September 21 in freethought history…

hgwellsSeptember 21, 1866 – Herbert George Wells is born in Bromley, Kent, England. As H. G. Wells he became on of the greatest and most influential science fiction writers of all time: his books include War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, The Time Machine and The Island of Doctor Moreau. Wells was a tireless and prolific advocate for pacifism, racial equality, feminism and world government. His religious views tended toward “the god of Spinoza,” and of Christianity he said, “Every believing Christian is, I am sure, my spiritual brother… but if systemically I called myself a Christian I feel that to most men I should imply too much and so tell a lie.” He died in 1946, aged 79.

September 21, 1915 – Anti-obscenity crusader Anthony Comstock dies in Summit, New Jersey, aged 71. His lifelong obsession with the morality of others first evidenced in his complaints while serving in the Civil War against fellow soldiers who swore. Comstock founded the fantastically named New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (a punk rock band name ripe for the picking), and successfully lobbied Congress to pass what came to be known as the Comstock Act, which made it a federal crime to send “obscene, lewd or lascivious material” through the mail. The definition of such material was subject to broad interpretation, leading to prosecution of those who published information about human sexuality, birth control or even news involving the sexual misdeeds of prominent figures. Comstock actually bragged that he had driven 15 people to suicide (including Ida Craddock, a women’s rights advocate who committed suicide rather than endure federal imprisonment). Other victims of “comstockery” (an actual word since 1895) were playwright George Bernard Shaw, freethought publisher D. M. Bennett, atheist anarchist Emma Goldman and birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger. The Comstock Act has outlived its namesake: it is still in effect, albeit its power has been greatly attenuated due to court rulings and changes in public perceptions of obscenity.

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