Historian Midorikawa (coauthor, The Secret Sisterhood) delivers an entertaining and informative group biography of six women who led Spiritualist movements in the U.S. and England in the late 19th century. Arguing that the Fox sisters (Leah, Maggie, and Kate), Emma Hardinge Britten, Victoria Woodhull, and Georgina Weldon leveraged their mystical and theatrical talents to access public platforms otherwise disallowed to women of the era, Midorikawa details her subjects’ shifting relationships with family members, promoters, and detractors. By channeling the spirits of deceased male authorities including Benjamin Franklin and the ancient Greek statesman Demosthenes, Midorikawa explains, female spiritualists were able to make forthright demands for gender equality, as Britten did in her 1859 speech “The Place and Mission of Woman.” Midorikawa also describes how these “strikingly modern” women drew on their connections with powerful men to push beyond their occult celebrity into the realms of politics, finance, and social activism, and highlights how female spiritualists interacted with the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements. Midorikawa doesn’t stint on the drama, detailing money troubles, sisterly discord, poor marital choices, and fraud accusations as she builds a persuasive case for the Spiritualist movement’s considerable influence on “the journey toward female empowerment.” Women’s history buffs will be enthralled. Photos. (May)
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.—Kathleen McCallister, William & Mary Libs., Williamsburg, VA
How spiritualism and the occult lit a path to fame and influence.
Co-author of a study of women’s literary friendships, Midorikawa follows up with lively portraits of six mid-19th-century spiritualists who faced down derision to become significant advocates of women’s rights. American sisters Kate, Maggie, and Leah Fox were notorious—and, for a time, highly paid—spiritualists who conveyed messages from the dead through mysterious knocks. From humble beginnings in upstate New York, the Foxes inaugurated the modern spiritualist movement, traveling the world demonstrating their powers. They were repeatedly investigated by skeptics, including committees who strip-searched them, which Leah once described as “very insulting and even violent.” Emma Hardinge, a British woman who started out as a singer and actor, was drawn into the Orphic Circle, a group of aristocratic men who conducted experiments “through the mirror and crystal,” assisted by various “young ladies” who underwent a trance state during the tests. Although initially skeptical, Hardinge discovered her talents as a medium—and public speaker. Touring the U.S., she became a popular orator, supporting Lincoln’s candidacy for president, offering a eulogy after his assassination, raising funds for Union soldiers, and lecturing on the rights of women. Ohio-born Victoria Woodhull, who, like Hardinge, offered “the soothing balm” of connection to Civil War dead, found her fame as a spiritualist enhanced by the attentions of shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. As his protégée, Woodhull amassed considerable wealth and established her own brokerage firm. A passionate champion of female enfranchisement and free love, Woodhull announced her candidacy for president in 1872. Georgina Weldon, a spiritualist whose husband wanted her declared insane, became a prominent spokesperson for reform of Britain’s “lunacy laws.” Hailed by fellow spiritualists, the women were at times mocked, thwarted, and even imprisoned by those who tried to silence them. Drawing on archival material and contemporary accounts of the women’s personal and professional entanglements, Midorikawa briskly recounts their eventful lives, accomplishing the goal inherent in the book’s title.
A well-researched, fresh contribution to women’s history.
"Midorikawa’s chosen Spiritualists are a colorful bunch, and her lively writing makes their careers fun to follow." —Christine Leigh Heyrman, The New York Times Book Review
"This is the great strength of Out of the Shadows; it offers up a tapestry of complex characters with conflicted motivations, woven together with the color of ghostly apparitions (and angry mobs) . . . Out of the Shadows pivots between the women’s extraordinary savvy, intelligence and performance and the frequently unethical and exploitative means they adopted to achieve their ends." —Brandy Schillace, The Wall Street Journal
"Enthralling . . . Midorikawa has assembled and analyzed an impressive range and variety of sources in building her biographies, but also in delineating the social, scientific and political changes that formed their backdrop . . . [A] thrilling read, striking inter alia for the nonchalance with which these female Victorian visionaries took on the rigours of transatlantic travel, and for the incidental intertwining of their remarkable lives." —Jane Haile, The New York Journal of Books
"In Out of the Shadows: Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice, Emily Midorikawa unveils the triumphant, tragic and deeply unconventional lives of six of the Victorian era’s best known spirit mediums. Midorikawa roots her story in both the history of spiritualism and the powerlessness of Victorian women like the Fox sisters—Leah, Maggie and Kate—who were left to grasp for influence in seemingly manipulative ways . . . Midorikawa breathes life into these long-ago women in ways that make them feel contemporary despite their extraordinary circumstances and distance in time . . . By the book’s end, it no longer matters whether you believe these six remarkable spirit mediums were hoaxes or not; you’ll certainly believe in them. —BookPage (starred review)
"Drawing on archival material and contemporary accounts of the women’s personal and professional entanglements, Midorikawa briskly recounts their eventful lives, accomplishing the goal inherent in the book’s title. A well-researched, fresh contribution to women’s history." ––Kirkus Reviews
"Entertaining and informative . . . Midorikawa doesn’t stint on the drama, detailing money troubles, sisterly discord, poor marital choices, and fraud accusations as she builds a persuasive case for the Spiritualist movement’s considerable influence on 'the journey toward female empowerment.' Women’s history buffs will be enthralled." ––Publishers Weekly
"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 . . . 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." —Library Journal
"[Emily] Midorikawa (A Secret Sisterhood, 2017) presents the stories of six female spiritualists and the incredible impact that they had on society and politics . . . The author does an excellent job of characterizing the social milieu and constraints that these women were subject to . . . This well-researched book offers insight into a unique niche of women’s history, and would be a worthy addition to most libraries. —Booklist
"If you've been bored or frustrated by superficial groupings of women described as 'badass,' 'daring,' or 'fearless,' only to discover the text is basically linked Wikipedia articles, congratulations, you found what you were looking for all along: An actual scholar who quotes salacious diary entries and intimate letters alongside essential context and cutting analysis. I'm now an Emily Midorikawa completist, and I'm quite certain you'll soon be, too." —Alexis Coe, New York Times bestselling author of You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington
"Astonishing, gripping, and almost eerily timely. Midorikawa’s tender, elegant prose is a joy to read and her fascination with her subjects irresistible." —Julie Myerson, author of The Stopped Heart
"This book is a treasurea little known history about forgotten movers and shakers, women who influenced our country in unimaginable, and unseen (to say the least) ways. Reader: you need this book! Take it home with you and learn about a potent part of our history that you didn't know you needed to know. Written with seamless clarity, Midorikawa has produced another true gem. I LOVE THIS BOOK." Mira Ptacin, author of The In-Betweens: The Spiritualists, Mediums, and Legends of Camp Etna
"Public speaking was a disreputable occupation for Victorian-era womenunless they were communicating with the dead, a skill that turned out to be much in demand and often quite lucrative. Emily Midorikawa's account of six women who were adept at working psychic miracles offers a fascinating new view of fame, belief, and feminism." Laura Shapiro, author of What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food that Tells Their Stories