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5 Famous Spiritualists of the 19th Century
August 2, 2021

Hey, I’m back! I just published my fourth novel (and my first historical fiction novel), The Spirited Mrs. Pringle.

London, 1888.

Upon the death of her husband, self-involved social climber Cora Pringle assumes her recent dalliance with a wealthy gentleman will be her second chance at a happily ever after. That is until her paramour turns out to be a penniless imposter. Despite his betrayal, Cora can’t quite let go of the tug the handsome playwright has on her heart.

Desperate for an income, Cora becomes a séance-performing spiritualist and gets a taste for celebrity—and it’s so delicious. So what if she can’t actually communicate with the dead? Her eager patrons don’t need to know that.

Amelia Baxter, an ambitious journalist and suffragist, is discouraged when her editor refuses to let her cover the horrific Jack the Ripper murders. Instead, Amelia pours her frustrations into bringing Cora’s deceptive and manipulative act to an end, even if it means risking her family’s reputation.

The Spirited Mrs. Pringle is available in paperback, at all major ebook retailers, and in audio. Learn more.

* * *

Although the main character in my new historical fiction novel, The Spirited Mrs. Pringle, is fictional and not based on any particular spiritualist, mediums made a killing during the 1800s, particularly in the United States.


Doyle and Houdini

Arthur Conan Doyle

Famous for penning the stories of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife were avid spiritualists. He wrote several articles for British spiritualism publications and enthusiastically took part in séances. His wife, Jean, performed “automatic writing” (also called “spirit writing”) where a person writes words on paper unconsciously, allowing spirits to communicate through them.

Doyle had a longtime fascination with the supernatural, fully believing that the illusions of his friend Harry Houdini were very real, despite the protestations of Houdini himself. Houdini was determined to debunk spiritualists—even writing books and articles about how spiritualists performed their illusions—and the conflict of beliefs brought their friendship to an end.


Victoria Woodhull

You simply can’t discuss famous spiritualists of the 19th century without bringing up Victoria Woodhull. Woodhull became a practicing spiritualist in the 1870s—the same decade that she became the first woman to run for president, even though American women were about 50 years away from having the vote.

Spiritualism appealed to women involved in the suffrage movement (and vice versa) because a séance or a related spiritualism activity was one of the few times a woman could speak publicly or earn a level of professional respect unrelated to domestic prowess.


William H. Mumler

While developing a self-portrait photograph, amateur photographer William Mumler noticed a strange effect in the photo. Something had happened during the exposure process of the photo and it looked like Mumler’s long-dead cousin was also in the photo with him. Mumler figured out how to reproduce this effect and quickly made a career out of “spirit photography.”

Even Mary Todd Lincoln, another famous spiritualist of the 19th century, sat for him sometime between 1869 and 1872. Her photo includes the ghostly silhouette of Abraham Lincoln, his hands resting on his wife’s shoulders.

Mumler’s career came to a halt when he was taken to court on fraud charges.


Cora Scott (aka Cora Hatch)

Cora L. V. Scott was a prominent spiritualist and trance lecturer. Known for her impressive public speaking and stunning beauty, Cora began her career by the age of 15, appearing before audiences, appearing to fall into a trance, and then speaking to enraptured audiences as if a spirit was communicating through her.

She would later go on to become a pastor for a spiritualist church in 1875 and co-found the National Spiritualist Association of Churches in 1893.


Madame d’Esperance

Born Elizabeth Hope in London, Madame d’Esperance traveled Europe performing spiritualism-related activities like automatic writing, table-turning (alleged communications from spirits via a rotating, tilting or otherwise moving table), premonitions, séances, the appearance of ectoplasm, and the materialization of ghosts and flowers.

During a séance in 1880, Hope materialized a spirit named Yohlande. A spectator reached out and grabbed “Yohlande” and it quickly became clear that “Yohlande” was the Hope herself. Later, in 1893, Hope claimed to have made the lower half of her body disappear but this illusion was explained away by a psychic researcher. These skeptics didn’t end her career though; she continued performing séances until she died in 1919.


  1. Gene Meier

    I am seeking info on Dr. David Ambrose Davis, native of New Hampshire, who was about 60 in 1871. He moved to Chicago 1867 and had come from Ohio.His second wife was Sarah KENNARD Davis born July 30,1814, who was also a medium

  2. Danielle

    I’m looking for information on a tarot reader spiritualist, late 1800’s/early 1900’s by the name of Magda, possibly Hungarian. Last name isn’t clear, possibly Orsini? Thanks.


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Jillianne Hamilton writes delightful historical fiction and historical romance featuring rebellious heroines and happy endings.

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The Land Girl on Lily Road
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The Hobby Shop on Barnaby Street - WWII historical romance
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