Elmina Drake Slenker

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Elmina Drake Slenker

Elmina Drake Slenker (1827-1909) wrote novels and short stories for children. She also wrote about Darwinism and various atheist/secularist topics. She was an ex-Quaker atheist.[1]

The atheist sociologist Phil Zuckerman wrote:

The final profile is that of Elmina Drake Slenker, an ex-Quaker who wrote novels as well as short, didactic stories for children about Darwinian naturalism, rationalism, and other secularist topics. Slenker came out publicly as an atheist in 1856 by publishing a letter in the Boston Investigator in defense of the infamous infidel Ernestine Rose. Such declarations of unbelief were scandalous for any individual at the time, but especially for women. As Schmidt documents, “Being a village atheist invited cold shoulders; being a female village atheist doubly so.” Condemnation of Slenker was swift, not only by friends and relatives, but also by public voices, newspapers editors, and writers such as the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox, who wrote that “the most repellent object on earth is a woman infidel. She is as unnatural as a flower which breathes poison instead of perfume.” What ultimately brought Slenker into national prominence was her prosecution by Anthony Comstock’s anti-vice crusade. Her crime? Writing leaflets and personal letters to various people about human sexuality, marital relations, birth control, and bestiality. She was put on trial, and it only took the jury 10 minutes to find her guilty.[2]

The Freedom From Religion Foundation declares about Elmina D. Slenker:

On this date in 1827, Elmina Drake, the daughter of a Shaker preacher expelled for becoming a "Liberal," was born in La Grange, New York. She wrote for nearly all the Liberal (meaning freethinking) journals of her era, and knew many of the reformers. She advertised, successfully, for an egalitarian husband in the Water-Cure Journal and married Isaac Slenker, Quaker-style. Elmira preached alcoholic and sexual temperance, adopting a philosophy called "Dianaism," which taught sexual sublimation and practices to avoid unwanted pregnancies in a manner too plain-spoken for the guardians of the Comstock Act. At the age of 60, in April 1887, Elmina was arrested for mailing sealed letters of advice on sex and marriage to private correspondents. With bail set at $2,000, she was shown into a cold cell with a blanket on the floor. The New York Times critically reported in its coverage of her newsworthy arrest that Elmina refused to swear on a bible and testified at a preliminary hearing that she did not believe in god, ghosts, heaven, hell, the bible or Christianity. The pleasant, ordinary looking woman was vilified as "homely" for sporting a radical, short haircut. Unable to raise bail she spent 6 months in jail and was indicted on July 12, 1887. Freethinking attorney Edward W. Chamberlain represented her during her October trial, where a jury found her guilty. She was set free on a technicality by the judge on November 4, 1887. Truth Seeker readers paid her legal expenses. She wrote Studying the Bible in 1870, edited Little Freethinker and wrote several novels, including The Clergyman's Victims, The Infidel School-Teacher and The Darwins. She died in Snowdon, Virginia, in her early 80s. D. 1908.[3]

Christianity Today wrote about Elmina Slenker in an article entitled A Portrait of America’s First Atheists:

When a village did manage to raise an atheist, it was almost always a boy. In his lively, informative study, Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation (Princeton University Press), historian Leigh Eric Schmidt includes a chapter on Elmina Drake Slenker, a 19th-century woman from Upstate New York. Many readers today disapprove of books solely about men, but organized atheism hasn’t always been terribly concerned with gender parity. Slenker confessed that every place she went, she was the first woman atheist anyone there had ever seen. When the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism (4As) surveyed its membership in 1930, it was 93 percent male.[4]


  • Little Lessons for Little Folks
  • Studying the Bible or, Brief criticisms on some of the principal scripture texts, 1880
  • Little Lessons for Liberal Sunday School. Studying the Bible, 1870. The Infidel School Teacher, 1885.
  • The Handsomest Woman, 1885.

See also


  1. The Church of the Churchless by Phil Zuckerman, Los Angeles Review of Books, March 19, 2017
  2. The Church of the Churchless by Phil Zuckerman, Los Angeles Review of Books, March 19, 2017
  3. Elmina D. Slenker, complied by Annie Laurie Gaylor, Freedom From Religion Foundation
  4. [A Portrait of America’s First Atheists] by Timothy Larsen, Christianity Today, August 22, 2016