintance, 1901. p. 202). Cited in A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists, by Joseph McCabe.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

On this date in 1902, Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, Calif. He studied marine biology at Stanford, but did not graduate. His long list of humanistic novels include the 20th century classics Of Mice and Men (1937) and The Grapes of Wrath (1939), which won a Pulitzer Prize He also wrote To a God Unknown (1933), The Red Pony (1937), East of Eden (1952), and The Winter of Our Discontent (1961). Near the end of his life, he wrote his personal physician, Dr. Kenny Fox: "Now finally, I am not religious so that I have no apprehension of a hereafter, either a hope or reward or a fear of punishment. It is not a matter of belief. It is what I feel to be true from my experience, observation, and simple tissue feeling." Steinbeck was awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. (Cited in Who's Who in Hell, edited by Warren Allen Smith.) D. 1968.

“We have usurped many of the powers we once ascribed to God. Fearful and unprepared, we have assumed lordship over the life or death of the whole world—of all living things. The danger and the glory and the choice rest finally in man. The test of his perfectibility is at hand. Having taken Godlike power, we must seek in ourselves for the responsibility and the wisdom we once prayed some deity might have. Man himself has become our greatest hazard and our only hope. So that today, St. John the apostle may well be paraphrased: In the end is the Word, and the Word is Man—and the Word is with Men.”

—John Steinbeck, Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech, 1962

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Sonia Johnson

Sonia Johnson

On this date in 1936, Sonia Johnson was born a 5th generation Mormon in Malad, Idaho. She graduated from Utah State University, pursuing her M.A. and Ed.D. from Rutgers after marrying, and through many moves and pregnancies. She taught English at American and foreign universities, working part-time as a teacher while accompanying her husband on overseas jobs. The family returned to the United States in 1976, buying a house in Virginia, one of the states that had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. Sonia became such an ardent supporter of the ERA that she was excommunicated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1979. Sonia exposed the role of the wealthy Mormon church in sabotaging passage of the ERA. She went on a 37-day hunger strike in the Illinois statehouse in 1982 during the last days of the ERA countdown, to symbolize how "women hunger for justice." She ran on a feminist ticket for President of the United States in 1984 as the candidate of the Citizens Party, becoming the first third-party candidate to qualify for primary matching funds. In countless speeches she pointed out: "Nobody's ever fought a revolution for women." She wrote eloquently of her experiences in From Housewife to Heretic (1981). When a reporter for the Atlanta Constitution asked if Sonia had acquired any non-Mormon habits, "alluding, I'm sure, to smoking and drinking," she replied: "Yes, in fact I have. I have acquired the habit of free thought."

“I have to admit that one of my favorite fantasies is that next Sunday not one single woman, in any country of the world, will go to church. If women simply stop giving our time and energy to the institutions that oppress, they would have to cease to do so.”

—Sonia Johnson, 1982 speech before the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Madison, Wis. See also

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Charles Watts

On this date in 1835, Charles Watts was born in Bristol, England, into a family of Methodists. At age 16, Watts moved to London to work with his older brother, John, in a printing office. The Watts brothers were acquainted with many freethinkers including Charles Bradlaugh and Charles Southwell. The brothers founded a publishing business, Watts & Co., in 1864. Along with Bradlaugh and others, Watts co-founded the National Secular Society in 1866. Watts wrote extensively on freethought including Freethought: Its Rise, Progress and Triumph (1885). In an essay titled “Christianity, Its Nature and Influence on Civilisation” (1868), Watts remarked: “If Christianity contained any real remedy for existing evils, it would have displayed itself ere now. It has had every advantage in its favour; the influence of the priests, the patronage of kings, the alliance of the great and powerful, the use of untold wealth, the command of the armies, first place among the councillors of nations, the willing subjection of the populace. . . . It has been absolute monarch of the world. Yet with all these advantages it has proved unable to keep pace with a progressive civilisation.” With George Holyoake and George Foote, Watts founded the British Secular Union, and he became editor of the Secular Review, founded by Holyoake. He emigrated to Toronto in 1883, where he lectured and became the leader of the secularist movement in Canada. Returned to England in 1891, he continued his secularist activities, including working with Foote on the journal, The Freethinker, the world’s oldest surviving freethought publication. Watts’ wife, Kate Eunice Watts, also wrote and traveled with him. Some of her writings included The Education and Position of Woman and Christianity: Defective and Unnecessary. Watts died at age 70 in England. His son, Charles Albert Watts, developed the Rationalist Press Association, still in existence. D. 1906.

“The object of Christ was to teach his followers how to die, rather than to instruct them how to live. . . . In Spain religion is cruel oppression, in Scotland it is a gloomy nightmare, in Rome it is priestly dominion, while in England it is simply emotional pastime. All these different phases of Christianity indicate that theological opinions depend on surrounding circumstances, and cannot therefore be the cause of the civilisation of the world.”

—Charles Watts in an essay titled “Christianity, Its Nature and Influence on Civilisation,” 1868

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© 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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