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No man can have society upon his own terms. If he seeks it, he must serve it too.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal, 28 May 1833

This bust, held by Conway Hall, is probably the one ordered by Stanton Coit in 1907. Like his predecessor, Moncure Conway, and one of his inspirations (and the founder of the Ethical Culture movement) Felix Adler, Coit was very much influenced by the ideas and ideals of American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. He edited a collection of Emerson’s essays and letters for the RPA Cheap Reprints series in 1903, in the introduction for which he wrote that Emerson’s philosophy was:

best indicated by a term introduced by Mr. Frederic Harrison to describe certain recent tendencies… Mr. Harrison has coined the word Ethicism, and we cannot do better than apply this epithet to Emerson’s point of view. Emerson was an Ethicist. His doctrine is Ethicism. His main thesis is that morality, character, conduct, is independent of beliefs in a reality beyond experience and a life after death, and is the sovereign good.

The idea that morality does not, and should not, depend on supernatural or religious ideas underpinned the Ethical movement from its origins in the late 19th century, and continued to do so as it developed into organised humanism. The term ‘ethicist’ was often applied to the movement’s members – of which Frederic Harrison himself was one. Emerson’s influence could be felt across the UK Ethical movement. The Union of Ethical Societies‘ social club (at which the Women’s Freedom League was formed) was called the Emerson Club, and the Emerson Ethical Brotherhood – affiliated with the Union – held meetings, rambles, and camping trips around Forest Gate, focused on drawing inspiration from nature.

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