The tributes are pouring in after the death of Anne Nicol Gaylor this past weekend. Ms. Gaylor founded the Freedom From Religion Foundation in 1976 with her daughter Annie Laurie Gaylor and a friend from Milwaukee. From the three original members, FFRF now has a role of 23,000 dues paying members and is the largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics, etc) in the US.
However, FFRF was not her only grass-roots organization. Hemant Mehta noted that in 1976, Anne Gaylor
began a non-profit called Women’s Medical Fund, Inc., now thought to be the longest-serving abortion rights charity in the country. It was a way for women with nowhere else to turn to obtain financial resources for an abortion. Even though Roe v. Wade had already been decided, the law prevented federal funding from being used on abortions. Some states offered that help to women through their own programs, but Wisconsin wasn’t one of them. That meant poor women who relied on Medicaid were disproportionately affected and needed money. When they had nowhere else to turn, they would call Anne Nicol Gaylor.
Gaylor would answer the phone herself, verify their information as best she could, and then write a check to the clinics for the amount they needed. In nearly 40 years of running the organization, it’s estimated that she helped 30,000 women with grants totaling $3 million.
In writing for FFRF, I found Ms. Gaylor love of language and ability to be forthright to be brilliant. Her 1975 book was entitled Abortion is a Blessing (available for free at http://ffrf.org/legacy/books/AIAB/), which took a stand against the prevailing dogma at the time. Another essay had the whimsical title of “Lead Us Not Into Penn Station,” The most famous of her many aphorisms was “Nothing fails like prayer,” while her holiday message that has been on display in a variety of state capitol buildings reads
“There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
Anne Gaylor was born in rural Tomah, Wisconsin on November 25, 1926.
Reading by 4, and soon out-reading her one-room schoolhouse’s small library, Anne was grateful to freethinker Andrew Carnegie (who shares her birthday) for endowing the Tomah Public Library.
If you want to learn more. there is a wonderful slide show with more information and pictures of Anne Nicol Gaylor, including many photos with her daughter and current co-president of FFRF, Annie Laurie Gaylor. She was amazing, forthright leader of the atheist movement before it was popular.
As Hemant said, “Think of the world we’d live in if more of us followed her lead.”