Samuel Porter Putnam

On this date in 1838, Samuel Porter Putnam, the son of a Congregationalist minister, was born in New Hampshire. He became a student at Dartmouth in 1858, and enlisted as a private in the Civil War, where, after two years of service, he was promoted to the rank of captain. He became a Congregationalist minister, in 1868, after three years at the Chicago Theological Seminary. Three years later he broke with that denomination and joined the Unitarians. After serving in various congregations, he then "gave up all relations whatsoever with the Christian religion, and became an open and avowed Freethinker," as he recorded in his opus, Four Hundred Years of Freethought. During the Hayes Administration he was appointed to the Civil Service. He left that work in 1887, when he became president of the American Secular Union, and "devoted himself entirely to the Freethought work," later becoming president of the Union. He was elected president of the California State Liberal Union in 1891 and the Freethought Federation of America in 1892. Putnam established the San Francisco Freethought (1887-1891). He noted that he visited all but four of the existing states and territories in his work for freethought, traveling more than 100,000 miles giving freethought lectures. His history of freethought and rationalism, Four Hundred Years of Freethought, was published in 1894. His other writings include: Prometheus, Gottlieb: His Life, Golden Throne, Waifs and Wanderings, Ingersoll and Jesus, Why Don't He Lend a Hand? Adami and Heva, The New God, The Problem of the Universe, My Religious Experience, Religion a Curse, Religion a Disease, Religion a Life, and Pen Pictures of the World's Fair. Putnam's tragic death created a mild scandal. He and a young lecturer-colleague, May Collins, had been touring in Boston. She was staying at the home of Josephine Tilton. The pair had returned to the house after dinner and were found dead the next morning in her room, victims of leaking gas. Although they were fully clothed, and there was no "evidence of impropriety," the religious press attacked Putnam, disclosing that he was a divorced man with two children. D. 1896.

“The last superstition of the human mind is the superstition that religion in itself is a good thing, though it might be free from dogma. I believe, however, that the religious feeling, as feeling, is wrong, and the civilized man will have nothing to do with it . . . [When the] shadow of religion disappeared forever . . . I felt that I was free from a disease.”

—-Samuel Porter Putnam, My Religious Experience, 1891

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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