Tiffany Thayer liked to buttress the credibility of Forteanism by inviting famous people to join. It was one of the Society’s contradictions, rejecting the mainstream even as it craved its accolades and fanfare.
Vashti McCollum was (née Cromwell) was a New Yorker, born 6 November 1912. She attended Cornell University before transferring to the University of Illinois. She graduated a,d there met her husband, John McCollum. The couple were married in 1933. They had three children. In 1944, when their eldest child, James, entered fourth grade, he came home with a form that essentially mandated ‘voluntary’ religious instruction. James was allowed to attend, until his parents became upset but he content of the class. After back and forth with the school district, Vashti filed suit, in July 1945. The trial was difficult, and life for the McCollums was difficult, too, as they were harassed in their home town. Eventually, the case made its way to the United States Supreme Court. On 8 March 1948, the court ruled that the school’s religious program was unconstitutional.
McCollum became a minor celebrity int he wake of the court case, a defender of humanism, skepticism, and civil liberties against the tyrannies of religion and the state. She became associated with Edwin Wilson’s American Humanist Association (he was a Fortean, too) and served two terms as its president. After her children finished school, she earned a master’s degree and became a world traveller. In 1953, she published a book about her struggle, “One Woman’s Fight.”
Vashti McCollum died 20 August 2006, aged 93.
Her connections to the Fortean Society and Forteanism were mostly adulatory. After the Supreme Court ruled in her favor, Forteans “overwhelmingly”—according to Thayer—voted her the Annual Named Fellow. Thayer announced that she had accepted the honor in Doubt 21 (June 1948), noting that he had liked her fight even before the Supreme Court vindicated her stance. He returned to the subject two issues later (December 1948) hoping that McCollum would take the fight in Fortean directions—“We welcome her heartily, and trust that she will be as alert to prevent science from warping the mind of her son as she was to frustrate the Church’s effort.”
As far as I know, that was never McCollum’s cause, though. Indeed, I am not sure that she knew anything about Fort or Forteanism. She did come to know Edwin Wilson, who investigated the Society a bit, and so may have picked up some information from him, but Forteanism never seems to have been a driving force in her work. Rather, she was rooted in the secular and forethought traditions of America, which brought her parallel with Forteanism, but the two never really overlapped. In 1953, the Society offered her book for sale, at three dollars. That was the last mention of McCollum by Thayer.