March 5, 2013

Death of Gibson: Ungodly Woman of the Nineteenth Century

Ella Elvira Gibson was 80 years old when she died in Barre, Massachusetts on March 5, 1901. Throughout her life, she was a teacher, reformer, public lecturer, poet, and even served as a chaplain during the Civil War.

After the war, the majority of her writing was focused on advancing the Free Thought movement. She particularly spoke out against the rigid dogmas of most Christian sects. Her supporters called her "a valiant worker on behalf of mental emancipation" (and even they admitted she was "a radical of the radicals"). Her obituary in the Free Thought Magazine even called her the female John the Baptist of Free Thought.

One of the many reform movements in which she was involved was for women's rights. She frequently criticized the Bible as a text that degraded women, culminating in her book The Godly Women of the Bible, listed as "by an Ungodly Woman of the Nineteenth Century." In that book, she wrote: "Christianity is an insult to the wisdom of the nineteenth century. To place before its progress and development a leader, ruler, king, savior, god, whose knowledge was less than a modern five-year-old school girl, is an outrage upon humanity." To the critics who called it obscene, she responded that God's word was obscene. Her poetry was decidedly less radical, including "The Star of Friendship":

O, what to me is golden treasure!
   O, what to me is famed renown!
O, what to me is worldly pleasure!
   O, what to me is beauty's crown!

For thieves may steal my golden treasure;
   And tongues may blast my famed renown —
Or death may end my worldly pleasure,
   And stars may fall from beauty's crown.

O, this shall be my golden treasure!
   O, this shall by my famed renown!
O, this shall be my sweetest pleasure!
   One star to own in friendship's crown!


  1. Well, politicians can't write poetry. Two different species. However, in her chosen field, she sounds remarkable. A chaplain in the Civil War would have to have nerves of steel.

  2. Well, I disagree about part of your comment: Many politicians were poets, including John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and James Garfield. Severn Teackle Wallis and Thomas Dunn English also come to mind.