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FFRF’s Anne Nicol Gaylor dies aged 88

FFRF’s Anne Nicol Gaylor dies aged 88

Anne Nicol Gaylor, 88, the principal founder of America’s Freedom From Religion Foundation, died on Sunday, June 14, at a hospice in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. She was hospitalised on May 30 after a bad fall in her independent living apartment in Madison.

Anne’s tombstone in the family plot in Sparta, Wisconsin, will read at her direction:

Feminist – activist – freethinker.

She requested that no memorial service be held.

Anne and her daughter, Annie Laurie, then a college student, formed FFRF in 1976, with an elderly Milwaukee friend, Jon Sontarck, also lending his name. After a series of impressive successes, Anne was asked to go national with FFRF in 1978 and served as its president until November 2004.

A commemorative slideshow about Anne and FFRF can be viewed here. Her biography in her daughter’s anthology of women freethinkers, Women Without Superstition: No Gods – No Masters, can be read here.

A master of “sound bites” with media savvy, Anne quickly took FFRF from a tiny organization to the largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) in North America. Highlights of her freethought career include Gaylor v Reagan – FFRF’s suit against declaring 1983 to be “The Year of the Bible”  – a litigation victory declaring Wisconsin’s Good Friday holiday to be unconstitutional, and making sparks fly in interviews and national media appearances.

Anne lived long enough to enjoy FFRF’s growth to about 23,000 members this summer and its major building expansion.

Proving that atheists do indeed run charities, Anne also co-founded the Women’s Medical Fund with Professor Robert West, an FFRF member, and the late Peg West in the mid-1970s. The fund is considered the oldest continuously operating abortion rights charity in the country and has served well over 20,000 indigent women in Wisconsin.

Anne served as the fund’s administrator, personally helping tens of thousands of women, handling their applications by phone, until retiring after nearly 40 years of volunteer work in March, following two mini-strokes.

She wrote a book, Abortion Is A Blessing, in 1975 about the battle to legalise abortion in Wisconsin.

She was the first to call for the recall of Dane County Circuit Judge Archie Simonson when he termed rape a “normal reaction” in 1977 and wrote the official petition that led to his successful, history-making recall.

Her awards include 1994 Feminist of the Year from the Wisconsin chapter of the National Organization for Women, the 1985 Humanist Heroine Award of 1985 from the American Humanist Association and the Zero Population Growth Recognition Award in 1983.

In 1994, Christian preacher-turned-atheist Dan Barker, current co-president of the FFRF, wrote the following brilliant tribute to Gaylor (to be sung to Gilbert & Sullivan’s Modern Major General.

Anne is the very model of a Modern Major Activist.
She studies every issue and she gathers every fact of it.
She has a thorough expertise in all things institutional.
She even knows precisely what is meant by Constitutional.

In dealing with the public she’s a true encyclopedia.
She understands exactly how to give it to the media.
In short, in all things feminist and humanist and atheist,
She is the very model of a Modern Major Activist.

Respecting human values, she’s a tender-hearted atheist,
An “action-over-prayer” and a “reason-over-faith”-eist.
She never wilts from laboring to keep the country secular.
And all her major victories are really quite spec-tec-ular.

Although a gentle woman, she can protest energetically.
She handles all apologists quite unapologetically.
She’s not afraid to say a politician is a criminal.
She’s practically rewritten every lyric in the hym-i-nal.

A battle-tested feminist, she’s plucky and adventury,
And just like Margaret Sanger, she’s a “Woman of the Century.”
And so, in all things feminist and humanist and atheist,
She is the very model of a Modern Major Activist.

4 responses to “FFRF’s Anne Nicol Gaylor dies aged 88”

  1. Newspaniard says:

    A brave woman in a very hostile (christian and islamic) world.

  2. Broga says:

    She was a great lady. Should not be too long before the hate filled, bile suppurating fundamentalists weigh in with their comments.

  3. dennis says:

    may everyone Nicol Gaylor meet, helped and put in their place spawn another beautiful free thinker and activist.

  4. AgentCormac says:

    The world needs more Anne Nicol Gaylors.