Lucy Colman

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Colman, Lucy N. (26 July 1817 - 1906)

An Abolitionist and infidel, Colman (nee Danforth) was born in New England, a descendant of John and Priscilla Alden through her mother's side. She was twice widowed. When her second husband was killed in a work-related accident, Lucy was left to support her 7-year-old daughter. With workplace door after door slammed in her face because of her sex, Lucy discovered "woman's wrongs." She wrote: "I had given up the church, more because of its complicity with slavery than from a full understanding of the foolishness of its creeds."

She turned to teaching in Rochester, earning less than half what a male teacher made. Susan B. Anthony discovered her and invited her to address a teachers' association. Lucy created a sensation by urging the abolition of corporal punishment in schools.

She became an abolitionist lecturer, sacrificing security, comfort and wages to work against slavery. Often mobbed, she found that the racist ringleaders were nearly always clergymen. Lucy became a "who's who" in the ranks of the women's movement.

From 1824 to 1830, a revival of Calvinistic religion swept over New England, with its doctrine of predestination which included believing that some men and women were "saved" from birth while others were condemned. Lucy was puzzled to understand the benefit of such a revival, author Carole Gray has written, if human beings were "elected" to be saved from birth; for how could a person's repentance matter if it was predetermined that they were to burn in hell?

Lucy observed the religious bodies of her community for a clue as to their divine calling, but found that the Presbyterians hated the Unitarians, Methodists hated the Episcopalians, and all hated the Universalists.

The Universalists, she learned, taught that with Jesus's death, all the debts of sin were paid and all people would go to heaven upon death. For this, the other religious organizations called them Infidels, for what was religion without a burning hell and a devil? Lucy, being in her teens at the time, was so happy to find a religion that did not send the majority of people to a fate of fire that she enthusiastically joined the Universalists.

In 1835, at eighteen, Lucy married another Universalist, John Davis,and moved to Boston, Massachusetts. Lucy finally had the opportunity to expand her intellect in the new environment. It was not long, however, before her husband contracted consumption and, after four years with the disease, he died in 1841, leaving her a widow at the age of twenty-four.

In 1843 she married again, becoming Lucy Colman, and her only child, Gertrude, was born in 1845. Lucy did not realize the full extent of woman's legal slavery to men, for her husband, in his kindness to her, did not enforce his lawful rights with her. As she began to study and learn the laws involving wives' slavery to husbands, she could not help but compare their constricted rights with those of the slave.

She puzzled over what she personally could do to help both women and slaves, for she knew that society was taught by the churches that women were not to speak in public, but to go to their husbands with any questions they might have, and so she felt that society would not allow her to speak against slavery by sex and race. Still, she was determined, and in 1846 according to Gray she began her career of work for the emancipation of slavery in all its forms.

In 1852, when Lucy was 35, her husband, an employee of the railroad company, was killed in an accident. Of the funeral, Lucy reported,

  • I was at that time a Spiritualist. I had given up the Church, more because of its complicity with slavery than from a full understanding of the foolishness of its creed. The Universalist and the Unitarian churches were offered for the funeral, but I did not accept their use. I was no longer in sympathy with them.

After Lucy was turned away from employment at the railroad company, the post office, and a printing company, simply because she was a woman, she turned to teaching to earn a living for herself and her young daughter. She received $350 a year for the same position in which a man received $800 a year. When she was offered the "colored school" in Rochester, New York, she accepted the position, with a private agenda of closing down the school.

Frederick Douglass conducted the funeral for her daughter, who died suddenly at college. Lucy later taught at a "colored school" in Georgetown and held many philanthropic positions.

She wrote regular columns for the leading freethought publication, The Truth Seeker and for the Boston Investigator. She fought against Anthony Comstock and his censorship.

During her lifetime, Colman accused the churches of being in complicity with slavery, and she even renounced the liberal Unitarians and Universalists.

Views by and about Colman:

  • "The Protestant religion, in all its different creeds, is a mild mixture compared to what it was seventy years ago. And perhaps for the reason that its hideousness is so nicely covered, there is more need that Liberals be on the alert. Christianity is the more dangerous when it gives its attention to this life. Christianity demands entire subordination to its edicts, no matter that it keeps out of sight the damnation of infants in another world, if it subjugates all children to its decrees by teaching them, not only in Sunday-schools but in public schools supported by the public at large, the doctrines taught in the Bible. Until the majority of the people are emancipated from authority over their minds, we are not safe. (Reminiscences, P. 7)
  • "A religion that has a personal God, outside of humanity, to worship and to please, is quite apt to get appointed an official to regulate the people, and particularly to execute punishment adequate to the offense committed against an Infinite Ruler of the universe. Humanity so likes authority, it seems sometimes as if it gloated upon the sufferings of its fellows." (Reminiscences, p. 54)
  • "Once engage in the dirty work of injuring one who does not believe in your creed, and the work grows apace; and worse than all else, such persons come to think they are really doing God a service for which they shall merit and obtain a high seat in heaven." Reminiscences, p. 22
  • "If your Bible is a bundle of rods, or a license for adultery, the loss of it will be a blessing. - told to a minister who had said, "What will you do with the words of the wisest man, Solomon, 'spare the rod and spoil the child'?" Reminiscences, p. 18
  • "I do not know which is the more dangerous to liberty - Romanism or Protestantism. Either is fatal if it predominates. Parochial schools are a menace, and the Bible in schools is an insult. Our Sunday-schools are very mischievous. Which is most to be feared I cannot tell. We need to use great diligence as Freethinkers lest we find ourselves imprisoned or even executed for expression of opinion." The Truth Seeker Annual and Freethinkers' Almanac, New York, Truth Seeker Office, 1889
  • "I wish to be just to all, but the Christian church, with its religion, seems to me a blot upon civilization." Colman's reply to the question, "What is your opinion of the Christian religion and the Christian church?" from The Truth Seeker Annual and Freethinkers' Almanac, New York, Truth Seeker Office, 1889
  • Mr. Lincoln was not himself with this colored woman; he had no funny story for her, he called her aunty, as he would his washerwoman, and when she complimented him as the first Antislavery President, he said, "I'm not an Abolitionist; I wouldn't free the slaves if I could save the Union in any other way - I'm obliged to do it."

{BDF; FFRF; Carol Gray; PUT; RAT; RE; TYD; WWS}