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 3 entries for this date: Ted Gup , Margaret Sanger and Alexander von Humboldt

Ted Gup

On this date in 1950, journalist, author and professor Ted Gup was born in Canton, Ohio, to parents Theodore Stern Gup and Virginia Stone. After receiving his BA in Classics from Brandeis University, Gup went on to receive a JD from Case Western Reserve University School of Law. Gup was a longtime Washington Post reporter under the tutelage of famed muckraking investigative reporter Bob Woodward, whose work helped to uncover the Watergate Scandal. Gup later worked for Time Magazine. Over the span of his career, Gup has written for many national publications including Smithsonian, National Geographic, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Village Voice, Sports Illustrated, Slate, GQ, Mother Jones, Audubon, the Columbia Journalism Review, NPR, and Newsweek. Much of his work has championed more transparency in government; he is most renowned for revealing publicly in 1992 the existence of a secret underground bunker to house the United States Congress in case of a nuclear attack on the nation’s capitol. The revelation that taxpayer money had funded the $14 million ($123 million by today’s standards) West Virginia bunker provoked outrage and controversy, some of which was directed at Gup, given that public knowledge of the location rendered it useless. Gup has worked in academia, holding a position as a professor of journalism at the Case Western Reserve University. He has been a professor and the chair of the journalism department at Emerson College in Boston, Mass., since 2009. Gup has received more than twenty awards for his writing, including the George Polk Award, the Worth Bingham Prize, the Gerald Loeb Award, the Investigative Reporters and Editors Book-of-the-Year Award for his bestseller, The Book of Honor: Covert Lives and Classified Deaths at the CIA (Doubleday, 2000), and the Goldsmith Book Prize for Nation of Secrets: The Threat to Democracy and the American Way of Life (Doubleday, 2007). Gup has been a Pulitzer finalist, Fulbright Scholar, MacArthur Fellow and Guggenheim Fellow. Gup is also the author of A Secret Gift (Penguin Press, 2010), a frequent contributor to news programs such as CNN, PBS and NPR, and a public speaker in high demand at venues all around the country. After Gup’s 21-year-old son David died tragically of a heroin overdose in 2011, Gup announced he had become a nonbeliever. Gup lives with his wife, Peggy. They have one living son, Matthew.

“I had nearly forgotten how death plays out over time — not the biological episode that collapses it all into a nanosecond of being and nonbeing, but the slower arc of our leaving — sorting through the mail, paying the bills, stumbling upon notes. . . Have I no more than these solicitations, the invitations, these letters delivered late? I do. I have memories. I have places where I feel both his closeness and his distance. And I have the all-too-brief visitations allowed in dreams. For the nonbeliever I’ve become, it is what passes for an afterlife.”

—— Ted Gup, from a July 13, 2014 opinion piece in The New York Times, “The Afterlife”

Compiled by Noah Bunnell

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger

On this date in 1879, Margaret Sanger (née Higgins), was born. Watching her mother die at age 48 of tuberculosis after bearing 11 children changed not only the course of Margaret's life, but world history. As a young child, Margaret was introduced to the power of the Catholic Church when the local priest locked the doors of the town hall to prevent agnostic Robert Ingersoll from speaking in Corning, N.Y. Margaret wrote in her autobiography of the spellbinding experience of hearing Ingersoll speak in the woods instead. She herself would later personally repeatedly experience being locked out of public halls, even countries, under Catholic pressure. Her experience doing obstetrical nursing of the poor in New York City as a young mother herself galvanized her conviction that women had the right to control fertility. Sanger's turning point was witnessing the death of patient Sadie Sachs from a second illegal abortion. When the 28-year-old mother had pleaded with her doctor for birth control, he had responded: "Tell Jake to sleep on the roof." Sanger researched contraception (coining the term birth control), while editing a monthly newspaper, The Woman Rebel (1914). Its purpose: to challenge the 1873 Comstock Act classifying contraception as "indecent articles" and preventing dissemination of contraceptive information. Facing 45 years in prison when indicted under the Act, Sanger fled the country, leaving behind a book, "Family Limitation." It sold 10 million copies while Sanger continued research in England and the Netherlands. When she returned to the United States, she was rearrested. Then her young daughter, Peggy, died of pneumonia in November 1915. Devastated, Sanger went on a headline-making speaking tour to challenge the charges, which were dropped in 1916. She opened the first birth control clinic that year, which was raided, and spent the next two decades educating physicians about birth control and overseeing the creation of birth control clinics around America. In 1934, she brought the lawsuit that finally overturned much of the repressive Comstock Act. Over her lifetime, she was jailed eight times, brought diaphragms to the United States and distributed them, helped develop contraceptive jelly, founded Planned Parenthood, and commissioned the creation of the birth control pill. Doing more to free women than any other individual, she was hailed as the "heroine" of history by H.G. Wells and named "Woman of the Century" by a U.S. magazine the year of her death. D. 1966.

