Girl  Evangelists

It was not just the revivalist platform that was active in the 1920s, proclaiming God’s judgment and calling sinners to Jesus. Another stage was busy too, but with a message and a purpose as dialectically opposed to the revivalist claims as could be imagined. That was the lecture stage, featuring atheists denying the existence of God and calling everyone to Darwin with as zealous appeal as any revivalist preacher ever called a sinner to Jesus.

Organized atheism was public, proud, and pushy—little different in this regard that their revivalist competition. The American Association for the Advancement of Atheism, founded in 1925, led the charge, along with their youth wing, The Junior Atheist League. Various counterparts of Christian organizations were formed: publishing houses, student clubs—even a seminary. Missionaries spread the message (to Sweden and British Columbia), and the atheists even had a doxology to the tune of the Christian hymn “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”—with a slight switch, however.

    Blame God from whom all cyclones blow,
    Blame him when rivers overflow,
    Blame him who swirls down house and steeple,
    Who sinks the ships and drowns the people.

And so it went. They even tried to get the American President to change Thanksgiving Day to Blame-giving Day. Some atheists were embarrassed by the evangelical zeal of this new breed of atheists.

Atheists presented two points of conflict with the girl evangelists. They used new child labour laws and compulsory school legislation to attempt to prevent the young girls from preaching. They also had their own pint-size weapon too, little girls lecturers giving public talks, mocking fundamentalism and all things religious, while touting science and evolution. The most notable was Queen Silver, at age twelve publisher of her own atheist magazine, and Christine Walker, President of the Junior Atheist League.

The conflict of young atheists and young Christians even made it to the silver screen, in Cecil B. DeMille’s last silent film, 1929 “The Godless Girl” (1929).

For further reading:

Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s (New York: Harper & Row, 1931). Reprint: Perennial Classics, 2000.

Wendy McElroy, Queen Silver: The Godless Girl (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000.)

Nathan Miller, New World Coming: The 1920s And The Making Of Modern America (New York: Scribner, 2003). Reprint: Da Capo Press, 2004.