[image error]Dr. Esther A. Van Riper (1844-1910) was born at Lodi, Michigan, and attended the public schools of Ann Arbor. She was graduated from the Druidic University of America, Buffalo, New York, in 1889; from the Jacksonian Optical College, Jackson, Michigan, in 1893, and from the American College of Science at Philadelphia in 1902. She also has a diploma from the World's Electro-Medical Institute, Columbus, and is a member of the Northern Indiana and Southern Michigan Medical Association.

Taken from: History of Pickaway County, Ohio and Representative Citizens by Aaron R. Van Cleaf

The following is Ms. Van Riper's contribution to the Blue Grass Blade's "Why I Am An Atheist" campaign of 1903.


I will tell you. I was raised a Baptist. I was not allowed to laugh on Sunday; went to church every Sunday twice, and to Sunday school. The sermons were two hours long. I use to get so weary, would nearly die, had to sit up straight and bow when they prayed. I continued, and when I was 14 years old I went to a Methodist revival. He gave us hellfire and broke up a couple of chairs, knocked the stove down, hammered the desk with his fists, jumped up nearly three feet, scared the very life out of me.

I went to the mourner's bench; was told I had God in my heart. I tried to realize it, but was not satisfied in my mind, as I felt as I always used to before. The deaconess of the Baptist church said to me that I would feel all right after I was baptized. I was baptized in a fount in the Baptist church at Ann Arbor, Michigan, by Elder Cornelius. He was then 80 years old. After I came up out of the water, I stood on a grate so the water would not soil the carpet. The deaconess came to me with consoling words and said to me: "Well, sister, how do you feel now?"

I answered: "I feel ashamed."

Mrs. Royce said: "Don't say that."

I answered: "Well, it is a fact; I do feel ashamed."

After I went to remove my baptismal robe, which was all wet, Mrs. Royce (the deaconess) and Ma said: "Now, your sins are all washed away, a new life you will follow, you are born again; now do you feel the presence of the Lord in your heart?"

I answered that I felt ashamed.

Ma said, "Don't say that."

Mrs. Royce said, "Don't tell all you think; keep such to yourself."

I said it's so. I thought I must be a very bad sinner. I would try and pray, and read the Bible all the spare time I had.

I read the Bible through before I was 14 years old. It was all we could read on Sunday. My mother said to me, "You are just like your father; he was so skeptical, no one could talk such things into his head."

My father died before I was 19. The best friend, and may I say the only one I ever had. Time went on. I finished school, married, moved west to Illinois. Was a steady attendant.

My husband, who was a physician and surgeon, was one of Col. R.G. Ingersoll's brightest lights. He would go to hear his lectures and buy all of his writings. He often would say to me, "What do you go to that hypocritical church for?"

I would answer and say, "Doctor, I am trying to find out what Christianity is, and I can't." I read all the Freethought literature I could get, and gradually grew to think Christ and all was humbug.

A presiding Elder, by the name of Adams, was the last screw in the orthodox coffin for me. I called at his house one day. His wife had gone to her people, and he, Adams, was alone. I rang. He came to the door. I enquired for Mrs. Adams. He said, "Come right in, sister. Mrs. Adams is at her people; come in the parlor and let us have a good, quiet visit. I always admired you. You are on my mind night and day. When you come in church and sit in the audience I see only you. I can't preach. My sermon goes out of my head. I can't stand it any longer. You are the only one in the church. I am crazy to have you close to me. Come in the parlor and we'll have a good, enjoyable time."

I answered, "No, Mr. Adams, I can't." I started out.

He said, "Don't for heaven's sake go; come back."

I went and I thought: is that religion; is there no sincerity in this world but licentiousness; and to think a preacher, presiding Elder, a man God had called to be mediator between earth and heaven.

I never saw him (Adams) again. I went home, and the thoughts! You can imagine!

I never told anyone. If I had, my husband would have murdered him in cold blood. Mr. Adams resigned the next Sunday. The Deacon McGrew and his wife said to me, "What in this world do you suppose Elder Adams resigned for? We held a church meeting, and we couldn't get one word out of him. He said: 'I think I will go South.'"

If I told anyone, they would have disgraced me.

After that, I didn't try to find any mercy or grace in the religion of Jesus Christ. I began to think for myself, and I do what I see proper and right. I am now a thorough Agnostic in belief. Ingersoll is my Bible. He never made a mistake. There are no cunning lies in his works. All are wise and good. I mourn his loss. It is sad for such a human machine to die. If I have written too much, it is the truth to the hilt.

Circleville, Ohio

Letters from an Atheist Nation Godless Voices of America in 1903 by Thomas Lawson Letters from an Atheist Nation: Godless Voices of America in 1903
by Thomas Lawson
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Published on February 20, 2012 08:42 • 402 views • Tags: agnosticism, feminism, freethought, ohio, religion, u-s-history, women

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