Free-thought journalist. 1830-1910.
Of the 19th century reform movements occupying a place in Kansas history such as prohibition, populism and women's suffrage, none were more startling than those advocated by free-thought journalist, Moses Harman. Harman not only denounced all forms of government and religion, but also added a new dimension in reform by advocating that women be freed from sexual slavery by abolishing the institution of marriage. Although a complex person, Harman contended his creed was short. He believed in freedom, love and wisdom, and knowledge utilized. He further maintained that marriage destroys freedom and compels slavery, kills love, and incarnates hate, and is the inveterate foe of wisdom.
Born in Pendleton County, West Virginia, in 1830, Moses Harman spent most of his pre-Kansas days in Missouri. A schoolteacher by profession and a widower with three children, he moved in 1879 to Jefferson County, Kansas. Shortly thereafter, he remarried and began to discuss religion from an agnostic point of view. Late in 1881 Harman became co-editor of the four-page, monthly Valley Falls Liberal, the official organ of the Valley Falls Liberal League. The purpose of this publication was to provoke controversy and solicit comments from the readership. Harman eventually became sole editor and on August 24, 1883, changed the name to Lucifer, the Light Bearer. His strange philosophy went so far as to devise its own system of dating, not from the birth of Christ, but the execution of Giodano Bruno, a noted astronomer in 1601.
Harman constantly disclaimed responsibility for the opinions of his contributors, but openly acknowledged that he supported most of them. In 1890 he moved Lucifer to Topeka, where he continued to expound the theme of women's emancipation from sexual slavery. Financial problems beset his Kansas operation and, in 1896, moved to Chicago. Ten years later, Harman changed the name of the publication to The American Journal of Eugenics. Believing a more liberal attitude prevailed in Los Angeles, he again moved in 1908 and continued publishing until his death on January 30, 1910.
Lawsuits, charges of immorality, and ridicule constantly were showered on Harman until his demise. Harman was constantly at odds with the U. S. postal service over mailing what was considered obscene material. On April 30, 1890, the U. S. District Court sentenced Harman to a term of five years in the Kansas State Penitentiary. However, by order of the U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals he was released within a few months. In 1892 and in 1895, Harman was re-sentenced to the Lansing facility, only again to be released by order of the appellate court. For his continued obstinateness in defying postal regulations concerning mailing of obscene material Harman served time in Chicago's Cook County jail, the Illinois state prison in Joilet, and the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth.
Shortly after Harman's death, noted English philosopher George Bernard Shaw wrote Moses' daughter, Lillian: "it seems nothing short of a miracle that your father should have succeeded in living for seventy-nine years in a country so extremely dangerous for men who have both enlightened opinions and courage of them as the United States of America."
Entry: Harman, Moses
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: December 2004
Date Modified: June 2011
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