Anne Nicol Gaylor

On this date in 1926, Freedom From Religion Foundation founder Anne Gaylor, nee Nicol, was born on a farm near Tomah, Wisconsin. Her mother, Lucie Sowle Nicol, who died when Anne was 2, was descended from George Sowle, a passenger on the Mayflower (an apprentice, not a Pilgrim). On her father's side of the family she is a second-generation freethinker. Reading by 4, and soon out-reading her one-room schoolhouse's small library, Anne was grateful to freethinker Andrew Carnegie (who shares her birthday, see next entry) for endowing the Tomah Public Library. She graduated from high school at 16, worked for room and board and as a waitress to pay for college, and graduated with an English degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1949. She married Paul Gaylor in 1949, and continued to work through four pregnancies. She sold her successful business in 1966, the first private employment agency in Madison, Wis., and became editor of the Middleton Times Tribune, turning it into an award-winning weekly. After writing the first editorial in the state calling for legalized abortion in 1967, she began receiving calls from desperate women, and turned to volunteer activism. Among her feminist activities, Anne founded the ZPG Abortion Referral Service in 1970 and over the next 5 years, made more than 20,000 referrals for birth control, abortion and sterilization. In 1972, she co-founded the Women's Medical Fund charity to help low-income women pay for abortions. She has run that charity as a volunteer for 32 years and helped more than 14,000 women. (Who says atheists don't run charities?) Her book Abortion is a Blessing was published in 1975. "There were many groups working for women's rights," she realized, "but none of them dealt with the root cause of women's oppression--religion." In 1976, she founded the Freedom From Religion Foundation, with her daughter Annie Laurie and a Milwaukee gentleman, to promote freethought and the separation of state and church. After a string of successful legal and media actions, she was asked to go national with the Foundation in 1978, and served as its elected president for 28 years. She took the Foundation from a 3-member, dining-room cause operation to a group with more than 19,000 members, a national office, newspaper, other publications, and many successful state/church lawsuits. Since 2005, as president emerita, she has worked as a consultant for the Foundation. One of her mostly widely-quoted aphorisms: "Nothing fails like prayer."

“There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

—Anne Nicol Gaylor, wording proposed to counter religious displays. Appears on annual Winter Solstice sign displayed at the Wisconsin State Capitol every December.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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