Friday was the 165th anniversary of the opening of the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, the more or less official beginning of American feminism. It began with Elizabeth Cady Stanton reading a Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions. And though that declaration referred to a “creator,” Stanton herself was a freethinker. Stanton wrote an essay called Has Christianity Benefited Woman? in 1885, which said:
“All religions thus far have taught the headship and superiority of man, [and] the inferiority and subordination of woman. Whatever new dignity, honor, and self-respect the changing theologies may have brought to man, they have all alike brought to woman but another form of humiliation.”
Stanton was hardly alone. Many of the early feminists were freethinkers, including Ernestine Rose. I don’t believe Rose attended the Seneca Falls convention, but she did attend the National Woman’s Rights Convention in 1856, where she replied to a religious heckler:
“Do you tell me that the Bible is against our rights? Then I say that our claims do not rest upon a book written no one knows when, or by whom. Do you tell me what Paul or Peter says on the subject? Then again I reply that our claims do not rest on the opinions of any one, not even on those of Paul and Peter, . . . Books and opinions, no matter from whom they came, if they are in opposition to human rights, are nothing but dead letters.”
A year prior to that, Rose had traveled to Bangor, Maine to give a talk on the evils of slavery and a local Congregationalist minister, Rev. G.B. Little, had said of her, “We know of no object more deserving of contempt, loathing, and abhorrence than a female atheist. We hold the vilest strumpet from the stews to be by comparison respectable.”
Not all of the early feminists of the mid-1800s were freethinkers, of course, but nearly all of the freethinkers of that period were feminists, including Robert Ingersoll.