With the world starting to take notice of the females in the paranormal field, we also need to give recognition to those from our past. When you ask people about influential paranormal figures from our past, most commonly the names Holzer and Price are mentioned. It may surprise you to know that there were some very important female figures from the same era that don’t get nearly enough recognition. When you google females within the paranormal field, you normally get a list of the top 10 reality television female paranormal researchers. Don't get me wrong, some of these ladies have done some great work over the years, but what about the women from our past? Here are two of the trail-blazing women, who are equally important to the history of paranormal research, long before a television set was ever created.
Born in 1845, Eleanor was born into a powerful political family. She was the eldest of 8 children and she was educated at Newnham College in Cambridge. She went on to become a leading physics researcher and mathematician. Her brother Arthur was studying philosophy at Cambridge by Henry Sidgwick a well-known philosopher. They shared a common interest in mediumship and Arthur, Elenor and Henry would attend seances together. They became fast friends and even more, and Henry brought Eleanor into his world of psychical research. They married in 1876. When the SPR was created in 1882, Professor Henry Sidgwick was one of the founders. He had her join the team as an administrator. He was the first president of the SPR. Diving in she was said to of examined over 300 eyewitness accounts of spiritual activity and attended seances and other investigations. She was quite skeptical of psychics and helped to expose fraudulent activity which was rife during this era. She wrote of many of her accounts in the SPR journal where she was the editor of the journal and proceedings from 1888 to 1897 and was a pivotal part of the organization. Some of her more notable work includes but is not limited to:
In 1891 she published 'On Spirit Photography' where she detailed the different fraudulent methods photographers used.
In 1886 she published 'Results of a Personal Investigation into the Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism' where she reviewed the research of a group she had belonged to in the 1970's. She alluded that while she was in fact open to the idea of psychical abilities in her experiences, she dealt with a lot of fraud and trickery.
In 1915 she wrote what was considered a book-length discussion on famed medium Leonora Piper in the SPR's journal proceedings, an effort that saw around 600 pages of analysis.
Eleanor was elected to the council of the SPR in 1901. She served as secretary from 1907 until she passed away in 1936. She became the president in 1908-1909 and again in 1932 for the 50th anniversary.
Let's not forget that while she was doing all of this, she severed as a treasurer, then Vice-Principal to Principal of Newnham's College in Cambridge from 1876 to 1910.
Eleanor Sidgwick is without a doubt one of the more pivotal members when it comes to psychical research. While during her research years she was quite skeptical due to the fraud she had exposed during her time, she later in life was said to become more convinced that there may be something to telepathy and survival after death.
Born in 1790 to a middle-class family, there is not much known about the early life of Catherine Crowe. in 1822 she married her husband Major John Crowe and they had a son together. Dreadfully unhappy, she asked her friends to help her escape and in 1833 she moved to Edinburgh where she would restart her life as a writer. Catherine held very strong spiritual beliefs so it is no surprise that this followed into her work as a writer.
She went on to publish 5 novels, many short stories and 2 volumes described as supernatural tales. In 1848, the book 'The night side of nature' was released and is considered to be groundbreaking for its time. Reviewed by the Literary Examiner, it was described as “one of the most extraordinary collections of ‘Ghost Stories’ that has ever been published”. The tales themselves are often narrated by people in everyday settings or are an account of letters describing phenomena. In 1859 she followed this up with 'Ghosts and Family Legends. While not as popular as the first book, it was a much anticipated and loved 'sequel'. What was most loved about the books was the very honest nature in which they were written. She did her research on the cases she featured to ensure that she wasn't over embellishing the facts. It meant that some people found the work to be 'mundane' as there were no shocks or surprises in the storytelling. In fact, it wasn't really storytelling, they were actual accounts. It was what makes this book and the accounts, all the more reputable.
Crowe sometimes gained criticism for her strong belief in the paranormal and she herself was critical of those who did not believe activity happening before their eyes. In her own words from the book “believing the apparition to be an illusion because they cannot bring themselves to believe in ghosts, simply amounts to saying “I don’t believe, because I don’t believe,” and is an argument of no effect” . While her own views may have attracted criticism, it was the way she honestly presented everyday accounts of supernatural activity to the wider public. It is important to remember that this was before the spiritualist movement so in some ways it was ahead of its time. It helped to shape the way that a lot of people in the Victorian Era perceive a ghost or spirit. She was even deemed insane and crazy by some who believed she was haunted by spirits. This is how the paranormal was often viewed during these times. The people who saw 'ghosts' were seen as crazy! It took a lot of courage to not only be so public about the paranormal but to write a book and stand so firmly by your belief, no matter what the public thought.
In a lot of literature from the past, any sort of paranormal activity was viewed as the work of the devil due to the religious influence of the times. These accounts in these books are not like this which is what makes them so refreshing and different to works of the past.
When you look back in history at some of the great paranormal storytellers, this book is a must-read!
While these are 2 influential ladies of the paranormal, there are many more who also deserve recognition for their work within the paranormal field. I will continue to highlight the work of all of these ladies throughout the year.
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