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HISTORY OF HUMANISM IN HOUSTON
by Robert D. Finch*, 2004

The early history of Atheism and Freethought in Houston, going back to the nineteenth century, has been described by Arnold (2005). Humanism did not enter on the scene until Julian Huxley, received an appointment in 1910 as the founding faculty member of the Biology Department at Rice Institute. Julian was the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley an early associate of Charles Darwin. A Symposium to mark the centennial of Julianís birth was held by Rice University in 1987 at which papers on various aspects of his career were given. These papers formed the basis of a book edited by Waters and Van Helden which was published in 1992. It appears that Julian developed his views on science and religion while in Houston and gave a series of lectures on "Biology and Man" after he left. These lectures later developed into what he called "scientific humanism" and later "evolutionary humanism". The Humanist magazine and its fore-runners were started in the 1920ís. The first Humanist Manifesto was published in 1933 and the American Humanist Association was incorporated in 1941.

An informal group of humanists began meeting together on an occasional basis in the early 1970's in Houston. During this time a leading light of the group was Dr Ray Karchmer Daily, an eye surgeon who was also a member of the Houston School Board for many years and its President twice. Dr Daily convened a meeting for Bette Chambers and there were 130 people present. Dr Daily died at the age of 83 in 1975. Her son, Dr Louis Daily, is a member of HOH to this day. The Houston Chapter of the American Humanist Association was chartered as the "Humanists of Houston" (HOH) in 1978. 

original-hoh-charter.jpg (1719723 bytes)
Original Charter (click to enlarge)

An inaugural meeting was addressed by Beth Fennell who later married Dr Corliss Lamont. Regular meetings were attended by as many as 60 participants. A newsletter has been published continuously since 1985, during most of the first ten years under the editorship of Frank Prahl. Besides those listed below other members of note during the early years included Barbara Bullock, Charles Fisher, Moie Hamburger, Bob Helken, Douglas Hook, Professor Konstantin Kolenda, Frank Prahl, Joyce Terry, Ben Levy and Abby and Ariel Thomann. Professor Kolenda continued the association with Rice University and wrote a column on Philosophy in the Humanist magazine for several years. Professor Kolenda was also the author of several books including "Cosmic Religion: The Autobiography of the Universe" (1987). The group was the subject of two articles in the Religion Section of the Houston Chronicle (1978, 1981) Some early meetings of HOH were held in the Womenís Center of Houston, followed by a move to the Montrose Library.

In 1985 a second chapter was started known as "Humanists Involved in Greater Houston" (HIGH). The two groups were reunited in 1992, when it was decided to call the chapter by the second name, but to institute a development fund to be known as "Humanists of Houston Development Fund" using the $300 remaining in the treasury of the first group. The first Volume of Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism was published in 1992. A Library was also started in 1992. The re-united chapter started meeting in the then new Unitarian Fellowship building on Wirt Road in 1993. The Discussion Group first met in December 1993. A State Convention was held in Austin in January 1994 and a South-Central Regional Conference in January 1995. In 1994 the Chapter voted to return to the name "Humanists of Houston". The first Brochure for the Chapter was printed in 1995. The Humanist Association of Montgomery County was started in 1995. A Conference was held at the University of Houston in October 1996 entitled ETHICS-96, partly funded by a grant from the AHA Chapter Assembly. Another group known as the Houstonians for Secular Humanism (HSH), affiliated with the Council for Secular Humanism, was started by Amanda Chesworth and Daniel Strain in 1998. This group was led by Daniel Strain until he and his wife, Julie, moved to California. At that point Keith Irish took over as Director until the group merged in with HOH around 2002. The Ideas Club was started as a book club cum discussion group for HSH in 1998 and began meeting at Borders Book Shop shortly thereafter. Bob Finch was elected Chairman of the AHA Chapter Assembly in 2000 and to the AHA Board of Directors in 2002. 

In 2001, with some joint participation by HOH members, the Houston Church of Freethought was founded by Art and Nancy Fay, Jim Ashmore, and others. HOH became a Membership Chapter of the AHA in 2002. The national meeting of the AHA was held in Houston in 2002. 

 

References:

Arnold, Gipson, (2005), "Atheist and Freethought History in Houston", to be published.

Huxley, Julian, (1992), "Evolutionary Humanism", Prometheus Press. Originally published as "Essays of a humanist" Harper & Row (1964).

Kolenda, Konstantin, (1987), "Cosmic Religion: The Autobiography of the Universe", Image Books, Doubleday.

Moore, Louis, Religion Editor, Houston Chronicle September 16, 1978 and Houston Chronicle January 17, 1981

Waters, C. Kenneth and Albert Van Helden, (1992), "Julian Huxley: Biologist and Statesman of Science", Rice University Press.

*Note: Some editing of Robert Finch's original work was done in the final paragraphs by HSH founder Daniel Strain, to enhance the accuracy of some details regarding HSH.

 

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