D.M. Bennett

On this date in 1818, freethought publisher De Robigne Mortimer Bennett was born two months prematurely in Springfield, New York. He had a lifelong limp. Bennett worked in a printing office and joined the New London Shaker community at 15. By the age of 27 he was working as the community's physician. He shook off the celibate Shakerism in 1846 when he and Shakeress Mary Wicks fell in love and decided to marry. He made and lost money on start-up businesses and investments in metropolitan areas around the country. In 1873, Bennett started The Truth Seeker in Paris, Illinois. The paper began as a way to reply to a clergyman whose letters were published by local papers which had suppressed Bennett's responses. He took his paper to New York the next year, where it was published at 335 Broadway. He deliberately published and mailed "An Open Letter to Jesus Christ" (written by Bennett), as well as a scientific work on marsupial propagation, to challenge the Comstock Act, which censored writings through the mail. Bennett was arrested in November 1877 for "mailing obscene material." He was defended by Robert Ingersoll and charges were dismissed. In August 1878, Bennett was again arrested, this time for selling a copy of Cupid's Yokes, for which he ultimately served a year in prison, the case becoming an international cause celebre. Some 200,000 citizens signed a petition for his release. His productivity can be gauged by his schedule between 1873 and 1882. During those years he spent a year in prison, went for a year-long world voyage, spent a season in Europe and wrote The World's Sages, Thinkers and Reformers (1,100 pages), The Champions of the Church (even longer), The Gods and Religions of Ancient and Modern Times (2-vol., 1,000 pages each), An Infidel Abroad (800 pages), A Truth Seeker Around the World (4-vol., 750 pages each), and "unnumbered columns of editorial matter and articles for The Truth Seeker," according to his profile in Four Hundred Years of Freethought (ed. by S.P. Putnam). He built up The Truth Seeker into a major publishing house of freethought and scientific titles. He died at 64. Freethinkers of America erected a monument over his grave. D. 1882.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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