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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Sharlot Hall

Sharlot Hall

On this date in 1870, Arizona historian and freethinker Sharlot Hall was born in frontier Kansas. She moved with her family near Prescott (then Dewey), Arizona, at the age of 11. She worked for room and board to attend Prescott High School briefly and escape ranch life, but was forced to return home when her mother became ill. Sharlot took up photography and explored ancient Indian cliff dwellings with her brother. Seeing the lot of women of her era and taking a jaundiced view of the "egotism of the average man," Sharlot vowed never to marry. When her family attended lectures by freethinker Samuel Putnam in Prescott in 1895, 24-year old Sharlot joined him on the platform, speaking of Thomas Paine. She wrote for The Truth Seeker, a major freethought periodical, as well as for many newspapers, and met many leading reformers such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Two volumes of Hall's poetry were published. She began taking oral histories of Arizona pioneers. In 1909, territorial governor Judge Richard Sloan appointed her territorial historian, giving her a Phoenix office. Supported by the Federation of Women's Clubs, she traveled throughout Arizona collecting history. After statehood was won, the first governor dismissed her in 1912. After a reclusive retirement caring for family members, Sharlot returned to work at age 57 in 1927, when she was given a life lease on the Governor's Mansion to restore it as a museum of Arizona history in the city of Prescott. The mansion and Sharlot Hall Museum remain open to the public. D. 1943.

With a Box of Apples

Suppose a modern Eve would come
And tempt you with an apple,
Say just about the size of these?
Would you temptation grapple
And manfully declare: 'I won't?'
Or, would you say: 'Well, I
Think since you've picked them
They'd be best in dumplings or in a pie.
And, let us ask the serpent in
To share with us at dinner.
A de'il with taste for fruit like that
Can't be a hopeless sinner.

—Sharlot Hall, freethought ditty

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Michael Servetus

Michael Servetus

On this date in 1553, Spanish physician Michael Servetus, ne Miguel Serveto, was executed for heresy by order of John Calvin, in Geneva, Switzerland. The anti-Trinitarian and rationalist published the first correct explanation of how blood circulates in the body. Born in 1511, Serveto grew up near Aragon, and studied law at the University of Toulouse in France, where he first read the bible, only newly available in printed form. Struck by the absence of mention of the trinity in the bible, and repelled by the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church, he turned to Protestantism. Its proponents also cast him out for his views. The Supreme Council of the Inquisition in Spain summoned him to return to Spain, a sure death sentence. In Paris, Servetus met a young student, John Calvin, who at one time was forced himself to go into hiding for heresy. Servetus studied medicine at the University of Paris, where he published the first work accurately describing pulmonary circulation. Servetus practiced medicine for 12 years in Vienne. In 1546, he began a fateful, heated correspondence on the trinity with his former acquaintance, Calvin. Calvin wrote a colleague that if Servetus should ever visit Geneva, "if my authority is of any avail I will not suffer him to get out alive." Servetus published Restitutio under a pseudonym in 1553, including in it 30 of his letters to Calvin. When he sent Calvin a copy, Calvin exposed Servetus' identity to the Catholic Inquisition in Vienne. Arrested and interrogated, Servetus escaped prison, but was arrested in Geneva while traveling to Italy. The Council of Geneva convicted him of antitrinitarianism and opposition to child baptism. Calvin lobbied for a beheading; the Council sentenced him to be burned at the stake. Only 3 copies of Servetus's Restitutio survived. In it, he rejected original sin and salvation, vicarious atonement and Christ's dual nature.

“[Asked by Calvin if the devil was part of God, Servetus laughed and said] Can you doubt it?”

—Michael Servetus, during his trial for heresy in Geneva, 1553

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Niccolo Paganini

Niccolo Paganini

On this date in 1782, the world's great violinist, Niccolo Paganini, was born In Genoa, Italy. He composed his first sonata before the age of 9, and made his first public appearance in 1793. Paginini was appointed first violinist at the Lucca Court, where his diligent application (reportedly practicing up to 15 hours a day as a youth) made him Europe's foremost virtuoso violinist. Paganini's acclaimed 6-year world tour, wowing audiences with his legendary showmanship, made him wealthy and an international celebrity. He played his own songs, considered to be so diabolically intricate that the superstitious widely accused him of having made a pact with the devil. Yet his tender passages routinely brought his audience to tears. Paginini retired to his villa in Parma. He lived a religion-free life, refused the sacraments of the Roman Catholic church on his deathbed and religious ritual at his burial. Even his religious biographer, Count Conestabili, admitted Paganini's "religious indifferentism" (Vita de Niccolo Paganini, 1851, cited in Joseph McCabe's A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists, 1920.) D. 1840.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Klas Pontus Arnoldson

