Woman Suffrage at 100: Freethought, Religion, and the Fight for Women’s Equality in ‘Free Inquiry’


August 11, 2020

Free Inquiry magazine commemorates the 100th anniversary of woman suffrage with a special issue on the legacy of the activists who fought for change, the role of religion in resisting women’s equality, and how the suffragists’ victory paved the way for the advancement of American secularism. 

Matilda Joslyn Gage

God and Woman Suffrage: Historian Sue Boland looks at how the most fervent opposition to women’s rights came from clergy railing against women who had “stepped out of their domestic sphere.” Boland says the suffragists’ internal debates over religion are critical to understanding the movement, particularly that of Matilda Joslyn Gage, who is often overlooked in favor of better-known figures such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. “When religion is taken out of the story of suffrage, one inevitable result is that Gage’s importance is ignored or downplayed.”

New York State as a Hotbed of Reform: Historian Judith Wellman looks at the suffragist movement through the lens of place. “Spaces that survive into the present act as bridges across time,” she writes of the movement’s historical sites in Upstate New York. “They allow us to travel through time as well as through space, to inhabit past times while we remain in present spaces.”

The Forgotten Milestone: As the centenary of woman suffrage arrives at a time of social upheaval, Free Inquiry Editor Tom Flynn encourages a critical review of the movement that acknowledges its shortcomings as well as celebrates its world-changing achievements. “Let the historical record be viewed unstintingly,” he writes, noting that the suffragists’ victory laid the groundwork for justice movements to come, bringing “a deeply secularizing change to American life.”

Also in the August-September issue of Free Inquiry

  • Robyn Blumner, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, warns that secularists must steel themselves for the coming “tsunami of litigation” from an emboldened religious right, mining the court system for religious privilege throughout American society. 
  • Mark Kolsen looks back on the life of novelist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, “a Black female atheist with extraordinary courage, intelligence, character, and a sharp sense of humor.” (Subscribers only)
  • John L. Prittie questions the “exceptionalism” ascribed to the chemical process we call life, calling it a form of supernatural thinking. (Subscribers only)

And much more. 

Free Inquiry is available in both print and digital subscriptions.

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at centerforinquiry.org.