The religion now known as 'Modern Spiritualism' officially and literally burst through to the world in the small village of Hydesville, New York, late in March of 1848. The phenomena that began when young sisters Maggie and Kate Fox reported 'rappings' on the walls of their home, has grown into a religion that currently, according to the International Spiritualist Federation, has both individual and group members in over 35 countries worldwide. The National Spiritualist Association of Churches, (NSAC) describes the religion on their website as follows, "Spiritualism is the Science, Philosophy, and Religion of continuous life, based upon the demonstrated fact of communication, by means of mediumship, with those who live in the Spirit World. Spiritualism is founded upon a Declaration of Principles, nine in number, received from the Spirit World by means of mediumship. They provide a firm and tangible foundation on which to base the knowledge of Spiritualism." Although not listed as one of the top ten religions of the world, there are many who have a belief in spirit communication, even though they are not a registered member of the Spiritualist religion. The number of believers, understandably because of the fraud found in this particular discipline, is difficult to ascertain.
Now back in 1848, and not twenty five miles away from the initial rappings heard in Hydesville, the feminist movement had their First Women's Rights Convention at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York on July 19 and 20 - just a few short months after spirit began communicating with women in that same geographic area. From the handful of women who began to stand up for themselves, grew a cohesive network of individuals who were committed to changing society in the United States by demanding rights that were equal to those of their male counterparts in all areas. A group of strong and outspoken women who this paper will show, were regular attendees at séances given by the many mediums in the area, and were pivotal to the beginnings of a movement that ultimately led to a woman's right to vote in this country.
Is it coincidental that these two major events in the history of the United States occurred at the very same time? Did women finally find their voices and the strength to use them only after counsel with spirit? Did the readings from the Fox sisters, and readings from other women who found that they also had mediumship qualities give the women of that era the strength to finally stand up for equality in that Victorian male dominated world? Although the women's uprising in most circles is attributed to 'Renegade Quakers', a deeper look reveals that it was indeed spirit communication that played a key role in the unprecedented social change events taking place in the mid to late 1800's in Upstate New York, and throughout the world.
The United States in the mid to late 1800's was in cultural and spiritual upheaval after the Second Great Awakening in the early part of the century, which consisted of renewed personal salvation, and participation in revival meetings. The revivals were instituted by the various religious sects as the people had been questioning their interpretation of God for many years. Understandably, this was a time of abolitionists, suffragettes and radical religious groups. SkepticWiki which defines itself as "the encyclopedia of skepticism, science and reason" describes the era like this, "It was an environment in which many people felt that direct communication with God or angels was possible, and in which many people felt uncomfortable with notions that God would behave harshly - for example, that God would condemn un-baptized infants to an eternity in Hell." Judith Wellman, when talking about the women's movement in The Road to Seneca Falls (2004), portrays the time as follows, "In July 1848, revolution was in the air. As Americans confronted dramatic economic and social change, they had to redefine old values to meet the demands of a new world." Society, especially in the United States, was definitely changing and changing rapidly. It was like the prelude to a big storm - you know something's coming, but you&re not aware of how powerful it can be. Ann Braude says in Radical Spirits - Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth Century America (1989), "Spiritualism was a religious response to the crisis of faith experienced by many Americans at mid-century." It seems clear to one looking back at those tumultuous times, the stage was certainly set for spirit to break through the veil between planes and be heard.