Season 2 Resources

Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-century America

Ann Braude

A landmark study that breathed new life into scholarship on American spiritualism. Braude shows that speaking with the spirits of the dead supercharged radical political organizing both before and after the American Civil War. By telling the story of the spiritualists who shaped the movements for abolition and women’s rights, Radical Spirits makes it clear that spiritualism was a major force in remaking America, as it motivated freedom fighters and activists, and provided a reference point for the political and religious rights for women in the nineteenth century. Along the way, the turning points and power-struggles in spiritualism come to life in dramatic detail.

Plato’s Ghost: Spiritualism in the American Renaissance

Cathy Gutierrez

An exploration of the ideas and beliefs that motivated spiritualists to talk with the dead, Plato’s Ghost looks at the movement in the context of American writing and the birth of authorship as a viable profession in the nineteenth century. In a perceptive sifting of spiritualist ideas, Gutierrez makes the case for seeing spiritualist as a frontier spirit brought to bear on the afterlife, a horizon opened to the movement’s members by a convergence of science and religion. Plato’s Ghost shows the eternal stakes of recovering lost loved ones and dead dignitaries by letting spiritualism’s preoccupations expose the personalities and anxieties of its leading intellectuals.

The President’s Medium: John Conklin, Abraham Lincoln, and the Emancipation Proclamation

John B. Buescher

Over his long career as a researcher of American Spiritualism, John Buescher has unearthed countless fascinating stories, and chronicled connections between movements, institutions, and ideas buoyed by spiritualism. His most recent book brushes the dust off a story, and a character, long overlooked. In cheery and sometimes cheeky style, The President’s Medium introduces readers to John B. Conklin, a medium and performer whose remarkable talents brought him all the way to the Lincoln White House. Along the way, Buescher considers the claims that historians past and present have made about Abraham Lincoln’s interest in spiritualism. Alongside his own sifting of the evidence for Conklin’s life story, The President’s Medium includes edited and annotated selections of Conklin’s writing, republished here for the first time.

Ghosts of Futures Past: Spiritualism and the Cultural Politics of Nineteenth-Century America

Molly McGarry

Anyone who thinks that what happened in a seance stayed in a seance needs to take a spin with Ghosts of Futures Past. Building on Ann Braude’s work, McGarry continues to demonstrate the complex and surprising ways that spiritualism was more than an easily parodied parlor game or a marginal mysticism. Beginning by situating spiritualism in its global context of the revolutionary year 1848, Ghosts of Futures Past tells the stories of spiritualists absorbing, circulating, and sometimes damming the cultures that flowed through American life. As each thematic chapter builds on the last, McGarry shows that whether they knew it or not, spiritualists in the nineteenth century were making the world we live in today.

The Reluctant Spiritualist: The Life of Maggie Fox

Nancy Rubin Stuart

Nancy Rubin Stuart turns her remarkable pen to the life of Maggie Fox, and offers readers a dramatic, intimate, and deeply sympathetic view of a tumultuous half-century. Drawing from the newspapers, books, and letters that chronicled Maggie’s life in the 1800s, The Reluctant Spiritualist offers us the past through the eyes of a woman who was a child star, and then a black sheep, in a notorious and powerful spiritualist family. As Maggie matures through the decades, the twists and turns of her life are rendered in compelling detail. Stuart’s observations about Maggie’s accomplishments, her relationships, and her obsessions reveal the the enormous challenges that women faced in taking up public roles in American life—and the astounding things they achieved.

Sojourner Truth’s America

Margaret Washington

Dr. Margaret Washington puts Sojourner Truth’s life in an astonishingly rich historical picture. From her early life in New York slavery to her international acclaim as a campaigner for justice and freedmen’s rights, Sojourner Truth’s America shows us in compelling personal detail how much America transformed from the age of sail when she was born, at the end of the 1700s, to the her death in 1880s and the age of incorporation.

Sojourner’s involvement with the communes and conventions during spiritualism’s heyday help us to see the influence of African spirituality on the movement. Through Sojourner’s highs and heartbreaks we experience the transformations of the nineteenth-century on a human scale. Seeing Sojourner’s life in light of spiritualism, we see her perpetually facing the white supremacist confines of American religion as much as American politics. With a keen eye for how all the moving parts of 1800s America fit together, Sojourner Truth’s America shows how significant spiritualism was in uniting radicals and reformers, and providing a shared spiritual vocabulary for speaking a new world into being.

A Luminous Brotherhood: Afro-Creole Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans

Emily Clark

In A Luminous Brotherhood, Emily Clark tells the story of an Afro-Creole spiritualist circle who witnessed and influenced decades of tumultuous history in the Louisiana metropolis. The fascinating personal stories of those spiritualists give us an illuminating glimpse of a hidden history.

New Orleans spiritualists held their seances and preached their beliefs in a precarious milieu. At home in one of the south’s global cities, they were caught between neighboring southern states that rejected spiritualism as a radical heresy to undermine the slave power. From the years leading up to the Civil War, to the end of the Reconstruction era, the spiritualists of New Orleans were caught between hope and horror. They believed that the state and the nation could be reordered toward justice, as the spirits told them. They also saw the violent retribution visited on those who worked to make that world manifest. A Luminous Brotherhood brings those years life, and reveals a spiritualism that was both politically charged and deeply felt.

Notorious Victoria: The Uncensored Life of Victory Woodhull

Mary Gabriel

Notorious Victoria is astonishing story of the destitute and exploited girl who would become the first woman to operate a Wall Street brokerage and run for president of the United States.

Victoria shared her childhood of clairvoyant visions, and her experience as a healing medium, with many of the most celebrated spiritualists of her day. But her story is far different. With a compelling grasp of the dramatic moments in Victoria’s life, Gabriel shows us spiritualism as it grew beyond the major cities of the northeast. As ever, it provided a living, and a public platform, for women like Victoria, as it carried her across the midwest, to California, and then provided her passage into the center of public life in New York. Told in vivid detail, Notorious Victoria offers us a way to see how spiritualism offered one outrageously bold woman the means to manifest the myth of the American dream.