“No Gods—No Masters”

—-Motto of Margaret Sanger's newspaper, The Woman Rebel. For more about Sanger and her views on religion, see Women Without Superstition

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; Sophia Smith Collection, Smith Library

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Alexander von Humboldt

Alexander von Humboldt

On this date in 1769, Alexander von Humboldt, who would come to be known as one of the greatest explorers of his time, was born in Berlin. Humboldt and his older brother, Karl Wilhelm, were educated by private tutors in the classics, French, mathematics, philosophy, politics and law. Botany quickly became Humboldt's favorite subject and, even at an early age, he collected and classified insects and plants at his family's estate in Tegel, near Berlin. At 16 years of age, Humboldt attended physics lectures at a physician's home, learned of Benjamin Franklin, and ultimately installed a lightning rod on Castle Tegel, which the local orthodox clergy deemed "blasphemous." In 1792, at 22 years of age, Humboldt completed his studies in geology (a new science at that time), became an inspector of mines and, later, an advocate for the welfare of miners. Humboldt was introduced to Goethe in 1794, and the two became close friends and intellectual comrades. Goethe reportedly said that he could learn more in one hour of conversation with Humboldt than in a week of reading books. Restless and curious about the world, Humboldt resigned from the mining business, traveled around Europe (developing revolutionary theories on the geological structure of Spain), and, in 1799, embarked on an expedition of scientific discovery. He traveled for 5 years, visiting and exploring the Americas, where he became horrified by the practice of slavery. On this voyage, in addition to establishing the foundations of geography and meteorology, Humboldt met Thomas Jefferson, and was deeply impressed by his enlightened political views but could not reconcile that he nevertheless owned slaves. While in South America, Humboldt contracted malaria and was nursed back to health by cannibals. He wrote with dismay about their treatment by the Jesuits and remarked at their deep sense of humanity.

Upon his return to Europe, Humboldt published writings of his travels and scientific discoveries, which brought him fame throughout Europe. He became an active voice in politics, supporting the 1848 revolutions, universal political rights, the emancipation of the Jews, and championing the rights of poor artists and scientists that faced persecution. In 1845, at 77, Humboldt wrote Kosmos: Entwurf einer physischen Weltbeschreibung, hailed as one of the century's most extraordinary scientific works. Kosmos attempted to explain the unity of the Universe with naturalistic (rather than spiritual) laws, easily understandable to the public. It was never finished but it was an encyclopedic treasure of all that was known of the physical sciences in the mid-nineteenth century. Among Humboldt's other achievements, he was the first to raise anthropologists' awareness of the neglected Inca, Maya and Aztec civilizations; he was the first in astronomy to observe a meteor shower with scientific instruments; for the field of botany he collected over 60,000 plants and identified 3,500 new species; his maps of Central and South America were the first for geographers; and in geology, he was the first to accurately understand volcanic activity. The Humboldt Current, a cold ocean current flowing north along the west coast of South America, is named after von Humboldt. Humboldt died at age 89 in the same year The Origin of Species was published. A state funeral was held for him with more than 600 people (including many students) in attendance. He was buried in Tegel next to his brother. D. 1859.

“One of the most encyclopedic scientists of the time, Humboldt was a Pantheist like his friend Goethe, and a contemptuous anti-clerical like his friend F. Arago . . . His letters use very strong language about the Churches to the end of his life. He calls Luther ‘that diabolical reformer.’ ”

—Joseph McCabe, A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists 1998, p. 367

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

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