Freethought Today · May 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In Memoriam: Clara Johnson

One of FFRF's earliest members, Clara Johnson, 92, died on March 24 in Evanston, Ill.

Johnson, a women's activist, joined FFRF in May 1978, one month after its national founding. She became a Life Member in 2005.

In her obituary article in the Chicago Tribune, Johnson's former daughter-in-law, Julia Takarada, said, "She was a dynamo. She fought injustice whenever and wherever she encountered it."

Johnson's close friend Anne Sheffield is quoted in the Tribune as saying, "Clara may have looked like somebody headed to the grocery store or about to cook dinner for her family, but she was anything but. She was one of the strongest feminists I've ever known. And, boy, was she smart!"

Johnson was born in Macoupin County in southern Illinois, one of seven children. In her 30s, she married Eugene McGrew and settled in Peoria, although they later divorced.

After getting a college degree in chemistry, she took an internship at East Alton Manufacturing Company, where she helped make explosives used during World War II. She later worked as a scientific aide with the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the Illinois Northern Regional Research Lab in Peoria and later became a chemist for the lab, working there for 40 years.

In 1974, Johnson joined the Peoria National Organization of Women (NOW) and worked for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, along with other feminist causes.

In 1976, she ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign for mayor of Peoria as a feminist challenger to the all-male list of candidates.

During the 1980s, Johnson served as office manager at the Illinois NOW headquarters. In 1989, she and nine other women founded Prairie Moon, a feminist bookstore, which she helped run until its closing in 1999.

In 2004, she was included in the National Women's Hall of Fame's Book of Lives and Legacies.

Besides FFRF and NOW, she was also involved with other activists groups, including the League of Women Voters, NAACP and American Atheists.

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