Fond farewell to Sherry Matulis – 1931-2014

Sherry Matulis, former secretary of FFRF’s executive board and an ardent member since 1981, died in late August at home in Peoria, Ill.

“I was born an atheist (aren’t we all?), in the small town of Nevada, Iowa,” she wrote. Moving to Peoria in 1942, she married John Matulis in 1948. They had five children.

She wrote about her experience seeking an illegal abortion, “Never Again,” for The Feminist Connection, a newspaper edited by Annie Laurie Gaylor in the early 1980s, which was later reprinted by The Progressive magazine as “Abortion 1954.” In 1954, when her husband was out of town on a construction project, Sherry, a young mother, was raped and knifed and left for dead in an attack by a religious fanatic.

She subsequently spoke before a U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee chaired by Orrin Hatch in 1981 about her life-threatening experiences seeking an illegal abortion, as well as before many state legislatures. In 1990, she spoke at U.S. Senate committee hearings on the Freedom of Choice Act.

She served as a state and national representative for the “Silent No More” campaign sponsored by NARAL in 1985. She appeared on many radio and TV programs, including shows hosted by Oprah Winfrey and Sally Jessy Raphael, and spoke for choice on many college campuses. She was featured in “Personal Decisions,” a film produced by Planned Parenthood in 1985, and received state and national recognition, including the American Humanist Association’s “Humanist Heroine” Award of 1991.

Her column, “The Refractory Relic,” appeared in The Feminist Connection from 1981-85, and her riveting essays appeared in early issues of Freethought Today. Her articles, poetry and short stories were published in such periodicals as Redbook, Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, Questar, Analog and others.

FFRF’s anthology of women freethinkers, Women Without Superstition, edited by Gaylor, reprints one essay by Matulis and two of her poems. FFRF Co-President and resident musician Dan Barker also put her poem “Benediction” to music (recorded on his “Friendly Neighborhood Atheist” CD).

“Sherry was a brilliant and fierce critic of religion and its harm to women and to intellect, and a very dear friend,” said Gaylor.

Religion’s Child

Aware of light and yet condemned to grope
Through dark regression’s cave, told she must find
Life’s purpose in that blackness, without hope,
Denied the luminescence of her mind Until, at last, she finds the darkness kind,
Religion’s child — a babe once bright and fair,
Curls up, tucks in her tail, and says her prayer.


Pride goeth, so the Christians say,
Before a mighty fall.
But me, I’ve never felt that way;
I never stand so tall
As when I say I’m proud to be
An atheist, Oh, yes!
It helps me stand for so much more,
And fall for so much less.

Poem by Sherry Matulis. Music by Dan Barker. © 1998 by Sherry Matulis and Dan Barker

Freedom From Religion Foundation