The following is a guest post from Dave Muscato, the communications person for American Atheists.
Today is International Women’s Day. Here at American Atheists headquarters, we’re celebrating. Women have played a vital role in the atheist movement, and today I want to profile several great activists in the movement who happen to be women. Women face unique challenges in activism and we are very proud of the wonderful women who have made our movement what it is today.
On our Facebook Page, I asked for input from our members for their favorite female atheist activist heroes, and about 100 people responded in the first half-hour. Some names that came up repeatedly were Jessica Ahlquist, Eugenie Scott, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Greta Christina, Margaret Downey, Tracie Harris, and more.
After giving it some thought, I decided to take a bit of a different approach with this article. Rather than cover the best-selling authors or big bloggers whose names we already know, below is something special: While explicitly not unknown activists, these are people who, in my personal opinion, deserve even more recognition for the work they have done or are doing in the movement, even though some are already well-known.
This is NOT intended to be an exhaustive list; that would be impossible. I had a very hard time narrowing it down to a manageable number. There are many wonderful activist women whom I would have loved to include, but I had to stop somewhere. I am aware that these are mostly American activists, and there are MANY worthy atheist activists internationally who are just as deserving. However, since we are American Atheists, I’m sticking with people who are active in the US for this particular article.
Below are 5 profiles and 3 honorable mentions, in no particular order:
First up is Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Born in 1919, she is very well-known to my parents’ generation—in 1964, LIFE Magazine called her “the most hated woman in America”—but not as many people give her the credit she deserves for turning simple lack of belief into an organized movement under one banner. Madalyn Murray O’Hair, an activist, mother, and law-school graduate, was a plaintiff in the landmark 1963 Supreme Court case that made teacher-led prayer and mandatory Bible readings illegal in public schools. Later that year, she founded American Atheists in Austin, Texas. She died in 1995, but her legacy continues on through the work of American Atheists’ current president, David Silverman, and the work of the rest of the American Atheists staff and our extensive network of volunteers across the country. Madalyn was a visionary, a pioneer, and was absolutely vilified for her hard-line intolerance for bigotry and discrimination. She advocated for complete and total separation of religion and government, and defended the civil rights of atheists, which continues to be the mission of American Atheists today. Madalyn is hardly unknown—her name came up repeatedly in response to my Facebook query—but many younger atheists don’t know who she is, so that’s why she’s included here.
Next is Lyz Liddell. Lyz lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she works as Director of Campus Organizing for the Secular Student Alliance, where she has been since 2008. Lyz is one of the hardest-working people in the movement and a vital force in helping young people in this country get involved in atheism activism. The next generation of atheists is going to be the largest generation of atheists—some estimates put the proportion of nonbelievers as high as 32% for those 18-29—and Lyz is the woman behind the curtain, offering resources and advice to the leaders of over 400 high-school and college atheist groups all over the country. Lyz is someone whom every student leader needs to know, and someone every atheist activist—student or not—could greatly benefit from knowing. I had the pleasure of working with Lyz last summer while co-editing the Secular Student Alliance’s Group Running Guide, and in my opinion, she is one of the most important atheist activists in the movement today. Lyz is quite well-known as well—she spoke at TAM last year—but in my opinion, she deserves more appreciation for all the work she does behind the scenes. Here at American Atheists, we love working with the Secular Student Alliance and connecting with students to advance the goals of the bigger movement outside of and beyond college campuses, and Lyz makes that possible for us. She also likes to garden and has a master’s in music performance. Follow her on Twitter @lyzmaytweet.
Debbie Goddard has been with the Center for Inquiry since 2006. A Philadelphia native, she became an atheist as a teenager while in Catholic school. She is now Director of Outreach at CFI Transnational in Amherst, New York, and also heads up African Americans for Humanism. I met Debbie at the first atheist conference I ever attended, Skepticon 3 in Springfield, Missouri where she gave a presentation about diversity in the atheism activism movement. Debbie is a very unassuming, laid-back person who is very perceptive and one of the smartest people I have ever met. I almost didn’t include her on this list because she’s well-known enough that she doesn’t need this type of introduction, but I also really admire her, and so I decided to include her anyway. She’s also wonderful at singing and playing guitar, and loves Bob Dylan. Follow her on Twitter @debgod.
A young activist to watch is Kelley Freeman. Born in 1990 in California and raised in Georgia, Kelley is a senior studying Russian at the University of South Carolina. She became an atheist as a teenager and later became president of her college’s atheist student organization. In the summer of 2011, she interned for the Secular Student Alliance and is currently an SSA Volunteer Network Coordinator, as well as an intern for the Foundation Beyond Belief. She occasionally blogs for The Friendly Atheist as well as writing on her own blog. Kelley is an excellent public speaker, creative, and deeply passionate about atheism activism. She loves to crochet and is a bit obsessed with cats. I expect her to go far in the secular movement. Follow her on Twitter @ramenneedles.
Below are three honorable mentions, in no particular order. I intentionally chose young activists; keep your eye on them in the coming years!
Ellen Lundgren is a senior at Grand Valley State University in Michigan studying art and writing, and was the 2012 Design Intern for the Secular Student Alliance. She was also a Surly Women TAM Grant winner in 2012. In 2011, she founded the blog network SkepticFreethought.com, and is president of her school’s atheist student group. She intends to go into atheism activism full-time after college. Follow her on Twitter @AthenAlces.
Sarah Hargreaves studied English with a minor in sociology at the University of Kansas, graduating in 2009. She is a founding board member and President of the Kansas City Atheist Coalition (KCAC), a non-profit focused on advancing atheism through activism, philanthropy, education, and by cultivating a positive secular community.
Kate Donovan is a junior at Northwestern double-majoring in psychology and human development. She blogs for The Friendly Atheist, Teen Skepchick, and Ashley Miller’s blog on Freethoughtblogs.com. Originally from Texas, she is a former intern for the Foundation Beyond Belief, the President of her school’s atheist student group, a member of the Secular Women’s Speakers Bureau, and the Military Academies Volunteer Network Coordinator for the Secular Student Alliance. She also likes to juggle. Follow her on Twitter @donovanable
I hope you have enjoyed this article, and if you run into any of these wonderful women at conferences or in the blogosphere, say hello! They are worth getting to know.
What other women do you think belong here? We’d love to know.
– Dave Muscato
Public Relations Director, American Atheists
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