Ella E. Gibson

On this date in 1821, Ella Elvira Gibson was born in Winchendon, Mass. After teaching school, she married John Hobart in 1861. He was appointed chaplain of the Wisconsin 8th Volunteer Infantry Regiment and she worked alongside him before being appointed chaplain of the 1st Wisconsin Heavy Artillery Regiment after her 1864 ordination. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton refused to muster her because she was a woman. Despite that, she served at her post at Fort Lyon in Alexandria, Va., through the end of the war.

By an act of Congress in 1869, pay for her services was belatedly approved in the amount of $1,210. She did not receive her pension until 1876, then distributed most of it to freethought causes, which she had embraced soon after the war. She had divorced Hobart in 1868 and assumed her maiden name.

While serving, Gibson contracted malaria, which severely disabled her. Even when confined to bed, she wrote for nearly every freethought newspaper in the U.S. and edited “The Moralist” during the early 1890s. Her book The Godly Women of the Bible by an Ungodly Woman of the Nineteenth Century, the first such treatment of the bible, was published by The Truth Seeker Co. in the 1870s and was continuously in print for the next three decades.

She died at age 79 in Barre, Mass. No funeral was held and her remains were cremated. A  hundred years later, a military appropriations bill in 2001 granted her the rank of captain in the Chaplains Corps of the U.S. Army. (D. 1901)

Freedom From Religion Foundation