Out of the Shadows: Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice

Counterpoint. May 2021. 336p. ISBN 9781640092303. $27. HIST
When sisters Maggie and Kate Fox claimed to have made contact with spirits in their rural New York home, they gave rise to the 19th-century Spiritualist movement and created a craze for seances, table rapping, and trance lecturing that swept the U.S. and Europe. According to Midorikawa, the Spiritualist movement gave some of its many women participants the chance to have their voices heard publicly. This enjoyable group biography presents Maggie and Kate, along with Leah Fox (their sister), Emma Hardinge Britten, Victoria Woodhull, and Georgina Weldon, as examples of Spiritualism’s role in first-wave feminism. The book argues that in an era resistant to women’s independence, these women’s presence in the Spiritualist community, and their purported abilities as mediums who could receive otherworldly wisdom, allowed them to overcome some gender ineqities and establish themselves as businesswomen, social advocates, and figures of worldwide acclaim. Midorikawa focuses her text on the women’s personal histories and activities before and during their Spiritualist phases. She only briefly touches on aspects of their later lives, including Woodhull’s fervent eugenicist beliefs and the Fox sisters eventually confessing to fraud.
VERDICT Brisk and entertaining, this biography should draw the attention of readers interested in the social effects of the Spiritualist movement, or in 19th-century women’s history.
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