Voltairine de Cleyre, “Kent and Cleveland” (1888)

In the beautiful blush of the first autumn days our friends in Kent gave a course of lectures for the enlightenment of the believers of Kent and all the country “which compasseth it round about.” That noble exponent of the philosophy of Freethought, Rev. J. H. Burnham, with your scribe, were the speakers of the occasion; and, what with the favoring influence of golden weather, attentiv audiences, a splendidly organized working force, due mainly to the untiring exertions of the energetic secretary, Marius Heighton, the venerable president, Mr. Joseph Heighton, and such earnest workers as L. G. Reed, A. D. Swan, and others, the lectures were a pronounced success. Nor must I forget to speak of the kindness of the Hon. Marvin Kent, a model for all rich Infidels, to whose kindness we were indebted for the free use of hall and grove. I wish that in every place the Liberal cause might find such help.

The effects of that great platform educator, Chas. Watts’s, teachings, are to be found in the Liberal mind of Kent. Mr. Watts has often treated the Secular Union with his wonderfully powerful logic, and on repeated occasions put the belligerent Father Leeming to rout. Whether we considered discretion the better part of valor after his drubbing of last March and so concluded not to attack us upon this occasion I am unable to determin, but certain it is that the exponent of Roman Catholicism “failed to materialize.”

The Campaign Fund of the American Secular Union received a $5.20 contribution, the donators being L. G. Reed, B. F. Conaway, Joseph York, Joseph Heighton, and several others whose names were not given. The city of Kent itself is a pretty little place of between four and five thousand inhabitants. The country all around is a wonderful rolling of law, green hills, with bright roads winding in and out like yellow ribbons, with bending trees in this rich fall time all laden with blooming, downy fruit, and shining fields all mellow with the hazy light. Pippin Lake Farm, the residence of the pleasant-voiced, smiling-eyed secretary, who can manage to do more effectiv work in a day than some can do in ten, is a lovely home of quietness and content; and the dwelling of that stanch old Abolitionist, Joseph Heighton, is fairly a garden of sunshine. It was not without regret that I bade them all adieu, but yet with a lively hope that some time in the future I may once more hav the pleasure of meeting them all in this world. The Kent Secular Union is certainly a noble monument to Freethought, and all I can wish is that they may continue as they hav begun, and “be not weary in well-doing.”

Betaking myself to Cleveland, I was met at the depot by that earnest worker so well known to Liberals, especially about Pittsburgh, Mr. S. F. De Jones. Mr. De Jones is one of the quiet kind, armed with a faultless appearance and no less faultless sarcasm, which he administers in concentrated doses whenever the orthodox savages air their barbarous doctrins too “freshly.” That evening I had the additional pleasure of renewing my acquaintance with Mr. G. R. Griffith, also an ex-Pittsburgher. These two black-eyed individuals are anxious to see the work once more well on foot in Cleveland, and, judging from the developments of the past few days, there wishes are likely to be realized.

After consulting with T. F. Lucas, the social little secretary of the old society, and further with Thos. Lees, the man whose energy has built up the spiritualistic society of Cleveland, with reference to obtaining a hall, a lecture was arranged for; and on Sunday evening, Sept. 9, the cases of Justice and Jehovah were reviewed before a fair-sized audience—indeed, considering the short notice, one might say an excellent audience. After the lecture, a number of the wicked remained to decide upon the appointment of a place of business meeting; Mr. L. B. Silver kindly offered the use of his elegant office on Euclid avenue for hat purpose, and on Sunday, Sept. 16th, the members of the Cleveland Secular Union, together with quite a number of new-comers—among whom are Mr. See, formerly secretary of an English society and a very able and enthusiastic gentleman, two Canadian friends who hav recently settled in Cleveland, Mr. F. S. Merrill, who has enthusiasm enough for half a dozen and energy to economize it too, Mr. De Jones and Mr. Griffith—will meet for the election of officers and the discussion of the best methods of work.

I am pleased to be able to say that the most radical person in Cleveland is a woman, and those John Geo. Hartwigs who are afraid of the subversion of mental liberty as a result of the extension of the franchise to women, want to call on Mrs. Mary Smith, and then forever after hold their tongues.

To speak of Cleveland Secularism without mentioning Mr. and Mrs. Gillsen, that venerable old couple over whose grand white heads the snows of seventy years hav fallen, yet in whose hearts burns the young fire of a bright hope—a hope that livens and warms and throws up a clear, pure flame, as sometimes you hav seen shooting from a red, warm core of coals a playing flame that leaps about over the rifted and fallen ashes of whiteness—to speak of Cleveland Secularism without mentioning them, I say, would be like the play of Hamlet with Hamlet left out. They are as anxious as the youngest to see the work go on, and will render all practical assistance in their power to keep it moving.

Anyone who visits this most beautiful city can see at once the appropriateness of Liberal ideas in a place like this. Everything is broad and wide and free. The streets are straight and level, with a generous disregard of economy in space, which would paralyze an Easterner who is accustomed to economize even in air. No need of that here. The great fresh breeze comes blowing up from the blue lake, and a grand rush of freedom seems to sink into the lungs when one inhales that invigorating breath. The houses do not wear the cooped-up look of the larger cities, and wide, velvety lawns make a sheening border to the beautiful drives and walks which invite one to try his horsemanship or pedestrian endurance. It is a beautiful child of the lake, set smiling here by the broad, fair waves; and as it is liberal in air, and earth, and sea, it should be Liberal in thought.

I cannot close without extending my thanks to Messrs. Lucas and Copeland for that kindness on my behalf, and perhaps, too, to that anomaly of a reporter who gave the most correct, impartial, and gentlemanly report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer I hav ever received at the hands of the daily press.

With gratitude for the past and hope for the future,

Voltairine de Cleyre.

Voltairine de Cleyre, “Kent and Cleveland,” The Truth Seeker 15 no. 32 (September 22, 1888): 597.

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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.