The Victorian Women Who Spoke to The Dead

Christine Leigh Heyrman at the NYT:

Although they inspired many imitators, the Fox sisters did not number among those mediums who subsequently developed Spiritualism as an organized movement in both the United States and Britain. Their ranks included Emma Hardinge Britten, who wrote its history and traveled the public lecture circuit as a trance medium in the late 1850s, delivering opinions about the issues of the day as dictated by the spirits. By contrast, Victoria Woodhull had cut her ties to Spiritualist groups when her claim to clairvoyant powers persuaded the tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt to back her in founding the first female brokerage firm on Wall Street. But shortly thereafter she managed to recruit both Spiritualist and women’s rights organizations to support her bid for the presidency in 1872. Meanwhile in Britain, Georgina Weldon — not a medium herself but a stage-struck Spiritualist — fought the efforts of her husband and his squad of doctors to commit her to an asylum. She challenged Britain’s lunacy laws with more than a decade of agitation, which included parading sandwich-board men as pickets, scattering leaflets from a hot-air balloon, giving theatrical performances and offering antic testimony in court.

more here.