Sixth article in Secular Woman's Women's History Month Series
by Rachel Johnson, find her on twitter and listen to her podcast, The Pink Atheist
Women have played a vital role in the historic forward movement of the Atheism. The impression is often given in society that atheists have always been men, and they have led the charge, but the reality when uncovered is something completely different. It was women who pushed back religion first. It was not only feminism which the women were pushing; it was clear cut atheist women who stepped forward. There are many names, but some are vital for us all to know. The atheist community should take pride in the fact that when it comes to women, we were first in leading the way to a better future, not just for women, but for our world as well.
Madalyn Marie O’Hair was the founder of American Atheists. She is best known for her lawsuit in 1963, which removed bible reading from schools. She was president of American Atheists for 23 years, and after she was de facto president for the 9 years her son served as president. American Atheists has grown to one of the largest American groups, and has gone on to challenge many infringements of religion and state separation laws.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a staunch feminist and was a leader in the formation of the women’s suffrage movement. She also wrote the woman’s bible, criticizing the way women were portrayed in the bible. She later became the president of the women’s suffrage movement, but, after the controversy of her book, she was distanced from the broader movement. She played a big role in moving women’s rights forward.
Susan B Anthony was another stirring and fire powered atheist who was a part of the women’s suffrage movement. She spent her life working toward the cause of ending women being second class citizens. She was such an anti-religious woman that she was even removed from speaking, and was also removed from power in the women’s suffrage movement. She fought for women to keep the money they earned and have rights to their children. She also was part of the movement to give women voting rights.
While this is just a small sample of the women who have given their time and devoted their lives to the cause of women’s rights and atheism, there are many more. In fact there are a shocking number of women out there who have lived their lives working towards equality. They faced ridicule by women of their time, as well as men. They were treated as outcasts, and removed from their places of power because of their atheism. These women lived in a time when women were nothing but property and housewives. They were ahead of their time, and that is likely because they were atheists, and willing to see the world from an honest vantage point. There are also women who are more current and have started organizations like Anne Nicole Gaylor who was co-founder of Freedom from Religion Foundation.
Anne Nicole Gaylor, along with Annie Laurie Gaylor, worked to found Freedom from Religion Foundation – which is now one of the prominent groups who guard civil liberties. They often engage in stopping infringements on civil rights by the religious who try and put religion into schools. They have become well known and have been a vital part of many court cases. Thanks to them and the lawyers working for them they have kept many religious groups from using schools to promote religious ideas and doctrine.
Many women have taken prominent roles in most of the atheist groups. More and more women are becoming atheists every day. We are a vital part of the atheist movement. We should all become more familiar with the women in history who have led to this moment, the ones who were not only ahead of their time, but eloquent and intelligent. Even before Christianity spread through the world, there was one woman who challenged religion. She paid the price with her life. Hypatia was well known for challenging the patriarchal society of her time, and the religious establishment. She was brutally murdered by Christians for her refusal to be silenced, and her writings were burned.
Women with such strength and honor speak of the reality of womanhood. We are not weak, but are strong by nature. We do not need the protection of men, but the protection from men who try to dismiss our intellect and devalue us. We do not need to be kept in our place, but take our rightful place alongside of the men as leaders, and strong intelligent voices who can bring change to the world.