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Humanist and activist May Seaton-Tiedeman campaigned tirelessly for divorce law reform for decades, based on a wholehearted belief in the unjustness of the existing laws. Under these, although separation could be sought, divorce was only granted in instances of adultery. In addition to her work for the Divorce Law Reform Union, Seaton-Tiedeman was a prominent member of the Union of Ethical Societies (now Humanists UK), and likely buoyed in her efforts by the shared values of fellow humanists. A picture of her printed in Reynolds News in 1936 depicted Seaton-Tiedeman arguing her cause in Hyde Park, on a podium bearing the words: ‘Better marriage laws for better marriages’.

This image appeared the year before the successful passage of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1937, which extended the grounds for divorce to include cruelty, desertion and ‘incurable insanity’. In a letter to The Times, A.D. Howell Smith (Chairman of the Divorce Law Reform Union’s Executive Committee, and a member of the Union of Ethical Societies) made sure that Seaton-Tiedeman’s role was not forgotten. She had worked, Smith wrote, for ‘25 years, in season and out of season, by lectures and debates in many places’ for law reform, specifically mentioning that ‘nearly every Sunday she has advocated her cause in Hyde Park’. Even after the 1937 Act was passed, she continued to campaign for further reform.

Seaton-Tiedeman and humanist activists like her sought law change in line with reason, compassion, and common sense. As encapsulated by the words Seaton-Tiedeman stood behind, fairer and more thoughtful laws – rooted in evidence and the experience of those they affected – would improve the lives of everyone. This image of Seaton-Tiedeman’s podium is a reminder of this, as well as of the values that have always underpinned humanist activism, and continue to today.

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