Still an active religion, Spiritualism peaked in popularity between 1848 and 1920, with 2 to 3 million estimated followers. The first national organization of Spiritualists was founded in 1864, and communities cropped up around the nation, including The Lily Dale Spiritualist Assembly in Lily Dale, NY, in 1879; the Historic Sunset Spiritualist Church in Central Kansas in 1881; and the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association in Florida in 1894, to name a few.
As the movement grew, the women’s rights movement also gained momentum. The new religion drew many women, and most mediums were women. Spiritualism provided women not only with a voice and audience, but a new profession.
Was your ancestor a Spiritualist? Look for Ann Braude’s Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America and Todd Leonard’s Talking to the Other Side: A History of Modern Spiritualism and Mediumship for more on the history of the movement, and Dwight A. Radford’s article “From Séances to Ouija Boards: Tracing Your Spiritualist Ancestor,” in the June/July 2004 National Genealogical Society News Magazine.