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: Ella Wheeler Wilcox , Eugene V. Debs , Harriet Law and Will Durant
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

On this date in 1850, popular poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox was born in Wisconsin. She skyrocketed to fame when a Chicago firm refused to publish a collection of her emotional love poems, calling them immoral. As a result, when Poems of Passion was published in 1883, it sold 60,000 copies in two years. Although well-known for her moral and temperance poems, collected in Drops of Water, Ella had a theatrical bent, veiled herself in unorthodoxy and enjoyed life as a famous socialite. Her poem, "The Queen's Last Ride," about attending the funeral of Queen Victoria, launched her fame in Great Britain. Following her husband's death in 1906, she became convinced she could commune with the dead. Although she departed life as an irrationalist, embracing a somewhat progressive "New Thought," Ella deserves to be considered an honorary freethinker on the strength of her four-line poem, "The World's Need" (see quote.) D. 1919.

The World's Need

So many Gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
When just the art of being kind
Is all this sad world needs.

—Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Eugene V. Debs

Eugene V. Debs

On this date in 1855, labor leader, reformer and socialist Eugene V. Debs was born in Terre Haute, Ind. He was not baptized by his formerly Catholic mother. The family living room contained busts of Voltaire and Rousseau. When a teacher gave Debs a bible as an academic award, inscribing it, "Read and obey," Debs later called, "I never did either." (New York Call interviews with David Karsner). He dropped out of high school at age 14 to work. By 1870 he had become a fireman on the railroad, attending evening classes at a business college. His labor activism began in 1875. As president of the Occidental Literary Club of Terre Haute, Debs brought "the Great Agnostic" Col. Robert Ingersoll, whom he always revered despite political differences, Susan B. Anthony and other famous speakers to town. He was elected state representative to the Indiana General Assembly as a Democrat in 1884, while continuing his labor activities. As editor of the Locomotive Fireman's journal for many years, Debs routinely attacked the church, promoted women's and racial equality, and promoted justice for the poor. "If I were hungry and friendless today, I would rather take my chances with a saloon-keeper than with the average preacher," Debs once said (cited in Eugene V. Debs: A Man Unafraid, 1930, by McAlister Coleman). He saved his strongest denunciations for the Roman Catholic Church, for being an anti-democratic, anti-family, authoritarian "political machine."

In June 1893, Debs organized the first industrial union in the United States, the American Railway Union in Chicago, which held a successful 18-day strike against Great Northern Railway the next year. Debs and leaders of the union were arrested during the Pullman Boycott and Strike of 1894, and were sent to jail for contempt of court for 6 months in 1895. An inspired campaigner, Debs ran for president as a candidate of the Socialist Party in 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912 and 1920, employing the "Red Special" train to visit America during his 1908 campaign. The irreligious Debs was beloved by many. He was associate editor from 1907-1912 of the Appeal to Reason, a popular weekly published by freethinker E. Haldeman-Julius in Girard, Kansas. In 1918, Debs delivered his famed anti-war speech in Canton, Ohio, in protest of WWI, and was arrested and convicted in federal court under the wartime espionage law. His appeals to the jury and to the court before sentencing went into legal history. Debs was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was disenfranchised for life, losing citizenship. While in prison, he was nominated to run for president and conducted his last campaign, winning nearly a million votes. His opponent, Warren G. Harding, commuted Debs' sentence and released him on Dec. 25, 1921. Debs was welcomed by 1,000 fellow Terre Hauteans upon his return. His health broken by his imprisonment, he died at a sanitarium. The Terre Haute home he built with his wife in 1890 is today a National Historic Landmark of the National Parks Department and a museum. D. 1926.

“I left that church with rich and royal hatred of the priest as a person, and a loathing for the church as an institution, and I vowed that I would never go inside a church again.”
-- Eugene V. Debs, describing his teenage reaction to a hellfire lecture by a priest. Cited in Talks with Debs in Terre Haute by David Karsner
“ . . . the press and the pulpit have in every age and every nation been on the side of the exploiting class and the ruling class.”

 

—Eugene V. Debs, cited by Herbert M. Morais and William Cahn, Gene Debs: The Story of a Fighting American (1948)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Harriet Law

On this date in 1832, Harriet Law was born in the United Kingdom. She and her husband, Mr. Law, attended lectures at Secular Hall in order to debate the speakers, and wound up being deconverted. Together they worked for secular causes and for 30 years she was the only "woman secularist" in England. According to freethought historian Joseph McCabe, "she had to endure much insult and even assault." She edited the Secular Chronicle in 1878. D. 1897.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Will Durant

Will Durant

On this date in 1885, William J. Durant was born in North Adams, Mass. Durant earned his B.A. from St. Peter’s College in N.J. in 1907 and his Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia University in 1917. He was an accomplished historian and philosopher who wrote numerous books about history, including The Story of Philosophy (1926) and Heroes of History (2001). However, Durant’s fame was achieved mainly through the comprehensive 11-volume The Story of Civilization (1927–1975), co-written with his wife, Ariel Durant (née Ariel Kaufman). The books document the entire history of Western civilization. The Durants were awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1968 for Rosseau and Revolution (1967), volume 10 of The Story of Civilization, and the 1963 Huntington Hartford Foundation Award for Literature for volume 8, The Age of Louis XIV (1963). He married Ariel in 1913, and they have one daughter, Ethel.

Durant was born into a Catholic family, and spent seven years at the Jesuit St. Peter’s College. However, Durant lost his faith to the point that he could “no longer think of becoming a priest” (quoted in A Dual Autobiography, Will and Ariel Durant, 1977). In his autobiography, Durant wrote: “By the end of my sophomore year, I had discovered, through Darwin and other infidels, that the difference between man and the gorilla is largely a matter of trousers and words; that Christianity was only one of a hundred religions claiming special access to truth and salvation; and that myths of virgin births, mother goddesses, dying and resurrected deities, had appeared in many pre-Christian faiths, and had helped to transform a lovable Hebrew mystic into the Son of God” (A Dual Autobiography by Will and Ariel Durant, 1977). D. 1981

“Does history support a belief in God? If by God we mean not the creative vitality of nature but a supreme being intelligent and benevolent, the answer must be a reluctant negative.”

—Will & Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (1968)

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor and Eleanor Wroblewski

© 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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