Anne Nicol Gaylor, 88, principal founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, died June 14 at a hospice in Fitchburg, Wis. She was hospitalized May 30 after a fall in her independent living apartment in Madison.
Anne and her daughter, Annie Laurie, then a college student, formed FFRF in 1976 with a Milwaukee friend, John Sontarck. Anne served as president until 2004, when Annie Laurie and her husband Dan Barker became co-presidents. FFRF has gone from a small local organization to being the largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) in North America.
Anne lived long enough to enjoy FFRF’s growth to about 23,000 members this spring and its major building expansion. The first event at Freethought Hall’s new addition belatedly celebrated her 88th birthday on Feb. 13.
Proving that atheists do indeed run charities, Anne also co-founded the Women’s Medical Fund with FFRF member and chemistry professor Robert West and the late Peg West in the mid-1970s. The fund is considered the oldest continuously operating abortion-rights charity in the U.S. and has served well over 20,000 indigent women in Wisconsin. She handled WMF calls personally for 40 years, retiring as volunteer administrator in March. Anne married Paul Gaylor, who became FFRF’s chief volunteer, in 1949. He died in 2011. The couple’s four children — Andrew, twins Ian and Annie Laurie, and Jamie — survive her. Her granddaughters are Sabrina Gaylor, 25, and Lily Gaylor, 13. Survivors include her daughters-in-law, Lisa Strand, Nancy McClements and Carrie Gaylor; a son-in-law, Dan Barker; a brother, Tom Nicol, of Minnesota; and her dear friend since high school, Isabel Regan.
Anne’s tombstone in the Nicol family plot in Sparta, Wis., will read at her direction: “Feminist – activist – freethinker.” She requested no memorial service. A full “In Memoriam” feature will appear in the August issue.
The New York Times and Associated Press reported her death, and it was on the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal, which called her “one of Madison’s most controversial public figures and a person of national prominence.” In the story, Robin Morgan, former editor-in-chief of Ms. magazine, called her “one of the great ones in the women’s movement. Her integrity was always bracing, inspiring, magnificent.”
Tributes were pouring in as of press time. Go to ffrf.org/news/news-releases for the press release and scroll to June 15.
Donations in her memory may be made to the Women’s Medical Fund, Box 248, Madison, WI 53701, or to the newly created Anne Nicol Gaylor Memorial Scholarship, to reward freethinking feminists, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Box 750, Madison, WI 53701. Both groups are 501(c)(3) charities. The Women’s Medical Fund is all-volunteer.