Rationalist Association

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The Rationalist Press Association (RPA), which changed its name to Rationalist Association (RA) in 2002, began in 1890 as the Propagandist Press Committee. On 26 May 1899, an association of rationalists that grew out of a Rationalist Press Committee established by C. A. Watts, who had already founded the Agnostic Annual (1884) and the Literary Guide (1885). The original directors were R. B. Anderson, J. S. Dryden, C. T. Gorham, Clair Grece, G. J. Holyoake, Joseph McCabe, C. A. Watts, and A. G. Whyte. Watts’s printing and publishing business belonged to a line going back to Richard Carlile in 1817. In 1902 the RPA began to publish the R.P.A. Reprints and sold four million copies in twenty-five years.

From 1929 until 1951, the RPA published, through Watts & Co., the Thinkers Library series of books.

Honorary Associates in 1940

In 1940, the honorary associates listed by Joseph McCabe were as follows: Arnold Bennett, Prof. Berthelot, B. Björnson, Sir John Boyd Orr, G. Brandes, Prof. Breasted, Prof. Buisson, Prof. Bury, G. Clemenceau, the Hon. J. Collier, C. Darrow, Prof. J. Dewey, Dr. Einstein, Dr. Sigmund Freud, Sir P. Geddes, Sir R. Gregory, J.B.S. Haldane, Prof. Haddon, E. Haeckel, Sir J. Hammerton, Lord Horder, Sir T. A. Hunter, Julian Huxley, L. Huxley, Sir A. Keith, Sir E. Ray Lankester, J. Loeb, C. Lombroso, Somerset Maugham, Sir P. C. Mitchell, Lord Morley, Prof. Pavlov, Eden Phillpotts, T. Reinach, Bertrand Russell, Sir E. S. Schafer, Sir C. Sherrington, Sir G. Elliot Smith, Sir L. Stephen, H. G. Wells, and Sir H. Wood.

Mc Cabe added, caustically, “All the Churches in Great Britain put together could not, from their 8,000,000 members, compile a list which would be half as impressive.”

Other Honorary Associates

Other honorary associates have included the following:

Edward Brabuck, James Bridie, Jacob Bronowski, Basil Chamberlain, Robert Chorley, George Cole, William W. Collins, Joseph Fletcher, Alfred Foster, Frederick Furnivali, Charles Guignebert, Jane Harrison, Edwin Hartland, Édouard Herriot, Leopold Infeld, Ernest Jones, Harold Laski, Carl Lofmark, Willem Manen, Kingsley Martin, David Oppenheimer, Raghunath Paranjpye, P. H. Pardon, Karl Popper, Albert Rivett, Margaret Schlauch, B. F. Skinner, Grafton Smith, Robert Stout, Alan Taylor, George Trevelyan, Edward Westermarck, Edward Willis, Barbara Wootton, and Emile Zola.

In 1998, the honorary associates were as follows: Dr. Peter Atkins; H. J. Blackham; Professor Colin Blakemore; Professor Marcel Boll; Professor Sir Hermann Bondi; Alan Brownjohn; Dr. Colin Campbell; Noam Chomsky; Professor Bernard Crick; Professor Francis Crick; Dr. Richard Dawkins; Lord Dormand; Professor Paul Edwards; Professor Lionel Elvin; Professor Sir Raymond Firth; Professor Antony Flew; Lord Foot; Right Honorable Michael Foot; Tony Harrison; Dr.James Hemming; Dr. Christopher Hill; Prof. Eric Hobsbawm; Richard Hoggart; Professor Ted Honderich; Professor Sir Fred Hoyle; Prof. Leopold Infeld; Lord Jenkins of Putney (Hugh Jenkins); Ludovic Kennedy; Professor Paul Kurtz; Richard Leakey; Sir Michael Levey; John Maddox; Professor Haydn Mason; Professor John Maynard Smith; George Melly; Naomi Mitchison; Brian Moore; Edwin Mullins; Professor Patrick Nowell-Smith; Dr. Conor Cruise O’Brien; Jack Parsons; Prof. John Postgate; Claire Rayner; Professor the Earl Russell; Lord Sefton of Garston; Mrs. Renée Short; Dr. David Starkey; Dr. D. J. Stewart; Dr. V. M. Tarkunde; David Tribe; Baroness Turner of Camden; Professor G. A. Wells; Arnold Wesker; Professor Lewis Wolpert; Baron Young of Darlington; and Professor J. Z. Young.

47 Bradlaugh St., London

The Rationalist Press Association is at Bradlaugh House, 47 Theobald’s Road, London WC1X 8SP.

Names from the past include

Keir Hardie, Bertrand Russell, H. G. Wells, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, and Francis Crick.

