The indomitable Mary Fields + America's village atheists

C C Offline
Mary Fields a pioneer in Cascade’s past

EXCERPT: [...] Unlike most other African Americans of the time, Mary was taught to read and write. [...] when she learned that Sister Amadeus was ill with pneumonia [...] Mary head[ed] west to Montana. Mary must have liked the area. After she had helped nurse her friend back to health, she decided to stay.

The school, called Saint Peter’s Mission, consisted of old buildings that were badly in need of repair. Mary, who stood over six feet tall, was as strong as any man and very good at fixing anything. She soon became the foreman, or boss, of the other workers at the school. There was one man, however, who did not want to take orders from a black woman. He argued with Mary, and then struck her. While Mary was falling, the man reached for his gun. Mary, in self-defense, snatched her six-shooter and fired. She was as fast with a pistol as any man. When the bishop in charge of the school heard about the gunfight, he demanded that Mary be fired. Sister Amadeus could not bear to let her friend go under such circumstances.

The Native Americans called Fields "White Crow" because "she acts like a white woman but has black skin." Local whites did not know what to make of her. One schoolgirl wrote an essay saying: "she drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature." [...] Mother Amadeus helped her open a restaurant in nearby Cascade. Fields would serve food to anyone, whether they could pay or not, and the restaurant went broke in about ten months.

When Mary heard that the United States Postal Service was looking for someone to deliver mail from the town of Cascade, Montana to families in the surrounding areas, she applied for the job. Even though she was about 60 years old at the time, Mary proved herself the fastest applicant to hitch a team of six horses and was hired. Thus, Mary became the second woman and the first African American woman to work for the United States Postal Service [via contract].

[...] Mary loved the job, despite the many dangers and difficulties. Thieves and wolves roamed the countryside, always ready to pounce on prey. In the winter, heavy snowfalls plunged the trails under drifts. On several occasions, Mary’s horses could not cross the drifts. Determined to do her job, she left the horses behind and walked alone to deliver the mail. Once she walked 10 miles back to the depot.

Mary continued to deliver the mail until she was almost 70 years old, earning the nickname of “Stagecoach Mary.” Then she decided to “slow down.” the nuns at the mission helped her open a laundry service in Cascade. A laundry business, however, was not enough to keep Mary busy and she spent much time caring for her garden. The town so loved and respected Mary that on her birthday they even closed the schools to celebrate the occasion. She was well over 80 years old when the townspeople laid her to rest at the foot of the mountain trail that led to Saint Peter’s Mission....

America’s Village Atheists

--> Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation, by Leigh Eric Schmidt
--> Damning Words: The Life and Religious Times of H. L. Mencken, by D.G. Hart

EXCERPT: Taken at face value, recent debates about the place of religion in American institutions and culture suggest the ubiquity of the rhetoric of victimhood and marginality as much as the enduring appeal of zero-sum politics. Whether in debates about transgender usage of bathrooms or bakeries ordered to cater gay weddings, supporters of religious rights seem astonished suddenly to discover their status as a minority, while supporters of secular neutrality bemoan the enduring dominance of prejudice. Perhaps the only point of agreement between these advocates of religious or irreligious rights is an assumption that one of these visions of the American future can advance only at the expense of the other.

Is that really so? Can’t we all, as Jack Nicholson once famously said, just get along? This is exactly the question taken up in two recent histories of irreligious belief, both of them written by leading historians of religion. The two books claim, each in its own way, that from the 19th century until the present day arguments for faith and its alternatives have been advanced together, becoming entangled in mutually reinforcing ways. This remains so even as the nation’s moral expectations evolve: After all, when, in July 2015, the Boy Scouts of America removed its national restriction on gay leaders, it continued to allow individual units to require their leaders to express a belief in God. This contradiction that really isn’t has become deeply embedded in American culture and politics, and it is very likely to continue.


Schmidt and Hart achieve their nuance by avoiding high intellectual history in favor of the quotidian realities of individual lives, the material and personal circumstances under which irreligion could be structured and disseminated. The biographical approach helps both writers avoid the temptations and reductions of linearity, the habit of historians of ideas to cherry-pick the notions in which they are interested and to project a teleological inevitability as a replacement for the muddle, confusion, and distraction of life as it is lived. Both writers do a fine job of avoiding the jeremiads developed by those supporting and those fighting against these competing visions of the American future. There are times when scholarly dispassion still works as it should, and these books furnish notable examples. In debates about the official standing of religion and irreligion, as in many other aspects of its public life, American culture is almost certainly heading in several directions at once—as it has been doing for some time. Alas, Whitman remains: America contains multitudes....

Possibly Related Threads…
Thread Author Replies Views Last Post
  The English village of Eyam...and the plague Leigha 1 59 Jan 10, 2022 01:47 AM
Last Post: C C
  In Search of Mary Shelley + Man As God: 'Frankenstein' Turns 200 C C 0 276 Jan 21, 2018 02:10 AM
Last Post: C C

Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)