Fifth New York Freethinkers Association Convention
August 31–September 4, 1881
The New York Freethinkers Association met at the Shattuck Opera House in Hornellsville on August 31–September 4, 1881 for its fifth annual convention. Opera house proprietor Sewell E. Shattuck, an open freethinker, donated the use of his facility at no charge. Compared to the 1880 convention, the 1881 event was smaller: about 275 persons attended most of the sessions, with 500 present for the closing session. Speakers included Rev. Chainey; W. S. Bell, who had been arrested alongside Truth Seeker publisher D. M. Bennett at the Watkins convention of 1878; Prof. John H. W. Toohey of Boston; the suffragist and social radical Mrs. H. S. Lake; and the nationally prominent freethought activists Thaddeus B. Wakeman and Samuel Porter Putnam. Freethought journalists attending the event included H. L. Green, publisher of Free Thought Magazine, and Eugene Macdonald, editing The Truth Seeker while publisher Bennett was on a world tour paid for by his supporters following his 1880 release from prison. Robert Green Ingersoll, who had headlined the 1880 convention, was unable to attend in 1881. Elizur Wright was unable to attend for health reasons; his prepared remarks were read to the assemblage by Bell. This reduction in "star power" may explain why the convention of 1881 was less well attended than its predecessor. Still, the organizers reported that they more than broke even.
Many thanks to Alice Taychert of the Southern Tier Library System for research assistance.