“Women’s history is women’s right — an essential, indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage and long-range vision.”
These words, written by the late Gerda Lerner in her book The Creation of Patriarchy, are particularly pertinent in March. Since 1987, Women’s History Month has been a commemoration of the important role of women throughout American history. As suffragists, civil rights activists, educators, scientists, community leaders — and so much more — women have left an indelible mark on American history. Secular women are part of that heritage.
Many freethinking women have been forgotten, ignored or simply left unknown in the annals of American history. Yet, their contributions have upheld our founding secular values and challenged oppressive policies and practices. For example, Matilda Joslyn Gage, a suffragist, the youngest speaker at the National Woman’s Rights Convention in 1852 and a founding member of the National Woman Suffrage Association, championed women’s rights while daringly asserting that “God designed the subjection of woman” and that injustices were “inflicted upon one-half of humanity by the other half in the name of religion.”
Lucy Parsons, whose parents are believed to be former slaves, fled Texas for Chicago in 1873 and dedicated her life to labor activism and the rights of Black people and the homeless population. Parsons tirelessly championed free speech and trade unionism while handing out information leaflets and setting up book stands. She was also a freethinker. In her speech, “Religion of Humanity,” Parsons bravely declared: “We have heard enough about a paradise behind the moon. We want something now. We are tired of hearing about the golden streets of the hereafter. What we want is good paved and drained streets in this world.”
FFRF Co-Founder and Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor’s anthology Women Without Superstition: “No Gods – No Masters” highlights these and other women skeptics who challenged patriarchal and religiously rooted laws and practices. FFRF also celebrates the contributions of secular women in our Freethought of the Day calendar and in our Freethought Heroine Award.
As we commemorate the role of women in American history, we must also look toward the future. Religiously rooted legislation that undermines the rights of women is constantly being introduced and signed into law. As secular citizens, we can be inspired by our freethinking foremothers to continue the necessary fight for the separation of state and church. Women’s History Month is an important reminder of that duty.