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 4 entries for this date: Nell Newman , Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon , E.Y. (Yip) Harburg and Alex Day
Nell Newman

Nell Newman

On this date in 1959, environmentalist, entrepreneur and philanthropist Elinor Teresa "Nell" Newman was born in New York City to actors Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman. She worked as a child actor under the name Nell Potts. She attended Putney School, a high school in Vermont established to spread progressive education, and earned a B.S. in human ecology at the College of Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. Newman moved to California, where she served as the executive director of the Ventana Wilderness Sanctuary as well as the development director for the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group.

She worked for fundraising institutions until 1993. Her commitment to health and sustainable agriculture led her to convince her father to let her establish Newman’s Own Organics: The Second Generation as an organic division of his Newman's Own line. Her first snack creation, Newman’s Own Organic pretzels, became the number-one food snack in America in its first year of production. She has created over 100 organic food products and compiled her thoughts about how to make a difference in life in her 2003 book The Newman’s Own Organics Guide to a Good Life: Simple Measures That Benefit You and the Place You Live. In 2010 she started the Nell Newman Foundation, which aims to award grants in program areas such as the environment, education, arts and culture, animal welfare and international affairs. Newman received the Rachel Carson Award in 2014 for her environmental leadership and was inducted into the Food Hall of Fame in 2017. She married Gary Irving, a Welshman, in 2005. Julie Norris of the British Humanist Association conducted the service.

Newman at the 2011 Broadway Barks pet rescue benefit in New York City. Nick Step photo (cropped), Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Compiled by Tolulope Igun

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon

On this date in 1827, Barbara Leigh Smith (later Bodichon) was born in England. Her father Benjamin Leigh Smith was a dissenter, Universalist and benefactor to the poor. Smith had five children with a young milliner whom he never married, possibly out of principle. Barbara's working class mother died young. The children grew up in an egalitarian home, and Barbara received an inheritance at 21, just like her brothers. No college admitted women at the time, but she and a female friend took an unprecedented walking tour of Europe unchaperoned.

Barbara was a lifelong friend of novelist and freethinker George Eliot, who modeled "Romola" after her, and associated with many artists and intellectuals, including freethinker G.J. Holyoake. (Barbara's cousin Florence Nightingale snubbed her, evidently because of her "illegitimate" status.) In 1854, Barbara wrote a summary of laws concerning women, which became a major catalyst of the British feminist movement, and resulted in the adoption of the Married Women's Property Bill in 1857. Barbara, who had met Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, also petitioned Parliament for suffrage. She founded Girton College, which admitted women. D. 1891.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

E.Y. (Yip) Harburg

E.Y. (Yip) Harburg

On this date in 1896, lyricist and social justice poet Edgar Yipsel (Yip) Harburg, known as "Broadway's social conscience," was born of Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. Raised in poverty on Manhattan's Lower East Side, he later attended City College of New York, and struck up a lifelong friendship with classmate Ira Gershwin. Harburg began writing lyrics for Broadway revues in the 1930s, including the classic anthem of the depression, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" (with composer Jay Gorney, 1932) and "April in Paris" (with Vernon Duke, 1932). Harburg conceived and wrote lyrics for book musicals with political and social themes, including "Hooray for What!" (1937, with an anti-war theme, music by Harold Arlen) and "Bloomer Girl" (1944, feminist, anti-racist theme, music by Arlen). He co-wrote the book (with Fred Saidy) and wrote the lyrics for "Finian's Rainbow" (1947, music by Burton Lane), which, despite its slyly subversive message, won the Henderson and George Jean Nathan Awards for Best Musical Comedy. He called himself a "rebel by birth." "The House of God never had much appeal for me. Anyhow, I found a substitute temple — the theatre," Harburg said (Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz?, 1993, by Harold Meyerson and Ernie Harburg).

His most famous Hollywood work was in "The Wizard of Oz" (1939, music by Arlen) with his Academy Award-winning song, "Over the Rainbow." In 1962 he and Arlen scored the animated feature "Gay Purr-ee" (featuring the voice of Judy Garland). From 1951 to 1961 during the House Un-American Activities Committee investigations and the McCarthy hearings, Harburg was "blacklisted" for his political views from film, television and radio but kept working on Broadway. Harburg wrote the lyrics to over 600 songs with a variety of composers, including: "It's Only a Paper Moon" (1932, with Arlen), and "Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe" (1943, Arlen, from the film "Cabin in the Sky"). With Lane, he wrote "Old Devil Moon" and "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" The team of Arlen and Harburg also wrote Groucho Marx's signature song, "Lydia, the Tattooed Lady" (1939, from "At the Circus"). His volume of satiric light verse, Rhymes for the Irreverent (1965), was reissued in 1999. A second volume, At This Point in Rhyme (1976) was reissued in 2000 under the title More Rhymes for the Irreverent. Yip Harburg died at age 84. (For more detail, see The Theater was his Temple: Yip Harburg Secular Songwriter.) D. 1981.

Do Unto Others?

'Love thy neighbor as thyself?'
Hide that motto on the shelf!
Let it lie there, keep it idle
Especially if you're suicidal.


'For what we are about to receive,
Oh Lord, 'tis Thee we thank,'
Said the Cannibal as he cut a slice
Of the missionary's shank.

—Yip Harburg, "Rhymes for the Irreverent" (1965, available for sale at FFRF's online shop)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Alex Day

Alex Day

On this date in 1989, Alex Richard George Day was born in Essex, England. Day grew up in Essex, where he started his YouTube channel, nerimon, in 2006. Day attended university but never received his degree, instead treating his independent music and video blogging as a full-time profession. Day now lives in London with friend and collaborator Charlie McDonnell. Day has released two solo albums, “Parrot Stories” (2009) and “The World Is Mine (I Don’t Know Anything)” (2010). He has also released several EPs and a single, “Forever Yours” (2011), which Day tried to get to number one in the official UK 2011 Christmas charts. He made it to number four, attracting the interest of radio stations around the country as well as record labels. The next week, Day had the distinction of having the fastest drop in the charts in UK history, dropping down to 108. Day also collaborates with other YouTubers and musicians, and is a member of the band Chameleon Circuit with McDonnell. Chameleon Circuit performs Doctor Who-themed music, a genre referred to as “Time Lord Rock” or “Trock,” a term Day invented in 2008.

Day’s video blogs often feature a snarky, rational perspective on topics from day-to-day life or popular culture. Day occasionally mocks religion and is outspoken about his atheism. In his video “The Atheist’s Puzzle,” Day discussed recently seeing Richard Dawkins at a convention and his own reasons for not believing, saying, “This for me isn’t a choice of are you religious or are you not. For me, it’s just a case of I don’t need religion to make the world seem more impressive than it is.” Videos like “Jewish Holiday Rules” and “Alex Reads Creation” openly mock Judeo-Christian religious traditions. Day goes so far as to say, “I don’t think that the bible is true, I think that it’s a work of fiction. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good read.”

Photo by Alex Day under CC 3.0

“I look forward to receiving 20 emails saying, ‘Hey, I noticed you’re not religious. Look at your fingerprint. Doesn’t that prove that there is a creator, because your fingerprint is completely unique.’ Um, no. Doesn’t.”

—-Alex Day

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

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