Fourth New York Freethinkers Association Convention
September 2–6, 1880
The fourth annual New York Freethinkers Association convention, held at the Shattuck Opera House September 2–6, 1880, was described by the New York Times as "the largest and most important convention of the kind ever held in the country." Opera house proprietor Sewell E. Shattuck, an open freethinker, donated the use of his facility at no charge. Attendance was roughly evenly divided between materialists (who today might be called atheists) and spiritualists, with whom freethinkers of the time made common cause because both opposed Christian orthodoxy.
Speakers included Robert Green Ingersoll; famed abolitionist, atheist, and reformer Elizur Wright; nationally prominent atheist activist Thaddeus Burr Wakeman; a dynamic atheist named Amelia Colby; and regional abolition and freethought activist Lucy N. Colman. During the 1880 convention, Ingersoll lectured on September 5 at the Shattuck, delivering his controversial oration "What Must We Do to Be Saved?". The freethought newspaper The Truth Seeker reported that Ingersoll spoke for "two hours and a half without losing the interest and control of the audience for a single moment." Another speaker at the convention was the Reverend George Chainey, a recent convert from Christianity to freethought who as a result had become unable to earn a living as a minister. Ingersoll directed that part of his lecture fee be paid instead to Chainey for his living expenses. The Truth Seeker also retained Chainey to author its report on the proceedings.
Many thanks to Alice Taychert of the Southern Tier Library System for research assistance.