September 20 in freethought history…

henrysaltSeptember 20, 1851 – English animal rights activist Henry Stephens Salt is born in Nynee Tal, India. Raised and educated in England, Salt was a pioneering advocate for vegetarianism and animal rights based on a rational understanding of humanity’s common bond with other species. He wrote numerous books, including A Plea for Vegetarianism and Animal Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress. In his own funeral address he wrote, “…I shall die, as I have lived, rationalist, socialist, pacifist, and humanitarian, [and] I must make my meaning clear. I wholly disbelieve in the present established religion; but I have a very firm religious faith of my own – a Creed of Kinship I call it – a belief that in years yet to come there will be a recognition of brotherhood between man and man, nation and nation, human and subhuman…” He was greatly influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Henry David Thoreau, and in turn influenced Mahatma Ghandi. He died in 1939, aged 87.

September 20, 1886 – Moses Harman, protesting Kansas’ religious and male-dominated marriage laws, unites his 16-year-old daughter Lillian to Edwin C. Walker (co-editor, with Harman, of the Kansas-based freethought journal Lucifer the Light-Bearer) in an “autonomistic sex relation or union.” In their vows, Walker ceded full control to Lillian, whereas she declined to make any promises she might not be able to fulfill. The happy couple were arrested the next day. They were given short prison sentences but served over six months because they refused to pay court costs. (They eventually had a child together but it’s not clear how long they were married.)

September 20, 1933 – British women’s rights activist Annie Besant dies in British India, aged 85. Born Annie Wood in London in 1847, she married young but soon separated from her clergyman husband, becoming a prominent lecturer for the National Secular Society, advocating for women’s rights and socialist causes. In later life she drifted away from secularism and toward theosophy and eventually Hinduism.

September 20, 2000 – Russian Cosmonaut Gherman Titov dies in Moscow, aged 65. On August 6, 1961, he was the second man (after Yuri Gagarin) to orbit the Earth and the fourth man to travel to space. During a 1962 visit to the Seattle World’s Fair, Titov (by all accounts polite and personable) spoke soberly of his grim childhood during World War II, and his desire that the coming generation avoid the horrors of war. He raised eyebrows, however, when he said of his trip to space, “Sometimes people are saying that God is out there. I was looking around attentively all day but I didn’t find anybody there. I saw neither angels nor God… Up until the orbital flight of Major Gagarin, no god was helping make the rocket. The rocket was made certainly by our people and the flight was carried out by man. So I don’t believe in God. I believe in man — in his strengths, his possibilities, and his reason.”

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