Emily Palmer Cape

On this date in 1865, sociologist Emily Cape (née Palmer) was born to wealthy parents in New York City. She was the first woman admitted to Columbia University and also attended Barnard College and the University of Wisconsin. She studied sociology with Lester Frank Ward, who is sometimes called the father of American sociology. Cape became his editing assistant while he worked on his multi-volume Glimpses of the Cosmos (first volume published in 1913). She married Henry Cape in 1890 and had two children.

“Like Professor Ward, she is an Agnostic and an ardent humanitarian,” historian Joseph McCabe wrote in 1920 (A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists). Cape founded a School of Sociology in New York and was a member of the American Sociological Society and the Rationalist and Positivist Societies of London. Her books include Oriental Aphorisms (1906), Fairy Surprises for Little Folks (1908) and Lester F. Ward: A Personal Sketch (1922).

As a 60-year-old, Cape undertook a cruise around the world in 1926-27. In her 278-page journal describing tours in Japan, Thailand, India and Egypt, she commented upon some “ignorant” priests on board: “No wonder their ‘flocks’ are ‘low in education.’ “

Freedom From Religion Foundation