Colman, Lucy N.

Born in 1818 in Massachusetts, Lucy Newhall Colman embraced the causes of abolitionism and woman’s rights. By 1852 she renounced Universalism for freethought, in part because she found the Universalists insufficiently zealous about abolitionism. While residing in Rochester, she accepted employment as a teacher in a segregated "colored school." So deeply did she resent its segregation – and also being paid less than half the amount paid to her male predecessor – that she lobbied parents to withdraw their children, allegedly causing the school to close. She established a reputation as a campaigner for liberal causes whose special gift lay in silencing Christian hecklers by throwing their own principles back at them.

Colman married twice, at the ages of eighteen and twenty-six, losing the first husband to consumption and the second to a railroad accident. When her only daughter died in 1862, Colman spurned a traditional funeral, opting instead for a secular memorial conducted by her friend and supporter Frederick Douglass. She wholeheartedly embraced freethought.

For some years she supported herself (barely) as an itinerant freethought lecturer, speaking mostly in Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois.

Attending the 1878 New York State Freethinkers’ Association Convention in Watkins Glen at which atheist publisher D. M. Bennett and two others (W. S. Bell and Josephine Tilton, both of Boston) were arrested for selling a marriage reform and birth control tract, Colman arranged bail for Tilton, who alone remained in the Watkins jail. (Elizabeth Smith Miller had previously offered to pay Tilton’s bail, but reneged after she read the tract in question, Cupid’s Yokes by Ezra Heywood.) Colman thereafter campaigned successfully for charges to be dropped against all three.

She is also known to have spoken at the New York Freethinkers’ Association convention held at Hornellsville on September 2-6, 1880, as did the celebrated agnostic orator Robert Green Ingersoll.

By 1878 she had moved to Syracuse, where she wrote her autobiography, Reminiscences, and died in 1906, aged eighty-eight.