At the time when Anthony, Cady, and other like-minded people were fighting for women’s equality, Spiritualism was also gaining momentum as a faith. This controversial belief system is generally thought to have begun with the Fox sisters in 1848. At this moment, the young sisters were living in a cabin in Hydesville, New York.
One evening, the women started hearing a series of knocks and raps whose origin couldn’t be determined. After some time, they realized that the noises were actually attempts at communication, and the women soon devised a code so that they could understand. Using a predetermined number of knocks to indicate “yes” or”no,” the sisters could ask questions and get answers. What they heard was startling.
The knocks, it appeared, were coming out of the soul of a peddler that was killed and buried in the cabin’s cellar. Once word about the religious communication got out, the Fox sisters became rather famous. They traveled to New York City and other areas of the country serving as mediums who could speak with the dead. During this time period, Spiritualism as a religion started to take shape, and there were soon several followers.
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Many of the men and women who associated themselves with Spiritualism were political reformers, abolitionists, non-Christians, and other who bucked the conventions of 19th century culture. Therefore, they were often criticized and judged by mainstream America, who deemed them immoral atheists that were poisonous to the God-fearing public.
As Spiritualism attracted more followers, the women’s rights movement also gained momentum, and girls and other proponents of equality sought a stage where they could lecture freely and progress their unconventional ideas. Like the Spiritualists, the women crying out for equality were considered a contentious bunch and were also treated as social pariahs in many sections. Christianity, as America’s primary religion, nevertheless seen women as secondary to men.
Obviously the feminists disagreed wholeheartedly with this, and consequently, many turned their backs on the Christian churches. However, regardless of their lack of a formal religious affiliation most of them were spiritual folks who hunted places where they could worship or pray without needing to forfeit their faith in female equality. Spiritualism became their response. Because the faith was open to those “radical” ideas, it turned into a sanctuary of sorts for men and women who did not agree with the standard notions of Christianity and the mainstream people.
Many of the women’s rights movement’s strongest supporters had ties to Spiritualism, such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Ascha W. Srague. Though at first glance Spiritualism and the women’s rights movement appear as if they would be irrelevant, it’s apparent that in the height of the movement there were strong ties with the Spiritualist religion. With its relaxed views on female equality and women’s suffrage, Spiritualism was an attractive solution for feminists and their fans looking for an arena in which to speak.