Klas Pontus Arnoldson

On this date in 1844, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Klas Pontus Arnoldson was born in Goteburg, Sweden. He left school after his father died at age 16, and worked for the Swedish State Railways for two decades. He was elected to the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament, from 1882 to 1887, where he championed expansion of franchise, religious freedom, antimilitarism, and promoted political neutrality for Sweden. He founded the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society in 1883, and edited several journals. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1908 for his pacifist work, especially during the 1895 dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden, in which he controversially sided with Norway. According to his Nobel Prize biography, "Familiar with the humanistic tenets of religious movements originating in the nineteenth century in Great Britain and in the New England section of the United States, he decried fanatic dogmatism and espoused essentially Unitarian views on truth, tolerance, freedom of the individual conscience, freedom of thought, and human perfectibility. These views he published in the Nordiska Dagbladet [Northern Daily] which he edited for a short time in the early 1870's, and in Sanningss�karen [The Truth Seeker]." After concentrating on largely journalistic writing, Arnoldson wrote several major works during his last three decades, including Religion in the Light of Research (1891). D. 1916.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Warren Allen Smith

Warren Allen Smith

On this date in 1921, Warren Allen Smith was born in Minburn, Iowa. He graduated from Iowa State Teachers College with a B.A. in English in 1948, and received his M.A. in American Literature from Columbia University in 1949. During his time in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1946, Smith was known as “the atheist in a foxhole,” according to his website. He worked as a high school English teacher from 1949 to 1986. In 1961, Smith co-founded the independent recording studio Variety Recording Studio. He lived with his partner of 40 years, Fernando Vargas, an atheist, until Vargas’ death from AIDS in 1989.

Smith’s fame is mainly borne from his journalism, which often touches on humanist issues. He was book review editor for The Humanist from 1953 to 1958 and wrote the column “Humanist Potpourri” for Free Inquiry from 1997 to 1998, as well as writing columns for Gay and Lesbian Humanist, The Freethinker, The American Rationalist and Skeptical Inquirer. He wrote the books Who’s Who in Hell: A Handbook and International Directory for Freethinkers, Humanists, Naturalists, Rationalists, and Non-Theists (2000) and Celebrities in Hell (2002), which are extensive compilations of famous freethinkers. Smith’s other books include Gossip from Across the Pond (2005) and In the Heart of Showbiz (2011).

In college, Smith rejected his Methodist upbringing and became an outspoken humanist and freethinker. In an article for The New York Observer on August 14, 2000, Smith wrote: “If you’re the member of an organized church group, you really have to have a guilt complex. You have to feel guilty about not loving God enough or not contributing enough money or not contributing enough to society.” He describes himself as a “humanistic naturalist” in his book Who’s Who in Hell (2000). In 1948, he formed the first college humanist club in the United States. Smith’s other accomplishments include being vice president of The Bertrand Russell Society from 1977 to 1980, serving as treasurer of the Secular Humanist Society of New York from 1988 to 1993 and co-founding Agnostics, Atheists, and Secular Humanists Who Are Infected/Affected with AIDS/HIV Illness in 1992 (although Smith himself is not HIV positive). He created Philosopedia (www.philosopedia.org), an online reference of philosophers and atheists.

“Were there atheists in foxholes during World War II? Of course, as can be verified by my dogtags . . . A veteran of Omaha Beach in 1944, I insisted upon including ‘None’ instead of P, C, or J as my religious affiliation.”

—Warren Allen Smith, Freethought Today, November 1997.

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

William Maclure

William Maclure

On this date in 1763, William Maclure, now known as the “Father of American Geology,” was born to a wealthy family in Ayr, Scotland. He visited the United States as a teenager, made a fortune in the import-export business in London, and became a U.S. citizen in 1796, where he conducted studies that eventually became the U.S Geological Survey. Maclure began traveling the country in an effort to make the first geologic map of the entire U.S. Maclure’s map, the first widely available geologic map, was published in 1809 as part of the paper Observations on the geology of the United States. He was president of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (1817–1837) and published many papers on geology.

In 1824, along with social reformer and fellow freethinker Robert Owen, Maclure established a short-lived utopian community in New Harmony, Indiana. Maclure founded the first free public library in Indiana, the New Harmony Workingmen’s Institute, in 1838, providing both funds and a building. Members told Maclure, “The religious people are not with us. We believe they take exceptions to some of your writings, to the 8th article of our Constitution [prohibiting any religious instruction by members in the meeting] and to our meeting on a Sunday.” Maclure lived in Mexico from 1827 until his death in 1840.

Maclure became critical of formal religion early in life due to his experience with the Calvinist Church of Scotland, which taught that everyone was inherently sinful. He called religion a “delusion” and said there was “nothing beyond the grave” (Maclure of New Harmony: Scientist, Progressive Educator, Radical Philanthropist by Leonard Warren). He was disdainful of the clergy: “The priests have retained their consideration and labor hard in their calling for the propagation of ignorance, superstition, and hypocracy,” Maclure wrote in his journal while visiting Aurillac, France on Nov. 24, 1807. Maclure was outspoken about the harm of religion. He wrote in 1811: “The Christian religion, even now on its death bed, forges chains for the human race and continues to the last that hatred all knowledge and progressive improvement of mankind which has for a long time been one of its principal characteristics.” D. 1840

“We shall be astonished at the long continuance of the delusion that has led the human intellect astray, through the mysterious wilderness of deception, by the cunning intrigues of church and State.” 

—William Maclure, quoted in Opinions on various subjects: dedicated to the industrious producers, Vol. 1, by William Maclure, 1831.

Compiled by Elsa Kramer and Sabrina 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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