Queen Silver

On this date in 1910, “girl philosopher” Queen Silver was born in Portland, Oregon, where her mother, Grace Verne Silver, 21, a Socialist lecturer, was stranded during a tour. She never met her father or revealed his name, calling it “classified information.” At 10 days old she took the first of many railway journeys, going with her mother to Los Angeles, where they settled. Starting in 1917 they and her stepfather became extras in motion pictures to supplement their income. Silver was taught at home and was expected at an early age to be independent, to pay her own board and even cook her own meals.

She was reading Darwin at age 7, and at age 8 delivered a series of lectures in Los Angeles, an event noteworthy enough to be covered by the Los Angeles Record. At age 11, she publicly challenged William Jennings Bryan to a debate on evolution. Bryan declined. The Daily News in Inglewood carried a front-page article on June 29, 1925, reporting that “Inglewood’s famous girl philosopher, talker and writer” might attend the Scopes trial and pictured her holding a chimpanzee. She was unable to afford the trip but 1,000 of her pamphlets were distributed during the trial.

She was notorious enough that Cecil B. DeMille modeled the title character of his 1928 movie “The Godless Girl” after her. One synopsis: “Two teenagers, one an atheist and the other a Christian, fall in love at a brutal reform school.”

From 1923-34 she published “Queen Silver’s Magazine,” a 16-page periodical with a freethought angle and a national subscription. During the Depression, Silver took seasonal office work and, starting in 1936, became a junior typist clerk and withdrew for the most part from political involvement. Attending night school, she graduated from Los Angeles City College in the 1960s with an associate’s degree. She stayed in state civil service, working as a court reporter, and retired in 1972.

She helped to found the Los Angeles group that later became Atheists United, serving on its board and lecturing occasionally. She was a member of many humanist organizations, including FFRF. Wendy McElroy, a friend and admirer, published the biography Queen Silver: The Godless Girl in 2000, two years after Silver’s death at age 87.

Freedom From Religion Foundation