Freethinker: Clara Bewick Colby




From Freedom From Religion Foundation

On this date in 1846, Clara Bewick (later Colby) was born in England. She moved with her parents to a farm near Windsor, Wisconsin, in 1849. As a little girl and early reader, Clara liked to memorize and recite, and churned butter by keeping time to fearful hymns threatening “the hells of fire,” she recalled in a lecture.

At 19, she moved to Madison and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin. Graduating in 1869 as valedictorian, she was instrumental in opening admission of the UW to women. She taught at the UW, then married Leonard Wright Colby, and moved to Beatrice, Nebraska.

Clara served as president for 16 years of her state’s Woman’s Suffrage Association. She founded the Woman’s Tribune in 1883, and published this organ of the National Woman Suffrage Association for 25 years, including daily editions through the suffrage conventions. As editor, she also set type, was compositor and sometimes ran the press.

Legendary for energy and her work ethic, Clara adopted two children, including a Sioux Indian baby girl, “Lost Bird,” found in the arms of her slaughtered mother after Wounded Knee by Clara’s husband. Clara was the first woman designated as a war correspondent during the Spanish War. She lectured in nearly every state for suffrage, as well as England, Ireland and Scotland. Clara had belonged to the Congregational church, but introduced and defended resolutions denouncing patriarchal religious dogma, notably at the 1885 woman suffrage convention. She routinely featured her friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton‘s critiques of religion on the front pages of the Woman’s Tribune. She died after nursing others with the flu in 1916.


One Comment

Never heard of her. Thank you for the introduction! I find it fascinating that another freethinker, John Muir, emigrated from Scotland to Wisconsin in 1849 (when he was 11) and enrolled at the U of W in 1861, just before Clara.
Cheers for the Freethinkers who speak the truth.