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The lecture reprinted in this booklet was originally delivered by Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly to the Alumnae Association of the Women’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary, on June 1, 1887. It was later reprinted in Bejamin R. Tucker’s radical paper Liberty (Vol. V, No. 3, September 10, 1887, pp. 6-8).
“IT SEEMS TO BE GENERALLY FORGOTTEN by those who favor State aid to science that aid so given is not and cannot be aid to science, but to particular doctrines or dogmas, and that, where this aid is given, it requires almost a revolution to introduce a new idea. With the ordinary conservatism of mankind, every new idea which comes forward meets with sufficient questioning as to its truth, utility, etc.; but, when we have added to this natural conservatism, which is sufficient to protect society against the introduction of new error, the whole force of an army of paid officials whose interest it is to resist any idea which would deprive, or tend to deprive, them of their salaries, you will readily see that, of the two forces which tend to keep society in equilibrium, the conservative and the progressive, the conservative will be very much strengthened at the expense of the progressive, and that the society is doomed to decay. . . .
“WHEN WE CONSIDER THAT WE HAVE NOW REACHED BUT THE VERY OUTPOSTS OF SCIENCE; that all our energies are required for storming its citadel; that human nature, if placed in the same conditions, is apt to be very much the same; that those persons who have the power and the positions will endeavor to maintain them, – do you think it wise to put into the hands of any set of men the power of staying our onward movements? That which we feel pretty sure of being true today may contain, and in all probability does contain, a great deal of error, and it is our duty to truth to cultivate the spirit which questions all things, which spirit would be destroyed by our having high priests of science.”
Gertrude B. Kelly (1862-1934) was an Irish-American surgeon, a radical feminist, and an individualist anarchist. She immigrated to the United States in 1873, studied at the Women’s Medical College of New York Infirmary for Women and Children, and established a medical clinic for the poor in New York City. Radicalized by the Irish No-Rent movement and by her experience providing medical care in the tenements, Kelly became one of the most dynamic advocates of individualist anarchism, writing essays on urban poverty, women’s liberation, prostitution, bourgeois charity, natural law, egoism, and the economic and social ideas of Proudhon, Godwin, and Malthus. Her work was published frequently in Anarchist journals including Liberty in Boston and The Alarm in Chicago; from her first article for Liberty in 1885 until her break with the newspaper in 1887, Kelly was Liberty’s most prolific female correspondent; Tucker wrote that “Gertrude B. Kelly . . . by her articles in Liberty has placed herself at a single bound among the finest writers of this or any other country.”