In 2008

The current president of the Rationalist Association is Sir Jonathan Miller, with vice presidents Baroness Susan Greenfield, Paul Kurtz, and Laurie Taylor.
Directors: Jonathan Stopes-Roe (Chairman), Caspar Addyman, Brian Balmain, Francis Bennion, David Deacon, Sally Feldman, Jim Herrick, Ralph Ison, Jennifer Jeynes, John Metcalf, Diane Munday, David Pollock, Diana Rookledge, Ivor Russell, and Laurie Taylor. Jane Wynne Willson retired after having been on the Board for 18 years.
Current honorary associates are: David Aaronovitch, Peter Atkins, Lord Birt, Harold Blackham, Colin Blakemore, Alan Brownjohn, Colin Campbell, Philip Campbell, Noam Chomsky, Bernard Crick, Helena Cronin, Richard Dawkins, Sanal Edamaruku, Ekow Eshun, Winston Fletcher, Michael Foot, AC Grayling, Stuart Hall, Tony Harrison, Simon Heffer, Christopher Hitchens, Eric Hobsbawm, Richard Hoggart, Ted Honderich, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Sir Ludovic Kennedy, Richard Leakey, Sir Michael Levey, Sir John Maddox, Haydn Mason, Edwin Mullins, Conor Cruise O’Brien, John Postgate, Claire Rayner, Amartya Sen, David Starkey, Ralph Steadman, DJ Stewart, Ian Stewart, Hazhir Teimourian, Claire Tomalin, David Tribe, Baroness Turner of Camden, Arnold Wesker, Francis Wheen and Lewis Wolpert.

Deceased: Paul Edwards; James Hemming.

Centenary Of the RPA

The centenary of the Rationalist Association, which formerly was Watts’ Literary Guide, was celebrated by its quarterly journal, New Humanist, in June 1999. Officers and honorary associates sending their greetings included the following:

Peter Atkins, Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University Alan Brownjohn, poet and novelist Bernard Crick, professor emeritus of politics London University Sir Hermann Bondi, Chairman, RPA Lord Dormand, the Labour MP for Easington from 1970-1987 Lionel Elvin, former director of the London Institute of Education James Hemming, educational psychologist Paul Kurtz, Vice-President, RPA Ludovic Kennedy, TV presenter and author Richard Leakey, paleo-anthropologist Michael Levey, art historian Haydn Mason, chairman of the board of the Voltaire Foundation George Melly, jazz singer, entertainer Patrick Nowell-Smith, professor emeritus of Philosophy David Pollock, RPA director John Postgate, professor of microbiology, the University of Sussex Claire Rayner, writer and chair of the Patients’ Association Conrad Russell, historian; active in the House of Lords as a Liberal Democrat Ivor Russell, Chairman, RPA D. J. Stewart, former chairman of the British Humanist Association and also the Rationalist Press Association David Tribe, former president of the National Secular Society Lewis Wolpert, professor of biology as applied to medicine at University College, London

Directors of the RPA

In 1998 its directors were Ivor Russell (Chairman); Antony Chapman; Nigel Collins (appointed March 1998); Nicolas Walter; Jim_Herrick; Ralph Ison (retired March 1998); John Metcalf; Daniel O’Hara (retired March 1998); David Pollock; Jonathan Stopes-Roe; Nicolas Walter; and Jane Wynne Willson (Vice-chairman). Metcalf and Willson retired in 1998 and with Russell offered themselves for re-election at the Annual General Meeting to be held 12 July 1999. The number of members was about 900.

In 2007 its directors were Jonathan Stopes-Roe (Chairman); Caspar Addyman; Sally Feldman; Jim Herrick; John Metcalf; David Pollack; Diana Rookledge; Laurie Taylor (appointed 22 January 2007); and Jane Wynne Wilson (who has not chosen to seek re-election as of April 2007). Judith Walker was appointed Secretary on 7 August 2006.

In 2007, Caspar Melville was appointed editor of New Humanist. He has a background in journalism, promotion, and marketing.

In 2009, the 9th Annual General Meeting was held at Conway Hall. Three directors - Sally Feldman, Diana Rookledge, and John Metcalf - retired by rotation and were nominated by the Board.

Its Chief Executive at the time of its 27 April 2009 meeting was Caspar Melville. The directors were David Pollock, Diana Rookledge (Vice Chairman), Jonathan Stopes-Roe (Chairman), Jim Herrick, Sally Feldman, John Metcalf, Jose Gonsalves, Marilyn Mason, Laurie Taylor, and Winston Fletcher. The Secretary/Executive Officer was Judith Walker.

(See entry for Frederick James Gould, author of a history of the Rationalist Press Association from 1899 on.

{RE; Nicolas Walter, “A Century of Reason,” New Humanist #2 and #4, 1999, summarizes the RPA’s century of existence. Explained is the connection between the RPA and the British Humanist Association.}


  • Cooke, Bill (2003). The Blasphemy Depot: A Hundred Years of the Rationalist Press Association. London, Rationalist Press Association.
  • Gould, F.J. (1929). The Pioneers of Johnson's Court. London, Watts & Co.
  • Whyte, Adam Gowans (1949). The Story of the R.P.A. 1899-1949. London, Watts & Co.