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On 7 November 1887, Stanton Coit – who would go on to pioneer the early organised humanist movement in the UK – wrote to his mother from New York. He wanted to tell her about a funeral he had recently led in the absence of Felix Adler, the founder of the New York Society for Ethical Culture and originator of its guiding principle: ‘not by the creed but by the deed’. As well as providing rich insight into an early example of a humanist ceremony, this letter links the UK and US Ethical movements directly. In the same year Coit penned this letter, he accepted an invitation to lead the freethinking congregation at South Place Chapel in London (today, Conway Hall) on the condition it become an ‘ethical’ society, and would spend the rest of his life working for the promotion of the Ethical movement in the UK. With his active support, over 70 individual groups were formed throughout the UK. In 1896, Coit led the creation of the Union of Ethical Societies, which would become the British Humanist Association, and then Humanists UK. It is notable too that his mother, Elizabeth Greer Coit, was a prominent US suffragist. Coit himself, alongside his wife Adela, went on to be active in national and international efforts for women’s equality, as did many members of the early humanist movement.

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