Molly Worthen (NHC Fellow, 2020–21; Associate Professor, Department of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
September 20, 2022
In mid-nineteenth century America, it was scandalous for a single woman to travel by herself or address a mixed audience—unless she claimed to be channeling the words of a ghost. Spiritualist trance speakers addressed crowds of thousands, while others worked as mediums who earned a living by connecting grieving families with lost loved ones or resurrecting the voice of Abraham Lincoln or George Washington for a party trick. The vast majority of Spiritualists were women, and they found both religious fulfillment and an early form of feminism in this community—a movement that remains a more potent strain in our own culture than you may realize.