Posted by: sponyak | August 6, 2009

Cleveland’s Freethinking Past

The Cleveland area was a hotbed of freethought in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s.

Here is an excerpt from “The School and the Immigrant” by Herbert Adolphus Miller (1916).


It is impossible to understand the Bohemians in America without some knowledge of Bohemian history. They are one of the national divisions of the Slavs. The Bohemians who dwell in the northwestern part of Austria, directly between Dresden and Vienna, have been the subject of more German influence than any other Slavic people, and in many respects are indistinguishable from the Germans. In 1415 the church and the state burned at the stake John Huss, a Bohemian priest, the first martyr to religious freedom. A revolt took place which made Bohemia Protestant until the Thirty Years War, which began in 1618. After that Catholicism was re-established, and to this day embraces nearly all the inhabitants of Bohemia.

In America, beginning more than 50 years ago, a reaction was organized until at the present time approximately two-thirds of an estimated million are aggressive free-thinkers. In Cleveland about half are Catholics and the rest free-thinkers, with only a few hundred Protestants. Both parties have many organizations and, while the feeling between the two is very strong, the common Slavic feeling manifests itself most strongly in antipathy for the German language. The free-thinkers are the more nationalistic, and fortunately so, for with the loss of the control of the church there is a tendency to materialism which can be counteracted only by devotion to some social cause. There is no group to which the mother tongue and national history can have more moral value. This is in part because their history is peculiarly rich. Commemus, one of the world’s greatest educators, was a Bohemian, exiled during the Thirty Years War. The influence of Bohemian history has been such that the people refuse to accept dogma, and even the children argue theology.

Even the children? Must’ve been nice! Many Czechs who settled in this area were Freethinkers also.

May the Cleveland area be a hotbed of freethought once again! (eventually…)




  1. Very interesting. You don’t really think of free thinking when you think of Eastern European immigrants. This reminds me a bit of the German Freethinkers of the Texas Hill Country:
    My blogger name is the childhood nick name of a very famous Polish freethinker.

  2. I’m of part-Polish descent myself, so I was compelled to do a little research- would the famous Polish freethinker be Marie Curie?

  3. You are correct!

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