Excerpt from "Queen Silver: The Godless Girl" -- Biographical Section.

The Elder Queen in freethought


In a letter dated July 23, 1982, written by Queen to Warren W. Patterson, she described the path by which she had re-entered the freethought movement. "After attending the 1975 AA [American Atheist] Convention in Los Angeles, I attended the organizing meeting of L.A. Chapter and agreed to be temporary secretary for a few weeks. The 'few weeks' ended up being five years. New officers were elected in 1980 and served to September, 1981, when new officers were elected."

When Queen decided to plunge back into freethought in the early '70s, she walked into an explosive situation not of her own making. At first, it must have seemed disappointingly familiar in terms of the bickering and animosity being expressed between certain personalities within the movement. But the familiarity would have also given Queen a moderating perspective on the bitter melodrama unfolding. She had developed a talent for being the calm voice in a crowd. After all, in the '30s, she had watched the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism collapse due to in fighting. As a child and a teenager, she had seen socialists betray each other as well as band together. In her sixties, she brought this maturity with her when dealing with a new freethought community that seemed to constantly buzz with controversy about its most prominent voice: Madalyn Murray O'Hair. Instead of taking sides in a series of controversies, Queen spent most of her time behind the scenes, acting as an officer of various organizations, attending endless planning sessions, getting newsletters printed up, stamping and stuffing envelopes...

In one area alone, Queen seemed willing to emerge more conspicuously into the public eye: she began to lecture again, and often at organizations such as Humanist Association of Los Angeles (HALA), who were critical of O'Hair. For better or worse, Queen often spoke on subjects that O'Hair also addressed. For example, in Program 45 of the American Atheist Radio Series entitled "The 'Christianity' of our Founding as a Nation", O'Hair commented at length upon the repressive laws that characterized colonial America.(7) O'Hair's analysis bears a striking resemblance to passages within Queen's later speech entitled "Our Secular Constitution." It also bears a striking resemblance to early articles that appeared in Queen Silver's Magazine. O'Hair, who was prone to accusing associates of plagiarism at the drop of a hat, may well have resented the similarity in Queen's material.(8) But she was educated enough to know that Queen's material derived directly from her own writings of decades before and from those of her mother. The similarity between the two women was anything but remarkable. Indeed, it would have been remarkable if O'Hair and Queen -- coming from the same tradition, often using the same source material, and embodying the same approach -- did not closely resemble each other on many levels.

Queen once commented to me that she believed O'Hair's need to accuse everyone else of intellectual dishonesty revealed a deep intellectual insecurity about her own intellectual achievements. Perhaps the insecurity also accounts for O'Hair's tendency to attach "Dr." to her name on personal letters and documents. By contrast, Queen was modest to the point of silence about her own past accomplishments. O'Hair's sense of inadequacy may also account for her extraordinary sensitivity to offense, whether it had been real or not. This characteristic became her tragic flaw. The stage was set for conflict.

It is no overstatement to say that the two most powerful women in 20th century atheism were Madalyn Murray O'Hair and Queen Silver.(9) They would clash bitterly.